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Alberta MP launches petition to make House of Commons stop calling assault rifles 'assault rifles'

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Fort McMurray-Cold Lake Conservative MP David Yurdiga. Image credit: David Yurdiga/Facebook

It is an actual fact that Alberta MP David Yurdiga launched a petition yesterday calling on the House of Commons to stop using the term "assault rifle" to describe assault rifles.

Yurdiga is a member of the Conservative Party of Canada, naturally.

He was elected to the House of Commons in 2014 and has been rarely heard from since, so it's a relief to know he's OK and hasn't gone missing in the fleshpots of the National Capital Region.

The former reeve of Athabasca County hails from the southern part of the vast region that used to be known in respectable Alberta circles as the Athabasca tar sands.

That was before Conservative cancel culture, which is to say the original cancel culture, decided we needed to call those vast deposits of tarry sand "oil sands" instead, it being thought "oil" sounded more respectable than "tar." In the era of renewable energy, that ain't necessarily so, but as they say in Ottawa, je digresse.

The Hon. Member for Fort McMurray-Cold Lake argues in his petition that "the term 'assault rifle' was created by anti-gun groups to scare people and demonize firearm owners."

Now as it happens, this is not even remotely true.

The term "assault rifle" was almost certainly created by the German army, circa 1944. It is often attributed to Adolf Hitler himself, making this one of the few occasions one can mention the late German dictator in connection with Canadian politics with an absolutely clear conscience!

Not being English speakers like most of us around here in Wild Rose Country, the Germans called the weapon a Sturmgewehr, presumably because that means "assault rifle" in German.

Whoever was responsible for bringing the term over to the English language -- suitably translated, of course -- firearms manufacturers in the United States had no problem adopting it and making it popular.

"The term was first adopted by the manufacturers, wholesalers, importers and dealers in the American firearms industry to stimulate sales of certain firearms that did not have an appearance that was familiar to many firearm owners," wrote Phillip Peterson, the author of Gun Digest Buyer's Guide to Assault Weapons in 2008.

"The manufacturers and gun writers of the day needed a catchy name to identify this new type of gun," the Indiana firearms dealer explained.

It was gun dealers too who appear to have brought the term to Canada. Leastways, as St. Mary's University history professor Blake Brown pointed out in The Globe and Mail last year, advertisements for "assault rifles" showed up in exotic places like Calgary, Edmonton and Regina in 1976, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1986 and 1990.

"However," Brown noted, "in the 1990s the firearms community suddenly developed an allergy to calling any civilian firearm an assault rifle." In Canada, the proximate cause of this desire to stop calling assault rifles "assault rifles" was the massacre of 14 young women engineering students at the École Polytechnique in in Montreal in 1989 by a man using an assault rifle.

The reasons for their desire to drop a term previously popular in their circles are painfully obvious. It is flatly untrue to say, as Yurdiga's petition does, that it was the work of "anti-gun groups" seeking to frighten Canadians with "scary-looking features such as pistol grips or collapsible stocks that can be added to any firearm."

Nor is it true, as Yurdiga claims, that banning assault rifles "does not address the root cause of gun crime, gang violence and gun smuggling." However, that at least is a point the efficacy of which can be argued about, unlike the origin of the term "assault rifle," which is settled by history.

Yurdiga or an aide could have discovered all this with a few minutes using Google or another online search engine. Or, had he wanted to take a deeper dive into the topic, he could have made use of the excellent research facilities and 300 staff of the Library of Parliament, which was established in 1876 to "provide customized research and analysis" to members of Parliament and their aides.

It is discouraging that after almost seven years in Ottawa, Yurdiga was apparently unaware of this institution.

If he wishes to pursue this cause and be taken seriously, Yurdiga at least needs to suggest a replacement term for assault rifles that makes them sound more respectable. I guarantee you, though, that for reasons both tragic and obvious what happened to tar and is happening to oil would happen to whatever he came up with too.

As Yurdiga's efforts on Parliament Hill illustrate, though, it can never be said Alberta Conservative politicians aren't keeping their eyes on the ball despite the distractions of a global pandemic and global climate change.

If one northern MP isn't enough to persuade you of this, consider United Conservative Party Calgary-North MLA Muhammad Yaseen, whose private member's bill would make rodeo the official sport of Alberta.

Rodeo, Yaseen told Cochrane Now, is "a culture that is so collaborative, so cooperative, so caring, so compassionate" that he will not rest until it becomes Alberta's official sport.

Some exceptions may apply. If you were a talking chuckwagon horse, for example, you might dispute the compassion of rodeo. You might also have mixed feelings about COVID-19, since one impact of the pandemic was to shut down the Calgary Stampede last summer, resulting in a rare year in which no horses were put down because of chuckwagon race crashes.

You can mock Alberta Conservative politicians, but it is nearly impossible to parody them. Fortunately, they do that themselves without prompting. Sometimes twice in one week.

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions at The Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald.

Image credit: David Yurdiga/Facebook

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