Faced with an alarming, rising toll of gun-related death in Canada, the federal Liberal government took the responsible step of introducing common-sense, fair and effective gun-control legislation in Bill C-71.
Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer is doing his level best to make political hay of this bill. But he's having a tough time. Quite simply, Mr. Scheer is all over the map. And so is his party.
C-71 is a sensible, necessary and timely package of reforms that, along with the tough, urgently needed measures to crack down on criminal guns and gangs that accompanied it, will make Canadian communities safer.
Among its features are a requirement to confirm that a firearms licence is valid before selling a gun; more rigorous background checks; better record-keeping by retailers who sell firearms; stricter rules for the transport of handguns; and keeping responsibility for classifying firearms, including the most dangerous assault-style weapons, in the hands of the RCMP.
It's a common-sense, targeted, un-ideological and fair set of measures that has nothing in common with the long-gun registry of the 1990s, which everyone agrees was a failed policy.
Very simply, there is no long-gun registry in C-71. Nor will this government ever introduce a long-gun registry.
This puts Mr. Scheer in a tight spot.
The overwhelming consensus in Canada strongly favours firm, effective gun control, such as Bill C-71 provides.
On the one hand he'd love to hammer away at the legislation with abandon, ginning up anger, fear and donations from the far-right gun lobby and its supporters.
Among other gems, he proposes to repeal undisclosed parts of Canada's gun-control law, ease size restrictions on ammunition clips, and allow overrides of the RCMP's role in classifying weapons by politicians, who surely know better.
Scheer's caucus-mate, Conservative MP Bob Zimmer, put a petition before the House of Commons to re-classify the AR-15 as a non-restricted hunting rifle. As yet un-answered is the question of how this weapon designed solely to kill people can be of use to a hunter.
Mr. Scheer's platform contains 655 words about guns, versus 54 words about health care and 34 words about trade. It's an interesting choice of priorities.
On the other hand the Tory leader is well aware — as is anyone paying attention — that the overwhelming consensus in Canada strongly favours firm, effective gun control, such as Bill C-71 provides.
That's not only a response to the horror of mass shootings south of the border.
There's a serious and growing problem with gun violence in Canada, too. Though overall crime rates are at historic lows, the number of homicides with guns has nearly doubled in the past four years. Over half these murders are gang-related.
The Conservatives are plainly aware that their views put them on the fringe. Which may explain why, when the government introduced C-71 last month, a hush fell over Opposition benches. "Conservatives cautious over Liberal gun bill, hold off attacks," read the headline in iPolitics.
Days later, appearing in Toronto next to the solidly pro-gun control Mayor John Tory, Mr. Scheer waxed eloquent about his devotion to tougher licensing. "[Conservatives] have always been supportive of measures that make sure we are looking at the individual who is buying the firearms and a robust licensing regime," he said.
Yet in rural ridings — and in Facebook ads shown only to specially selected users — where they imagine they'll find a more sympathetic ear, Conservative MPs have been trotting out the falsehood that C-71 is a long-gun registry.
In a recent visit to Kelowna, B.C., Mr. Scheer bravely took aim at the bill he won't dare speak about in Toronto, Calgary or Montreal. The word "registrar," he noted darkly, appears in the text. Cue the conspiracy theories!
Left unsaid is that in every case the "registrar" referred to is for licences, not firearms. Mr. Scheer and his team of crack political shots have yet to explain how it's possible to keep track of any licence, whether for safely owning a firearm or safely driving a motorcycle, without, in fact, keeping track of the licence.
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More to the point, Mr. Scheer has yet to explain which of our existing gun-control laws he'd repeal, how far he'd go in making dangerous weapons more easily accessible, and how any of this is even conceivable given that Canadians overwhelmingly support firm, fair and effective gun control, and safer streets.
This latest Conservative foray marks an unabashed return to the politics of division, distortion and cynical misstatement that characterized the party's tactics under its previous leader.
That was not your father's Conservative party. And neither is this.
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