Speaking to the Saskatchewan Association of Rural Municipalities last Thursday, Harper said guns are needed for safety in rural areas.
"My wife's from a rural area. Gun ownership wasn't just for the farm. It was also for a certain level of security when you're a ways from immediate police assistance," Harper said.
His comments drew criticism from a number of politicians, including NDP Leader Tom Mulcair, who called them "irresponsible," and Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who said the fewer guns in Canada the better.
During a news conference today in Mississauga, Ont., Harper said he wasn't promoting vigilante justice.
"Gun owners in Canada are not allowed to take the law into their own hands. Nobody here is suggesting they should be able to do that," he said.
"In fact we have had, in many parts of this country, widespread gun ownership for many years, for various reasons including security, without people taking the law into their own hands. So that's just not the reality of the situation."
Harper said Canadian gun policy, which includes the government's proposed Bill C-42 to change some aspects of firearms licences, is "moderate."
"We've got rid of the needless and ineffective long-gun registry because we already register gun owners anyway ... we're doing some other things that make gun owners' lives a little bit easier in terms of regulation. These are strong things that we believe in," he said.
"The other parties are clearly anti-gun owners, they've made that very clear so obviously this is an issue."