The federal New Democrats are coming under pressure from gun-control advocates to support the Liberals in enacting a permanent ban on assault-style firearms.

In a pair of open letters, various groups pushing for stronger restrictions on guns urge the NDP to come out decisively in favour of enshrining a definition of firearms that belong solely on the battlefield.

In response, NDP public safety critic Peter Julian says the party will always be a willing partner when working to keep people safe from gun violence.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino is set to appear later today at the House of Commons public safety committee, where MPs are studying gun-control legislation introduced almost a year ago.

The appearance comes two months after the Liberals withdrew a late November amendment to the bill that would have spelled out in law the various models covered by the assault-style gun ban.

The Liberals billed the definition as an evergreen measure that would cement in legislation a May 2020 regulatory ban of some 1,500 firearm models and variants.

The government pulled the measure from consideration after weeks of criticism from Conservative MPs and some firearm advocates who said the definition would prohibit many commonly used hunting rifles and shotguns.

The committee started over, hearing from various groups and individuals on the shelved amendments, including Indigenous leaders, with the aim of crafting new wording.

Prominent voices in favour of reviving the assault-style gun amendment are trying to ensure there is enough backing in Parliament for the measure to pass.

'Missing in action': gun-control groups chide #NDP over noncommital stance on bill. #CDNPoli #GunControl #AssaultStyleFirearms

In an open letter Monday to NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh, organizations representing physicians, survivors of gun violence, women, students and others urge the NDP "to support a comprehensive, permanent ban on assault weapons in Canada."

"The NDP has a long and admirable record of protecting the vulnerable from harm and acting on evidence in support of the public interest," the letter says. "The current debate on gun control is a moment that demands the same resolve."

The letter, penned by groups including Canadian Doctors for Protection from Guns, says the signatories "are troubled" by the NDP's refusal to commit to amending the bill to include a clear definition and evergreen mechanism for banning semi-automatic assault-style firearms.

"Our only goal in writing to you is saving lives and preventing harm. We recognize the political challenge of navigating an issue that has been subject to much disinformation, but gun violence can never be acceptable."

In their own letter to Singh, the groups PolySeSouvient and Danforth Families for Safe Communities take issue with the party's "disingenuous, vague and noncommittal positioning" on gun control.

"Not only has the NDP failed to show any signs of support to finding a new legislative solution, it has reinforced the disinformation that was at the core of the unfounded fear and confusion that led to the withdrawal of the amendments and sidestepped its way out of every opportunity to reiterate its previous support to ban assault weapons."

NDP voters trust the party to follow through on its promises, but time and time again "your party is either missing in action when it counts" or undermining progress, the letter says.

"At this critical juncture, we feel it's time to call the party out on its detrimental approach with respect to assault weapons. The fight to ban civilian ownership of military-style weapons is at crossroads in Canada and the NDP is in a position to make or break this measure."

Asked about the letters, Julian said in a statement that his party is committed to keeping Canadian communities safe and free of gun violence.

"New Democrats support an assault-style weapons ban — we always have. These paramilitary weapons have no place in our cities and serve no practical purpose outside of the combat situations they were designed for."

But Julian stressed that the lack of progress on this legislation is "squarely the fault of the Liberals and the Conservatives" who have politicized the issue and put their own interests ahead of solving the problem.

"We will continue to work with the government on amendments that strengthen gun control while also ensuring that we are not unfairly impacting hunters, farmers and Indigenous people who use firearms responsibly," Julian said.

"While clear definitions are needed to close loopholes allowing manufacturers to get around bans on assault-style weapons, the Liberals' failure to uphold their constitutional obligations to consult Indigenous communities was not the correct approach to ensuring we get this right."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 25, 2023.

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