New Democrats seek common ground for long-gun registry

As I prepared myself to vote on the registry last month, I was struck by the way in which stereotypes dominated the debate and felt that both sides were not being fairly represented by broad, sweeping characterizations. Not all anti-registry proponents are anti-gun control - in fact no-one I spoke with came across that way – and not all proponents were opposed to hunting, sport-shooting or varmint control – again, no one suggested that either. What I did see, especially when I had conversations with people engaged on the issue, is that there is common ground, but that common ground was being pushed to the sides by a debate which seemed to focus on extremes.

The divisive debate over the long-gun registry that dominated parliament’s return has recently taken a new direction as proposals to fix long-standing complaints are being discussed. Instead of accepting a take-it-or-leave-it approach to the issue, a compromise position is being explored in an attempt to build bridges between opponents and proponents with the end goal being an appropriate gun policy and appropriate gun control practices.

On October 8th, New Democrats tabled legislation (C-580) on the registry that respects the concerns of rural Canadians while enhancing public safety. By listening closely to the voices of rural Canadians who feel the issue is as much about their way of life as it is gun control and those of urban Canadians concerned primarily with public safety, we believe this bill explores a common ground.

Now that the bill is before the House, New Democrats want to begin broad public consultations with stakeholders on all sides. We are looking to build a wide base of support for this initiative. All-Party support will be crucial to bridging that will reduce the urban and rural divide. In that regard, it is important to remember that the Conservatives were whipped by their party and forced to vote to scrap the registry. This past summer Conservative MPs and Cabinet Ministers erroneously indicated that changes could not be made to the registry; that suited their position on the issue, but is not supported by fact.

The legislation includes a number of concrete solutions for rural and urban Canadians, as well as Northern and Aboriginal communities. They include:

• providing a first-time exemption from criminal penalty for not registering a long-gun
• mandating the Auditor General to provide financial oversight of the registry
• protecting the privacy of gun owners’ identifying information
• creating a legal guarantee to uphold Aboriginal treaty rights
• establishing permanently free registration
• allowing military and police to share important information with the Canadian Firearms Program, including mental health concerns

Instead of believing our proposals are iron-clad and singularly correct, New Democrats will be looking for suggestions from stakeholders and other political parties that can further improve these proposals. From feedback I have received within the constituency, I truly believe that this is where the conversation needs to move.