TORONTO — Canada's Conservative government introduced legislation Tuesday to scrap a controversial law that requires the registration of rifles and shotguns.
Canada has long required registration of hand guns, but the long-run registry law passed in 1995 faced bitter opposition from rural Canada, the Conservative party's base, which considered it an overreaction to the problem of urban crime.
Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said they don't want laws targeting law-abiding citizens such as hunters.
Police and victims' groups are voicing opposition, but the Conservatives have a new majority in Parliament after national elections in May, and can now scrap the law. They are also proposing to destroy the archive of registrations already collected.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tried to kill the registry in the last session of Parliament, but the bill was narrowly defeated.
The former Liberal government passed the tougher gun control law after Marc Lepine shot to death 14 students with a semiautomatic rifle at Montreal's Ecole Polytechnique in 1989.
Families of the victims began holding news conferences and lobbying politicians. By March 1991, they had collected 550,000 names on a petition urging federal action.
After the bill won final passage in 1995, former Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chretien's first comment was that many Americans would be envious.
Chretien noted widespread pro-gun sentiment in the United States, and said the new gun-registration law would give Canada "a personality different from the people of the south of us and I'm very proud."
But Harper's Conservative government vowed to abolish the law when they took power in 2006, and the Conservatives celebrated the announcement Tuesday.
"The Harper government has stood on the side of law-abiding firearm owners, farmers, hunters, and rural Canadians in every region of this country," said Conservative lawmaker Candice Hoeppner, who joined Conservative colleagues in announcing the new bill at a farm outside of Ottawa.
Hoeppner called it a defining moment for the Conservative government and said the registry has been a waste of taxpayers' dollars, close to $2 billion. Hoeppner later said in an interview with The Associated Press that the long gun registry would not have prevented what has become known as the Montreal Massacre.
"Unfortunately, although it was created in response to that, it didn't do anything and does not have the ability to stop that kind of tragedy," she said. Hoeppner said criminals don't register their guns.
"The majority of homicides committed in Canada, for example, do not involve long guns at all. Statistics have shown that long guns, in other words, rifles and shotguns, are not the problem. In reality, they are not the weapons of choice for criminals," she said.
But an internal evaluation from Canada's national police force found the federal gun registry was a useful tool for police. An umbrella group for Quebec police forces also said rifles and shotguns are used more often than handguns to kill police officers in domestic violence cases, suicides and incidents involving youth.
The Coalition for Gun Control urged Canadians to tell their lawmakers to oppose the legislation.
Priscilla de Villiers, whose daughter, Nina, was abducted and killed with a legally owned rifle, defended the long-gun registry.
"No law can prevent all tragedies. But a gun-control law, which includes registration and is rigorously implemented, makes it harder – not easier – for dangerous people to get firearms," she said.
The new bill will repeal the requirement to register rifles and shotguns, and calls for the destruction of all records pertaining to the registration of long guns currently contained in the Canadian Firearms Registry.
Hoeppner said those who wish to acquire a firearm or ammunition will continue to be required to pass a police background check, firearms safety course and comply with all firearms safe storage and transportation requirements.
She said firearm owners will also be still be required to have a valid firearms license and will still have to register handguns.