Jack Layton aboard HMCS Halifax

One can feel a certain sympathy with the predicament federal in which New Democratic Party Leader Jack Layton finds himself on the rifle-and-shotgun registry issue, whipsawed between the successful wedge politics of Prime Minister Stephen Harper and the effective machinations of Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff.

But so what? That’s politics. And while politics may be the art of the possible, there’s also a place for principle in public life.

Fighting to save the rifle-and-shotgun registry — without which undoubtedly the lives of ordinary citizens and peace officers alike will needlessly be lost — is a political hill worth dying on.

Who would have thought it, but thanks to this issue a lot of principled New Democrats who live in urban areas are thinking pretty seriously that they may have to hold their noses and vote for the Liberals in the next federal election. This goes beyond “strategic voting,” too, because the Liberals are taking the right position on this important issue and the New Democrat caucus, to be blunt about it, is not.

The Conservative position on the registration of rifles and shotguns, of course, is pure hypocrisy — driven by the unhealthy gun culture that prevails in their rural heartland and their tendency to worship any American idea, as long as it’s a bad one. The only knocks these clowns can actually come up with against the registry is that it cost too much to create and that it “burdens law-abiding gun owners with paperwork.”

Well, the first point is true, but so what? That horse has left the barn. Closing it down just wastes more money. As for the second, well cry me a river. The requirement to have plates, a driver’s license and insurance “burdens law abiding car owners with paperwork” too. So get used to it!

“Conservative” MPs like to pass themselves off as tough law’n’order hombres, and rare is the day some Conservative somewhere isn’t flapping his or her gums or pounding out a press release about getting tough on crime, being good friends to victims of crime and even better friends to the police.

But where the hammer hits the cartridge, as it were, they’re big phonies.

It’s the police, for crying out loud — the police — who are begging to keep the registry. (And please don’t bring up that highly dubious poll in a magazine for cop wannabes that supposedly showed support among police for scrapping the registry.)

Here’s what the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police said last year about the registry: “We believe the elimination of Canada’s national firearms licensing registration system for rifles and shotguns will make Canada less safe. We believe it will compromise the ability of law enforcement to deal effectively with gun violence. We believe law enforcement will lose access to information that helps us keep our officers and our communities safe.”

Here’s what Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair said in Edmonton last month when the chiefs got together in Harper’s heartland for one last attempt to drum a little sense into those thick Harperista skulls.

“Our support for the long-gun registry is because we use the information contained in that registry virtually every day — we use it over 11,000 times a day,” Chief Blair told local reporters. “Our police officers use that information to conduct criminal investigations, they use it to keep communities safe, and they use it to keep themselves safe.”

During their Edmonton meeting, the chiefs also usefully put an end to the myth that these so-called long guns — that is, rifles and shotguns — are benign and that all crimes are committed with handguns. As the local newspaper reported: “Of the last 16 officers shot to death in Canada, 14 were killed with long guns (and) long guns represent the majority of guns seized by officers nationwide.”

The Conservatives and their gun-nut supporters know perfectly well that this is the truth, but these great friends of law’n’order don’t give a … hoot.

After all, there’s votes in them-thar hillbillies! Not to mention, perhaps, a deeper and more troubling possibility. As Umberto Eco put it in Eternal Fascism: Fourteen Ways of Looking at a Blackshirt: “Since even sex is a difficult game to play, the Ur-Fascist hero tends to play with weapons — doing so becomes an ersatz phallic exercise.”

When sexual inadequacy and long-guns come together, of course, the results can be deadly and tragic, as Canadians found to their horror on Dec. 6, 1989, when we lost another 14 innocent daughters and sisters who shouldn’t have had to die.

Layton needs to get his NDP caucus under control, to quit playing silly buggers with private members’ bills and abstentions, and to support the Liberals on this important issue.

If he can’t or won’t, it will make it all the harder for those of us who generally support the NDP platform to support the party behind it. This is especially true for those of us who live in cities and care about reducing gun violence, which our so-called Conservative government obviously does not.

As for the incorrigible gun nuts, if these supposedly law-abiding souls can’t abide the burdens of registration and can’t produce evidence of a spavined horse in their barn or a coyote in their chicken house, perhaps next time we should justify their paranoid fantasies and just take their rifles and shotguns away from them forever.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...