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Alberta Tory MP Brent Rathgeber on the long-gun registry: Welfare-state social engineering, or what?

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Edmonton-St. Albert MP Brent Rathgeber - really!

It takes a special kind of politician to use the shooting of two police officers as evidence for the need to eliminate the long-gun registry.

You see ... er … the registry was an example of the welfare-state mentality! That's it, I think.

I'm not making this up. My community's member of Parliament, Brent Rathgeber, publishes a blog on his website and, in his Feb. 8 post, used the shooting of two RCMP officers near the not-too-distant town of Killam the day before as a platform to defend the ongoing plan by his Conservative Party to shut down the long-gun registry and destroy the data it contains.

The MP for Edmonton-St. Albert sits on Parliament's Public Safety Committee, whence he has been a braying voice for dismantling the registry. When he's not doing that, he advocates turning the CBC into a charity. In addition … actually, that's about it.

Now, it had been my intention for several reasons to draw no connections between the shooting of the RCMP officers at Killam and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's plans to continue using the registry as a Conservative Party fund-raising machine.

After all, I thought, the case appeared to involve a handgun, and so the weapon used to shoot the officers wouldn't have shown up in the long-gun registry. What's more, from the news coverage of the shootings, the police obviously knew there was a gun in the residence they were approaching. Plus, in this case, right from the get-go the shooter obviously wasn't a "law-abiding gun owner" of the type Rathgeber purports to defend. So, from my perspective, there wasn't really much of a connection with the long-gun registry.

Moreover, I didn't particularly feel like trying to score political points off gun nuts or their Tory enablers out of respect for the officers, who thankfully by the sound of news reports will recover from their injuries.

Finally because, as much fun as it is to rile up the gun set and get them to say outrageous things by daring to mention a fight that they in fact have won, I'm growing weary of their hysteria.

Still, it's hard not to say something when my own community's MP takes the opportunity to exploit a painful event like this, which could easily have turned out to be a terrible tragedy, to score a few cheap political points.

He was reigniting the debate over the long-gun registry at this time, Rathgeber explained, because events like the shooting at Killam and the March 2005 tragedy at Mayerthorpe in which four Mounties were shot to death "reignite the debate over the merits of the LGR."

"However," he stated, "the fact that incidents like Mayerthorpe and Killam occur demonstrate the sad reality that there is no connection between preventing such tragedies and the LGR."

Alas, Rathgeber provides no evidence for or explanation of this strongly stated proposition. Instead, he expresses his opinion that the rifle and shotgun registry won't work because it "represents the worst of the modern welfare-state mentality." Say what?

What this latter comment may in fact be evidence of, to paraphrase Nobel Prize winning economist Paul Krugman's recent observation about the state of the conservative movement south of the Medicine Line, is that for conservatives on either side of the border tinfoil hats are becoming an increasingly de rigueur as a fashion accessory.

Rathgeber explained his belief there is a connection between the welfare state and the gun registry by arguing that the latter "is based on the premise that people who are likely to flaunt the law generally will somehow respect a law that requires them to register their firearms. The simple and overstated reality is that this premise is simply fallacious."

Of course, while that statement may be fallacious, it's not actually the premise on which the registry was based. The premise of the long-gun registry was that it would help to keep firearms out of the hands of people deemed to be a danger to themselves or others, and help return stolen firearms to their legitimate owners.

Now, it's quite legitimate for Rathgeber and other opponents of the registry to argue that it didn't work, couldn't work, or cost too much money -- all of which they have asserted, and indeed some of them also say about gun licenses and restrictions on the ownership of handguns. On these points, I suppose, we can all exchange statistics and angry Tweets until we are blue in the face.

But Rathgeber is just making it up when he suggests, without any supporting evidence whatsoever, that the premise of the long-gun registry was for it to be a social engineering project to turn the criminally minded into square-john citizens disinclined to flout the law. It is also worth noting, I suppose, that just because a legal measure is not 100-per-cent effective doesn't mean it's not effective at all.

Now, I have to pause here to say that in all the years I have read stylebooks warning aspiring writers not to confuse "flaunt" and "flout," I have never come across an actual example in practice. I recognize that is tempting fate to draw this to anyone's attention, as we all make errors of this sort from time to time. But still, forgive me Brent, there it is, a ripe plum just waiting to be plucked! Also, I liked the way you slipped in the Franklin Roosevelt quote.

Rathgeber begins to draw his post to a close with an observation that one could fairly summarize as saying that if you're a police officer who relies on the long-gun registry for information, it's your own darn fault anyway if someone takes a potshot at you.

He concludes with the thought that since "psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors have been unable to significantly alter human behaviour when it comes to homicidal tendencies, it is unrealistic that legislated registries will perform any better."

I wonder if these same psychologists, psychiatrists and counsellors might have better luck keeping blogging Tories of the Parliamentary variety from drawing illogical and unsupported conclusions that, to borrow a delightful phrase from Toronto Star columnist Heather Mallick, writing on the same topic, tends to make one "an MP who will lower the tone of any municipal wiener roast you invite him to."

Well, to Rathgeber's credit, at least he didn't equate the registry with any European political movements from the 1930s.

Still, as political blog posts go, the timing of this one made it pretty tacky!

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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