Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has announced a proposed freeze on handgun ownership in the country that would effectively ban their importation and sale, following recent mass shootings in the United States.

The bill must still be passed by parliament, with the ruling Liberals holding only a minority of seats.

"We're introducing legislation to implement a national freeze on handgun ownership," Mr Trudeau told a news conference, joined by dozens of families and friends of victims of gun violence.

"What this means is that it will no longer be possible to buy, sell, transfer or import handguns anywhere in Canada," he said. "In other words, we're capping the market for handguns."

In April 2020, following Canada's worst mass shooting which left 23 dead in rural Nova Scotia, the government banned 1,500 types of military-grade or assault-style firearms.

But Mr Trudeau acknowledged that gun violence continues to rise.

The government statistical agency reported last week that firearms-related violent crimes account for less than 3% of all violent crimes in Canada.

But since 2009 the per capita rate of guns being pointed at someone has nearly tripled, while the rate at which a gun was fired with an intent to kill or wound is up five-fold.

Almost two-thirds of gun crimes in urban areas involved handguns.

Police often point to smuggling from the United States - which is reeling from recent shootings at a school in Texas and at a supermarket in New York state - as the main source of handguns.

Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino estimated there are about one million handguns in Canada - up significantly from a decade ago.

Mr Trudeau commented, "People should be free to go to the supermarket, their school or their place of worship without fear. People should be free to go to the park or to a birthday party without worrying about what might happen from a stray bullet."

He said: "Gun violence is a complex problem. But at the end of the day, the math is really quite simple: the fewer the guns in our communities, the safer everyone will be."

The proposed law would also strip anyone involved in domestic violence or stalking of their firearms license, and take away guns from those deemed to be a risk to themselves or others, as well as strengthen border security and criminal penalties for gun trafficking.

It would also ban long-gun magazines capable of holding more than five bullets.