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The gun lobby appears to have Harper in a corner


The gun lobby appears to have Harper in a corner

The mystery deepens. Why did the National Firearms Association pull out of hearings last Monday on the Conservatives’ anti-terrorism bill, C-51? NFA president Sheldon Clare had criticized C-51 as “being a sort of creeping police state bill”. But when he was given the chance to express these views to a Commons committee, he desisted at the last minute — and never explained the decision.

A week later, the NFA still isn’t talking — not even to its own members. Several of them asked for an explanation on the organization’s Facebook page, only to see their posts deleted.

So the speculation continues. Did the NFA agree to pull out because it was assured by the Tories that its concerns would be addressed? Last Friday, the government announced that it would amend several sections of C-51, including Section 6, which will no longer authorize the sharing of information “with any person for any purpose”. These and other changes will (nominally) increase privacy protection, one of the main concerns held by Openmedia, a coalition which the NFA joined in opposing the bill. So the promise of amendments might have given the NFA an incentive to hold its fire, sparing the Tories the public humiliation of being called out on a high-profile bill by members of their own base.

A better clue to the NFA’s surprise absence might be found here, however. After a hiatus of four months, second reading on Bill C-42 — the Common Sense Firearms Licensing Act — is set to resume April 1. The legislation would combine the two types of existing firearms licences into one, create a grace period for gun licence renewals, ease restrictions on transporting guns and put anyone convicted of domestic assault under a lifetime ban from getting a firearms licence.

C-42 was scheduled to be debated on October 22, 2014, but was postponed due to Michael Zehaf-Bibeault’s one-man attack on Parliament Hill and has been stuck at second reading since November 26. Gun owners are complaining that the government is dragging its feet on the bill; they think the Tories are taking them for granted as the election approaches.

Even more significant than C-42’s return to the legislative calendar, however, is the prospect of amendments. The NFA has been loudly demanding changes — including a further easing of restrictions on the transport of firearms and an appeal clause allowing those whose permit applications are denied to file challenges.

And if they don’t get what they want? The NFA represents 75,000 gun owners. Imagine them all staying home on Election Day. I guarantee you, Prime Minister Harper is imagining it already.

“I remember another Canadian prime minister who acted against the interests of Canadian firearms owners,” Clare told the Ottawa Citizen earlier this month. “The situation that she faced in that subsequent election is where large numbers of otherwise supportive voters chose not to support that party and in many cases they just didn’t vote … If anyone thinks the firearms issue was not part of her defeat, they are very, very mistaken.”

It will be very interesting to see how the government responds to the NFA’s concerns on this and another matter — a petition the organization has launched calling on Ottawa to repeal Criminal Code restrictions on the magazine capacity for semi-automatic weapons. Right now, semi-automatics are limited to five or ten cartridges per magazine, depending on the make of firearm. The RCMP’s website gives the example of a 25-cartridge Smith and Wesson, which is currently illegal in this country.

The NFA claims these restrictions don’t actually protect anybody, because “if one has a criminal intent to use a firearm illegally, and wishes to use a standard capacity magazine, one merely has to use a power drill to remove the rivet which pins it at the legal capacity.”

Maybe so. That’s probably cold comfort to the families of the three Moncton police officers killed with Justin Bourque’s semi-automatic weapon in 2014, or of the four officers murdered in Mayerthorpe with James Roszko’s semi-automatic in 2005. Opposing any moves to ease magazine restrictions, gun control groups have been calling for an outright ban on semi-automatic weapons. But they’re no fans of the Conservatives — as opposed to the two million firearms owners the Tories would like to target at election time.

And the government likely will bring out the big guns sooner rather than later. Both C-42 and the petition will be up for discussion May 22 at the “political and legal issues” discussion at the NFA’s upcoming AGM in Quebec City.

Another coincidence? Now that’s a loaded question.

Tasha Kheiriddin is a political writer and broadcaster who frequently comments in both English and French. After practising law and a stint in the government of Mike Harris, Tasha became the Ontario director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation and co-wrote the 2005 bestseller, Rescuing Canada’s Right: Blueprint for a Conservative Revolution. Tasha moved back to Montreal in 2006 and served as vice-president of the Montreal Economic Institute, and later director for Quebec of the Fraser Institute, while also lecturing on conservative politics at McGill University. Tasha now lives in Whitby, Ontario with her daughter Zara, born in 2009.

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