06/21/2018 15:19 EDT | Updated 06/21/2018 15:25 EDT

Liberal MP Bob Nault: Tories ‘Playing Politics’ With Remarks On Guns And Mental Issues

The veteran politician says he supports enhanced background checks.

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Liberal MP Bob Nault speaks in the House of Commons on June 18, 2018.

A rural Liberal MP is standing by comments he made in the House of Commons about mental health and gun ownership that he says are being torqued by Conservatives to stoke outrage.

Bob Nault, who represents the northern Ontario riding of Kenora, spoke in favour of Bill C-71 on Monday — legislation that seeks to tighten rules on the sale and licensing of firearms.

The bill will enhance background checks so the entire life history of a licence applicant will be considered. Current legislation only requires a person's last five years to be assessed, looking for past crimes, violence, and associated mental illness.

Nault told the House that change is the main reason he supports the bill and made reference to the February shooting at Florida's Stoneman Douglas High School.

"I think one of major concerns in today's gun scenario, and we see it in the U.S. and in Canada, is that there are a lot of mental issues with people who have firearms," Nault said.

"When we think about individuals who have firearms and mental issues, and I am talking about the U.S. now, we can think about what happened to those kids who died in that school."

C-71 would go a "long way" in preventing such a scenario, he said at the time.

Tory MP: 'That is absolutely insane'

The remark sparked immediate gripes from Tory MPs. B.C. Conservative MP Mel Arnold rose to say he could not believe what Nault had said about there being "a lot of mental issues" among gun owners.

"I hope that phrase gets clipped and put out there among the millions of law-abiding firearms owners in Canada," Arnold said. "That is absolutely insane."

And that's exactly what has happened. The Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus, a group of Tory MPs who advocate on behalf of hunters, anglers, and trappers, shared a short clip of Nault's remarks on Facebook.

C-71 debate

To make a blanket statement and presume that there are "a lot of mental issues with people who have firearms" not only is a prejudice statement, but takes major steps backwards on all the hard work to open discussions around mental health awareness. What do you think?

Posted by Conservative Hunting and Angling Caucus on Tuesday, 19 June 2018

James Bezan, the Tory defence critic, took to Twitter Thursday to accuse Nault of disrespecting gun owners with a "disgusting statement" he said showed "contempt" the Liberals have for firearms owners.

But Nault, a former cabinet minister who beat former Tory minister Greg Rickford in 2015, told HuffPost Canada the Conservative response was par for the course.

"I've been doing this for a long time and one thing I've noticed, it appears over and over again unfortunately, the Conservatives play politics with this," he said. "Plain and simple, it's just bad politics."

Nault said Tories were not doing their part to remove the stigma around mental health, as Bezan has advocated in the past.

The Liberal MP said he was not suggesting Canada has the same kinds of issues with gun violence and mass shootings as the U.S. He noted that gun laws here are stronger and more stringent and that firearms owners are diligent in following Canadian law.

"But I'm using that as an example that can happen here and we need to be vigilant about it," he said. "We need to modernize our approach to background checks."

More from HuffPost Canada:

Gun control is seen as a possible wedge issue for the 2019 election. Liberal MPs in rural communities, like Nault, could have to defend their support of C-71.

Tories are claiming the bill brings in a "backdoor" long-gun registry, something that was deeply unpopular in Western Canada and rural ridings. It was eliminated by the previous Conservative government in 2012.

Nault says he's not concerned about the Tory attacks, even though he imagines he'll get some kickback.

"I've been through this so many times and I've seen the Tories play the same political game that they're playing right now, that somehow having a discussion about improving gun laws is detrimental to good gun ownership and the continuation of our culture and way of life in rural (Canada)," he said.