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Canada's proposed bill would freeze the sale or purchase of handguns


And I'm Mary Louise Kelly in Washington, where President Biden addressed the nation from the White House last night and begged Congress to act on guns.



PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Let's meet the moment. Let us finally do something.

KELLY: Contrast that to what is happening north of the border. Canada's government introduced a bill on Monday that would freeze the sale or purchase of handguns and create new red flag laws. Well, I reached Canada's minister of public safety, Marco Mendicino, in Ottawa today. He told me this would be his country's strongest gun reform legislation in a generation.

MARCO MENDICINO: The situation is urgent. Last week, Statistics Canada issued a report saying that the trends are all going in the wrong direction - that gun violence is up, handgun violence specifically is up, and that domestic violence in connection with guns is up. And when you combine that with the numerous mass shootings that we've had over the last number of years, including most recently the Portapique shooting in Nova Scotia, there's a real imperative to act.

KELLY: To what extent is what's happening in the U.S. influencing your thinking? I know when Prime Minister Trudeau announced this on Monday, he said, and I'll quote, "we need only look south of the border to know that if we do not take action firmly and rapidly, it gets worse and worse and more difficult to counter." I heard that and wondered, what do Canadians see when you look south? How do you understand what's happening here in the U.S.?

MENDICINO: The people-to-people ties between Canada and the United States are so deep and long and important to us. There's no doubt that we feel for our friends in the United States, for the communities in Buffalo, New York, Uvalde, Texas. And it's a tough moment. And we're right there with you. We want to support you.


KELLY: Yeah. And to be clear, you're - this is a Canadian proposal to address a situation...


KELLY: ...In Canada. This was not prompted by the horrors of Buffalo and Uvalde...


KELLY: ...In the last couple of weeks here.

MENDICINO: No, that's right. This is a piece of legislation that is borne out of our own challenges. So this is about protecting Canadians.

KELLY: How meaningful can a Canadian ban be when you will continue to have a 5,000-mile border with the U.S., where guns will remain way more widely available?

MENDICINO: And that's why the bill also puts into place some provisions that will take on organized crime very directly. I talked about raising maximum sentences for illegal gun traffickers. That's aimed to denounce and deter those who would try to take guns illegally from the United States into Canada. Reinvigorate the cross-border crime forum where we can share intelligence and technology on both sides of the border. And then lastly, we're just adding more resources to our law enforcement at the border, more technology to stop illegal trafficking at the border.

KELLY: What does that mean? Like, more searches if you're crossing the border in from the U.S.?

MENDICINO: It means better searches, yes. Last year, we made a record number of seizures of illegal firearms, but there's still a long way to go.

KELLY: Will it be enough?

MENDICINO: Well, that is the central question. And by itself, the honest answer is C-21, our new legislation, cannot offer a foolproof guarantee, which is why it has to be part of a comprehensive strategy that I think does three things. One, continuing to advance smart, strong, effective gun policy like this new legislation. Two, continuing to invest in law enforcement at our border, in our communities. And three, we also have to get at the root causes of gun crime, which means looking very carefully at social determinants like access to safe and affordable housing, access to health care, access to safe schooling. When you send your kid to school, you got to feel safe.

KELLY: Last thing, you will know well that in the U.S., the debate over how to stop gun violence, particularly in schools, is a range from measures to control guns to a lot of Republicans saying that's not the answer. We need to look at mental health initiatives. We need to look at hardening schools. We need to look at arming teachers. Does any of that resonate in Canada? Does it resonate for you?

MENDICINO: There are some distinctions. I mean, in your country there is a constitutional right to bear arms. In Canada, there is no such constitutional right. And we believe that in order to get at the problem, you've got to do all of these things. Put in place smart laws. Make sure that you're supporting law enforcement. But I think also getting at the root causes so that you don't have to arm teachers, so that you don't have to arm everybody to ensure public safety. And that's ultimately the destination that I think we all want to go.

KELLY: Marco Mendicino, thank you.

MENDICINO: Thank you very much for having me, Mary Louise.

KELLY: He is Canada's minister of public safety. We reached him today in Ottawa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.