There are few voters who are less focused on the overall picture and their fellow electorate and more focussed on one issue and themselves than firearm owners.
Every election cycle, it is guaranteed that firearm ownership will be an issue. Every election cycle, firearm owners get loud and, with the advent of social media, even more amplified and ripe for cherry picking quotes for anti-firearm groups and political parties alike. The echo chamber of firearm-focussed social media groups and forum platforms provide the single-issue firearm owner with the confidence that they are right - and everyone else is wrong. To the most vocal, it is more important to be their version of right and lose than compromise and win.
Robert Sopuck, former Conservative Member of Parliament for the riding of Dauphin, an avid hunter, once sat in a meeting with a prominent firearm advocacy group, took one look at their t-shirts and stated: “Here’s the problem, guys. I’m a politician. I’m in the business of compromise.”
Sopuck’s statement couldn’t be more true. But, many firearm owners would disagree - and get loud in the process, providing more ammunition for political party leaders who are also not in the business of compromise, in a different way, taking aim at Canadian firearm owners every election cycle.
Erin O’Toole, running as the Conservative Party of Canada Leader in this 2021 election, originally committed to a repeal of the May 1st, 2020 Order in Council, put in place by the government led by Justin Trudeau, after the shootings in Nova Scotia that left 20 people dead.
Forget for a moment that the individual was not a licensed firearm owner. Forget for a moment that he did not acquire his firearms legally. Forget for a moment that the RCMP had been made aware of him having firearms in his possession that he shouldn’t have up to 11 years prior to the incident.
Forget all of that.
Because, to the average Canadian outside of the echo chambers of social media, online forums and gun clubs - they stopped listening at “20 people dead”. For a sitting government already focussed on more gun control and no compromise on it, it was the perfect time for an emotion-driven Order in Council to prohibit select models based on the fact they were used in some of Canada’s and the world’s most publicized tragedies.
The AR-15, because of the tragedy in Christchurch - New Zealand, Sandy Hook - Connecticut, Parkland - Florida and others. However, none in Canada.
The Ruger Mini 14, because of the tragedy at L’Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal and allegedly in the Nova Scotia tragedy.
The M14, because of the tragedy in Moncton, New Brunswick in which three members of the RCMP were killed.
The Beretta CX4 Storm, because of the tragedy at Dawson College in Montreal.
The SIG Sauer MCX and MPX, because of the Orlando Nightclub Tragedy.
The VZ-58 and the very similar CZ 858, because of the Quebec City Mosque shooting.
Other models that have a certain aesthetic appearance and models that have been prohibited in Canada for decades already were also on that list to add to the overall emotional response.
Many firearm owners are quick to respond to this prohibition with facts regarding the warning signs many of the madmen in these acts demonstrated ahead of carrying out their terrible deeds and a whole slew of numbers and tidbits to support their stance. Classic “guns don’t kill people. People kill people.”
“X number of people dead. Firearm X was used.”
That’s all most Canadians hear. Inundate them with facts, especially in tragedies that have caused a heightened emotional response and they will shut themselves down and harden their position on ‘doing more to protect people’ - including banning guns.
We have to do better in engaging the public who don't own firearms with an empathetic approach to their stance - but that's for another time.
When Erin O’Toole pivoted with two weeks remaining in his campaign and stated that the May 1st Order in Council would remain in place and a Conservative-led government would depoliticize the classification of firearms in Canada, it was a pivot of compromise that those who believe in no compromise can’t seem to be able to accept. But, Erin O’Toole and others who have been involved in politics for many years know that to win, compromise is part of the strategy and that emotion-based wedge issues are a campaign killer.
One cannot govern if they can not form government and if they can not form government, it doesn’t matter what promises they make. Campaign promises do not equal legislation passed by Parliament.
Candidates that may make it to the seats of the House of Commons from parties that have no chance of forming government, which is a very big long shot based on our Westminster Parliamentary System, where the national popular vote does not translate into seats, can scream all they want from their seat if they make it. They will have no impact on legislation.
Only parties that form government, or can cooperate together in a minority government situation, can impact the legislative calendar and the passing of laws.
Faced with a very big emotionally-based wedge issue, one that seemed to grow by the day with a barrage from sitting Liberal MPs, the Prime Minister himself due to his own failures and hypocrisy being exposed and the national media, Erin O’Toole took the measured approach, changed course and continued to focus on a positive campaign at a time when the Trudeau Liberals are vulnerable.
It’s understandable that the firearm community doesn’t like this move and feels betrayed. The Canadian firearm industry does as well. But, this is not the time to flee to a fringe party that has no chance of forming government - or may end up, a long shot at best, with one member screaming from their seat in Parliament.
This is not the time to firm up the path for another mandate for Justin Trudeau, who is guaranteed to show no compromise when it comes to his party’s vision for gun control in Canada.
Like it or not, there is only one leader and one political party that is demonstrating a measured and level approach on the economy, foreign policy, pandemic recovery, healthcare, public safety, social programs for those who need help the most and yes - guns. At least with the Conservatives, firearm owners will have the opportunity to have a discussion on the topic. With anyone else, or a vote cast for a party that can’t form the next government, a path will be forged for even more prohibitions to come, very soon.
There will be no going back to what once was at that point.
Get out and vote - and do it wisely.
*Opinions expressed are solely the opinion of the author, who has spent more than 25 years being directly involved in the political process in one capacity or another.