Breakenridge: Alberta won’t fall for Liberal grandstanding on urban handgun control

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It could be reasonably argued that the Alberta government has much bigger issues to focus on than gun control. Then again, the same could be said of the federal government.

On the surface, it seems like a straightforward version of a story that has played out numerous times in the past: a federal Liberal government, pandering to its base, tightens firearms regulations. In response, an Alberta conservative government, pandering to its base, laments the focus on law-abiding gun owners at the expense of going after criminals.

What’s different this time, however, is that the federal government is actually abdicating its jurisdiction on this issue and the Alberta government is interceding to short-circuit this farce. Alberta’s actions, in other words, make much more sense.

The federal government certainly has the jurisdiction and authority to ban certain firearms. We saw this last year as hundreds of non-restricted and restricted semi-automatic rifles were reclassified as prohibited (of course, many other semi-automatic rifles were not banned; some are now considered “assault weapons,” while others are not, but good luck figuring out the difference).

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But now when it comes to handguns, the federal government is opting not to ban these firearms. Instead, the Liberals are proposing to give municipalities the power to ban handguns, although it’s very much unclear how this is all going to work and how much this will cost municipalities.

Keep in mind that Ottawa is not proposing to give municipalities power to regulate firearms. Cities could not ban other types of firearms nor could they loosen existing firearms regulations. They could do this one specific thing, although in practice it’s unlikely that municipal “gun ban” bylaws would have the same legal impact as a federal “prohibited” classification. In any event, the takers on this new “power” will likely be few and far between.

It would be patently absurd to make firearms regulation in Canada a municipal responsibility, and critics — including both supporters of a handgun ban and opponents of one — are right to call out the Liberals for this lame attempt to make it appear as though they’re doing something.

The other problem the Liberals have created for themselves is that they’ve taken an issue where they have clear jurisdiction and stumbled straight into an area of clear provincial jurisdiction. Again, the feds can ban handguns. They could probably even propose a ban specific to urban areas of a certain size. But the powers and jurisdiction that municipalities possess flow directly from provincial legislation, not federal.

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As such, Alberta now seems likely to follow Saskatchewan’s lead in making this point crystal clear, as if it wasn’t already. Alberta’s justice minister announced last week that the government would be expediting a private member’s bill that would amend the Municipal Government Act to stipulate that the province has the final say on any municipal bylaws concerning firearms.

The Liberals probably won’t mind the idea of “conservative premiers” getting in the way of their plans to “keep Canadians safe.” This was all rather political to begin with, anyway. The Liberals are much better at weaving together political narratives than they are at weaving together coherent public safety policy.

This isn’t about the merits of a handgun ban, although it should be noted that handguns and their legal owners are already very strictly regulated and handguns illegally smuggled in from the U.S. are the far bigger problem. What this comes down to is Liberal grandstanding ahead of a likely federal election this year and Alberta rightly refusing to let its own jurisdiction be a party to that.

It is true that Alberta’s government relishes any sort of fight with the federal government (so long as it remains a Liberal government), but they didn’t start this one. The “distraction” in this case is a minor tweaking of a provincial law. Under the circumstances, that seems reasonable enough.

“Afternoons with Rob Breakenridge” airs weekdays 12:30-3:30 p.m. on 770 CHQR rob.breakenridge@corusent.com  Twitter: @RobBreakenridge

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