Do not doubt for an instant the inevitability of a great howl of violent protest directed at anyone who dares to connect last week’s murderous shooting rampage near the Alberta town of Claresholm and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s war on gun registration.
But the murderer used a handgun, registration opponents will protest, and the registry was for long guns! Then the debate, if that’s the word, will quickly spin into the usual specious arguments about their property rights and the need for stiffer prison sentences – as if such concepts would make any difference to someone prepared to put the gun to his own and head pull the trigger once his bloody work was done.
In reality, though, the dots between these two points on the Conservative timeline for the Albertanization of Canada are quite close, and can be connected easily – which is why we should expect the Harper government to try to use a promise to end to the registration of handguns in the same way in the next federal election.
The most obvious dot-connector is the fact that, having seen the national rifle and shotgun registry work as an effective wedge issue in 2011, it is doubtful the Harper Conservatives will be able to resist the temptation to do the same thing again in 2015, or whenever they choose to call an election.
Of course, whatever issues they select as wedges will be driven to some degree by circumstance and public opinion at the time of the next vote. And, as much as it pains the gun nuts, it is well known that Canada’s short-gun registration rules and tough controls are popular with urban voters throughout Canada and almost everyone in Quebec.
But then, the Harperites knew that long-gun registration was popular in Canada’s cities, even out here in the feckless West where we vote Tory anyway and complain after the fact. And they certainly knew their plans to wreck the registry caused outright revulsion in Quebec, where the tragic act that led to the registry’s creation took place.
Yet none of this stood for a moment in the path of their compulsion to seek out the lowest common political denominator and drive in the wedge. Since it worked, and apparently unbridled by any ethical considerations, why would they do anything different the next time?
So, it is said here, no matter what denials you hear from your Conservative MP today, a wedge strategy to end the registration of handguns and thus encourage the further descent of Canadian cities into American-style violence (something we know about here in Edmonton, by God), followed by screeches for more ineffective and expensive prisons and more ineffective, expensive and cruel punishments, is even now sure to be percolating deep within the Harperite brain trust.
A second reason these bloody dots are not that far apart is that, as in the United States, despite being a tiny minority, the gun lobby is a powerful fund-raising auxiliary for parties of the far right like the Harper Conservatives.
The feeble radio ad campaign now being run by the Conservative Party won’t change anyone’s position on gun registration. Most of us will just tune it out, or be faintly bemused by the fact that it manages to tell three lies in 30 seconds, a rate of one every 10 seconds, which is unusual even by Harper Conservative standards.
The lies, for those of you who demand justification for such remarks, are:
- “The Conservative government has been given a strong mandate from Canadians to scrap it.” No they weren’t. It was hardly on the radar for most voters. Let’s call this one the “Counter-cheque Quarrelsome.”
- “Hunters and farmers won’t be treated as criminals anymore.” They never were. They were asked to register their weapons, as we are asked to register our cars. “The Lie Circumstantial.”
- “Don’t forget the billions that were wasted on creating and maintaining the registry, money that could be put to better use…” Well, no it can’t, actually. It’s been spent. Let’s call this “the Lie Direct.”
Dishonest though they may be, the ads serve as an effective reminder to Canadian gun nuts that the northern chapter of the Tea Party still needs their contributions to keep looking after their anti-social special interests.
The third reason is that the property rights argument, in the minds of advocates for unregulated gun ownership, applies to handguns as nicely as firearms with longer barrels, and presumably to hand grenades and unexploded roadside bombs as well.
To believe this, you also have to think your fundamental property rights are impinged by regulation of such forms of property as automobiles, which must be registered and licensed by their law-abiding owners, and certain recreational drugs and activities that are banned outright.
This emphasis on property rights, one suspects, originates in the good fortune of Canadians not to have a Second Amendment or its equivalent anywhere in their Constitution, thereby invalidating the argument we have an unabridgeable right to keep and carry arms of any type wherever and whenever we please.
Lacking such a justification, those among the gun advocates who understand that the U.S. Constitution does not apply on this side of the Medicine Line sail toward the only port available in this storm. Mind you, there is nothing in our Canadian Constitution specifically guaranteeing us “property rights” either, but from their perspective at least there is a body of precedent and other law.
As for their call for long prison sentences or other severe punishments as an alternative to sensible regulation and control, this is another effective wedge issue for the Harperites, but it is unlikely to do much to prevent the use of firearms in violent domestic incidents, whether they play themselves out at home or on Alberta’s highways. People like the shooter in last week’s horrific murders are obviously not planning carefully when they snatch up a gun head out on a killing spree.
But at least registration and the controls associated with it, if they are implemented vigorously, might prevent weapons falling into the hands of such a person in the first place – and how did this shooter happen to get his hands on a 9mm handgun? And if they don’t, as is well known, they give the police some knowledge about what they might be dealing with.
Whatever those who insist on their imagined right to own anti-social property may assert, Mr. Harper’s compulsion to use wedge issues like the national shotgun and rifle registry, and his war on our actual Constitutional right to peace, order and good government, will continue until he is driven from office.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.