Gun registry needs a serious overhaul

Shooting themselves in the foot


It’s been a busy summer for people with an opinion about the long gun registry in Canada. I have received hundreds of emails, phone calls, letters and faxes from folks right across the country.  Here in the Northwest, people have been stopping me at farmers’ markets, fall fairs, on the street and in the coffee shops to tell me what they think and what I should do in today’s vote.

I am writing to you today in an effort to begin to reframe the debate around the long gun registry.  I have always called for this honest debate about better gun laws in Canada. Laws that don’t criminalize honest hunters and farmers. Laws that make our streets safer and crack down on the import of illegal assault weapons. Laws that work in the real world and are not just symbols that make some people feel safer while having minimal actual impact.

Today’s vote is on a Liberal motion to kill Bill C-391 (the Conservative private member’s bill to scrap the long gun registry), and not on the gun registry itself.  By the time most of you read this, the vote will have happened and, one way or another, we’ll be into the next phase of this very hot debate.  For the record, I do not support the Liberal motion.  I want to see our country have a real debate about the registry, reframed so that we can talk solutions and leave the political spin doctors on the sideline.

What we’ve seen over the past six months has been anything but a productive and meaningful debate.  Contrary to their rhetoric, the Conservatives have actually been working against the interests of those Canadians who want the long gun registry scrapped.  Conservative MPs have accused our national police force of plotting to confiscate all guns across the country in some sort of midnight raid. This kind of conspiracy thinking is not only dangerous, but also downright insulting to the men and women who put their lives on the line for us every day.  Other offensive Conservative tactics involving attack ads and taking tips from the US National Rifle Association on how to run the anti-registry campaign have also worked to drive Opposition MPs against the anti-registry cause.

The Liberals, meanwhile, say a debate about guns is too sensitive to allow their MPs a free vote. This is a real tragedy for our democracy and a failure of leadership by Mr. Ignatieff. A good leader trusts his or her team, and a real democratic party believes the link between an elected representative and voters must be strengthened, not weakened. I’m proud that the NDP has honoured the ‘Democratic’ that’s enshrined in our name and allowed a free vote on this issue.

I also believe the first priority of any government should be to help unite this broad and diverse country. Driving wedges might help parties raise money and scare votes their way but the end result is a weaker, divided and more suspicious Canada.

We must move beyond the poisonous bickering that has marked the gun fight and start a real conversation that brings rural and urban Canadians together instead of driving the country apart.  We can and must do better for rural Canadians offended by the expense and ineffectiveness of the long gun registry.

Differences of opinion do not overshadow our shared values and a lasting resolution to the gun debate is within reach if we’re all willing to start a real discussion.