When it comes to the cold, hard facts of Justin Trudeau’s assault weapon ban, the Conservative Party of Canada is on target with a lot of its criticism.
But it’s another story when it comes to the cold, hard polling numbers.
For Trudeau’s governing Liberals, the gun ban is a perfect political wedge issue to use against the Tories.
Trudeau has laid a trap for his opponents. For the Conservatives, it may be impossible to avoid getting tangled in it.
Conservative MP Erin O’Toole, currently seeking the party leadership, is better placed than most to see through Trudeau’s tricks on this one.
O’Toole is a decorated military veteran who knows exactly what a “military assault weapon” really is.
“When I joined the military, I learned to fire assault weapons — a fully-automatic C7, which is a variation of a U.S. machine gun,” O’Toole told me.
The C7 can spray bullets with a single squeeze of the trigger, with a firing rate of 700 rounds per minute.
But these are not the type of weapons Trudeau is banning in Canada. Fully automatic machine guns are already prohibited.
Instead, Trudeau is banning certain types of semi-automatic rifles. Each bullet fired requires a separate pull of the trigger, and the weapons accept an ammunition magazine containing a maximum of just five bullets.
“There are no assault weapons in Canada, period,” said O’Toole, noting Trudeau’s ban targets rifles like the AR-15, which have scary-looking features like a pistol grip, a short stock and are inevitably flat black in colour.
“What they’re banning is a series of semi-automatic weapons that have been around for generations,” O’Toole said.
“They use language like ‘military-style assault weapons’ to scare people.”
O’Toole also points to glaring loopholes in Trudeau’s ban, including the exemption for Indigenous Canadians.
Could criminal gun smugglers use the First Nations exemption to hide traffic in illegal weapons?
“The Trudeau government was being very lax when it comes to the border,” O’Toole said.
“Indigenous reserves straddling the border, both in Quebec and Ontario, have been flashpoints for smuggling — from illegal contraband cigarettes to firearms.
“That’s really where we have to focus our attention,” he said, arguing that banning guns owned by law-abiding Canadians will not keep people safer.
“They’re trading on emotion and misleading people.”
O’Toole is not wrong on this stuff. His criticism is precise and insightful. And he knows what he’s talking about as a former minister of veterans affairs.
But here’s the problem for him and the rest of the Conservatives: new polling shows most Canadians support the government’s gun ban.
A new Angus Reid survey suggests 80 per cent of voters back Trudeau, a troubling number for the Tories that gets worse when you break it down by region.
Support for the Trudeau weapon ban is highest in the crucial political battlegrounds of Ontario and Quebec, where the next election will likely be won or lost.
And even though the government is publicly focused on the COVID-19 pandemic, you can bet Liberal political strategists are privately smiling as they crunch the polling numbers.
So I asked O’Toole: how do the Conservatives get out of this trap?
“You get around to it by not lying to Canadians,” he told me, insisting the fight against deadly weapons should start at the Canada-U.S. border.
“We live on the border of the country with the most voracious appetite for weapons and the lowest standards of acquisition,” he said.
“So we have to work at the border. We have to be stronger on criminals.”
I asked O’Toole what a Conservative government would do if he wins the party leadership and becomes prime minister.
“I would reverse what Trudeau has done,” he said. “We will redraft our firearms legislation.”
Which is exactly what Trudeau and the Liberals want him to say.
The Liberals will surely see their gun ban now as a key wedge issue that drives votes their way in the next election.
Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews.