The federal government is eyeing a "clear, consistent" definition of assault-style firearms to be prohibited through legislation, as recently suggested by the Nova Scotia mass shooting commission, says Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino.

The Liberals will abandon their approach of spelling out each make and variety of banned firearm in lengthy lists appended to the federal gun-control bill, Mendicino said after appearing at the House of Commons public safety committee Tuesday.

Mendicino told MPs the government is committed to "getting this right."

His appearance came more than two months after the Liberals withdrew an amendment to the federal bill that would have spelled out in law the various models covered by a ban on assault-style guns.

The Liberals had touted the definition as an evergreen measure that would cement in legislation a May 2020 regulatory ban of some 1,500 firearm models and variants, as well as several others flagged since then.

MPs spent hours last winter scrutinizing lists of firearms that would fall under the definition.

There was debate over exactly what was included and what was not, because the definition applied only to some variations of certain models that met the criteria — guns the government considered inappropriate for civilian use.

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

The public safety committee started over, hearing from various groups and individuals including Indigenous leaders on the proposed ban.

Feds working toward 'clear, consistent' definition of prohibited assault-style guns. #cdnpoli #AssaultStyleFirearms #GunControl

"We're not bringing back the lists," Mendicino said after the committee Tuesday.

"We think that the best way forward is to focus on an objective definition that will look at physical characteristics so that we can be clear, consistent, upfront with Canadians and gun owners."

He noted that is the approach recommended by the recent final report of an inquiry into the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia.

It said Ottawa should reform the classification system for firearms and develop a standardized schedule of prohibited guns in the Criminal Code, "with an emphasis on simplicity and consistency."

Even so, the commission also essentially recommended the government adopt a definition of prohibited assault-style firearm that resembles the one the Liberals put forward in the amendments last year.

The now-withdrawn definition includes a centrefire semi-automatic rifle or shotgun designed with a detachable magazine that can hold more than five cartridges.

It remained unclear Tuesday when or how the Liberals might put new amendments before the committee, or exactly what they might look like.

However, Mendicino indicated the government was looking to shift more responsibility onto the shoulders of firearms manufacturers to make a ban on assault-style firearms work.

"I think we can engage manufacturers and have them work closely with law enforcement so that as new makes and models come onto line, that they are being proactively classified in their appropriate category, be it as an assault-style firearm and prohibited, or another category."

Conservative public safety critic Raquel Dancho said Tuesday the government should simply withdraw the entire gun bill.

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

Keep reading