Duncan Ferguson

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Photo courtesy of AR-15 Hunter

AR15’s are restricted in Canada, so why does Marco Rubio think it can’t be done?

The AR15 is a popular rifle among law abiding Americans and Mass Shooters alike. It is based on the M16 Military Machine Gun.

After last week’s Parkland School shooting in the US, which was their 18th in the only 45 days of 2018, I watched Marco Rubio talk about the difficulties of defining “assault weapons”, making this statement:

“They’re indistinguishable from the ones that (would) become illegal. And the only thing that separates the two types - - the only thing that separates the two types is, if you put a plastic handle grip on one it becomes banned, if it doesn’t have a plastic handle it does not become banned…”

I wondered what the heck is so slippery about assault weapons? Haven’t we banned them in Canada? This lead to a long standing question.

What the heck is an Assault Rifle?

Doesn’t AR15 stand for Assault Rifle 15? Surprisingly not. It actually stands for Armalite 15, the name of the company that designed it. To better illustrate this point the AR17 is an old fashioned looking shotgun. Things are more complicated than you might think, because even the definition of an Assault Weapon is fairly loose. Let's look at the three main categories of rifles:

Single shot - guns you have to perform some kind of action after every shot in order to shoot again. Like a “pump-action” shotgun.

Semi-Automatic - guns that shoot one shot per trigger pull. (Banned in Australia)

Full-Automatic - guns that keep shooting as long as the trigger is depressed. (Banned in Australia, Canada and USA)

The reason why this matters is that, when it comes down to it, an AR15 is the same as many hunting rifles; just a light weight, well built semi-automatic. The difference is it LOOKS like a fully-automatic rifle. That is why Marco Rubio later said this:

“about the assault weapons ban. It's not the loopholes. It's the problem that once you start looking at how easy it is to get around it, you would literally have to ban every semi-automatic rifle that's sold in the U.S.”

It is important to note that this was followed by massive applause.

So How Did Canada do it??

Here in Canada we have two different licenses for gun ownership: restricted and unrestricted. Essentially one is for hunting guns, the other is for guns you can only use at a shooting range. Pretty simple.

What makes a gun restricted in Canada really comes down to size of all things. Any semi-auto gun that is small enough in size, and shoots a big enough bullet, it becomes restricted.

Enter the Ruger Mini 14

This gun is famous for shootings on both sides of the border. First for the infamous 1986 FBI shootout (nicely dramatized here) where serial bank robbers took on 8 FBI agents, killing 4. In Canada, this gun is notorious for its use in the brutal killing 14 women in the Montreal massacre.

This gun ends up being the crux of a lot of arguments here in Canada because it can do everything the AR15 can, and yet remains unrestricted. This point is illustrated in a popular internet meme:

The enthusiasts point is that since the Ruger Mini 14 and the AR15 do the same thing, then shouldn’t they both un-restricted? That the logic goes both ways, if you ban one you ban them all, and that’s what Marco Rubio meant about banning all semi-auto rifles.

We ran into this problem here in Canada, that if you try to describe an AR15 in legal terms, you would also be describing all semi-auto guns. So how did we get around this?

We defined an AR15 as an...AR15

All AR15 variants are explicitly restricted in the Criminal Code under Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and Other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited, Restricted or Non-Restricted

According to a recent article in the CBC, we did this because of the gun’s reputation and symbolism, as a variant of the M16 military rifle, and not size or function.

So What About Banning All Semi-autos?

Although it is totally true that, when it comes to hunting, people got along fine without semi-autos for a long long time. President Teddy Roosevelt killed far too many Grizzlies Bears, Rhinos, Lions and Cougars without a semi-auto. Australia’s oft sited gun control measures included banning all semi-automatic rifles, but realistically this is far beyond even what Canadians are willing to do, and nearly unthinkable in the USA——where gun ownership is a constitutional right.

Maybe just stick to a licenses and limited capacity magazines. Seems to be working for us.