Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale says the federal government rejects the idea of allowing hunters to use the same type of military−style assault rifle involved in a mass shooting in Florida.
Last month, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer presented a petition to Parliament on behalf of the Lawful Firearm Owners of Canada that calls for the classification of the AR−15 rifle to be changed from a restricted firearm to a non−restricted one.
The petition, launched by a man who says Canadian hunters want to be able to use the popular semi−automatic rifle, was signed by more than 25,000 people, mainly from Ontario, Alberta and British Columbia.
Goodale says the Liberal government will present a formal written reply to the petition, but he made it clear there is no intention of changing the weapon’s classification.
"The position of the government of Canada is that this judgment needs to be left in the hands of the professionals in the police authorities, who are by far in the best position to make these judgment calls based upon their expertise," Goodale said in Ottawa on Tuesday.
"The request has been made to change the classification, but our position is ’no’, that the existing classification will remain."
Marc Bennett, the man from Corner Brook, N.L., who launched the petition, was not immediately available for comment.
The AR−15 is a civilian model of the M16 rifle used by the U.S. army and has been used to carry out other mass slayings, including the 2012 killing of 20 children and six adults in Newtown, Conn.
One of the top−selling rifles in the U.S., the AR−15’s variations are used by some military and police forces around the world.
The restricted classification means that most Canadians can only use it at a gun range.
In the petition, Bennett said the federal government changed the rifle’s classification to restricted in the mid 1990s purely because of the way it looks. The petition said the AR−15 isn’t more dangerous or different than thousands of other firearms in Canada.
"The rifle is the most versatile hunting rifle in the world," the petition reads.
"The Armalite Rifle − 15 was in fact legal to hunt with before the 1990s firearm classification changes and we hunters would like that opportunity restored."
Goodale said the decision to classify the AR−15 as a restricted weapon was made by RCMP firearms experts.
That decision should not be second−guessed by politicians, he said.
"The argument, the professional judgment has been made by the RCMP, and I would not see any argument on the merits to change that."
People wanting to buy an AR−15 in Canada must have a firearms licence that includes restricted weapons and involves passing a safety course.
They must also have authorization from their province’s chief firearms officer to transport the gun to a shooting range, gun show, gunsmith or a few other permitted locations.
Zimmer, the MP for Prince George−Peace River−Northern Rockies in British Columbia, did not respond to requests for comment.