The Commons: A gun-measuring contest in the House

On the eve of eliminating the long-gun registry, we seem to have started a debate about guns

The Scene. At last the House was united.

“Mr. Speaker,” declared Alice Wong, minister of state for seniors, reading carefully from the piece of paper in front of her, “I will take no lesson from the opposition.”

Both sides variously roared with agreement and soon thereafter the farce of this afternoon’s proceedings moved from thinly veiled to unabashed. Switch “I” for “we” and the government might have an answer for everything and we might be able to pronounce closure on this entire business of parliamentary democracy for at least the next four years. Think of all the time that would free up. Not to mention the money saved on electricity bills when we no longer have to bother pretending there’s a reason to keep the lights on in here.

The hour had actually begun on a stridently serious note, at least insofar as there is surely nothing more serious than the gun.

Interim opposition leader Nycole Turmel rose to express her concern that various firearms might be insufficiently tracked as a result of the government’s decision to do away with the long-gun registry. Specifically, Ms. Turmel was worried about the semi-automatic Ruger Mini-14 (apparently used in last summer’s massacre in Norway and the shooting at École Polytechnique), an “armor-piercing rifle” called the Steyr HS .50, a “long range rifle” called the L115A3 and an “assault rifle” known as the Tavor TAR-21.

“Mr. Speaker, let me quote the Conservatives’ Associate Minister of National Defence,” Ms. Turmel offered with her third intervention. ” ‘A very obvious concern to us in policing is that I want my police officers to know where there are firearms when they respond to calls, especially those that very often entail dangerous situations.’

“Does the Prime Minister agree,” she asked, “that the semi automatic weapons used in École Polytechnique are dangerous? Does he agree with his associate critic that it is an obvious concern for our police officers to know where these guns are when they respond to a dangerous situation?”

Mr. Harper kept to his script, delivered in as unthreatening and even a tone as possible. “Once again, Mr. Speaker, the system for the classification of firearms was established long ago,” he said. “The government follows the process. It is not changed in any way by this particular bill.”

Matters were then turned over to Jack Harris, who hammered his syllables for the purposes of pronouncing shame.

“Mr. Speaker, under this legislation, semi-automatics and armour-piercing sniper rifles, even those capable of dropping a target two kilometres away, will no longer need to be registered,” he declared. “The government likes to talk about hunters, but the last time I checked, hunters are not going after armoured targets a kilometre and a half away.”

Alas, Mr. Harris apparently remains blind to threat posed by tank dogs.

Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is never not either profoundly outraged or profoundly saddened, opted here for sadness. For not only was Mr. Harris apparently mistaken—as a result of a Toronto Star report at that!—but even if there was something amiss here, it was almost definitely the fault of some previous government.

“Mr. Speaker, it is unfortunate that member opposite is relying on a very misleading Toronto Star story for his research,” Mr. Toews lamented. “Claims that our government has changed the process for classification of firearms are simply not correct. In fact the current process was put in place by the former Liberal government, and that process continues.”

Nonetheless, on the eve of eliminating the long-gun registry, we seemed suddenly to have started a debate about guns. If it weren’t for bad timing, you might say, this place would have no sense of time at all.

Afterwards, Mr. Toews wandered out into the foyer to make an announcement about something else entirely at one of the free-standing microphones set up for such things. When the reporters present insisted on asking him questions about his plans for Omar Khadr, he attempted a getaway. A slow motion chase—more of a mob shuffle, really—ensued before Mr. Toews surrendered and made his way to another of the microphones. There he was asked about various things, including the possibility that the classification of some long guns might need revisiting.

This, he said, was “an issue for another day.” Which perhaps suggested there was actually something to discuss. Which would at least give this Parliament something to do with the next four years.

The Stats. The economy, seven questions. Firearms, six questions. Military procurement, government accounting and crime, three questions each. The disabled, seniors, the Canadian Wheat Board, Omar Khadr, the G8 Legacy Fund, the auditor general and rail service, two questions each. Aboriginal affairs, veterans and Saudi Arabia, one question each.

Stephen Harper, six answers. Kellie Leitch and Vic Toews, five answers each. Gary Goodyear, Rob Nicholson and Tony Clement, three answers each. Alice Wong, David Anderson, Steven Fletcher and Julian Fantino, two answers each. Shelly Glover, John Duncan, Steven Blaney and Diane Ablonczy, one answer each.

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