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How do you solve a problem like Carey Price?

Until this week, discussion of that question was limited to sports-radio hotlines and online chat rooms as fans weighed in with colourful theories about the sidelined Montreal Canadiens goalie’s battle to rebound from the knee surgery that threatens to end his remarkable career.

It would be an understatement to say that Mr. Price has occupied an outsized place in the imaginations of Habs fans – indeed, of hockey aficionados the world over. The amount of time and energy such people can spend debating whether or not he ranks as the best goalie in the storied history of the Canadiens, or the National Hockey League itself, is frankly over the top.

Yet it pales in comparison to the overkill that Canadians witnessed this week after Mr. Price posted a photo on Instagram of himself wearing camouflage gear and holding a firearm, with the provocative caption: “What Justin Trudeau is trying to do is unjust.”

The photo is easily as evocative as the promotional spot that soccer greats Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo recently did for Louis Vuitton, which has been seen by hundreds of millions of people since its release on the eve of the World Cup. In his photo, Mr. Price appears to be enveloped in early morning fog, which serves as an apt metaphor for the political war over gun control that his post unleashed.

Mr. Price’s post was bound to make a splash, coming as it did in the midst of a House of Commons committee’s study of Bill C-21, legislation introduced by Public Safety Minister Marco Mendicino to formalize a national ban on handgun sales. But it also landed three days in advance of the 33rd anniversary of the slaughter of 14 women at Montreal’s École Polytechnique by a deeply disturbed misogynist – and so it served to supercharge an already explosive debate about Canada’s gun culture.

What ensued was a flurry of accusations attacking Mr. Price’s motives, intelligence and insensitivity toward Poly survivors. His team tried to cover for him by suggesting that Mr. Price, who would have been a two-year-old in British Columbia at the time of the shooting, had not been aware of the tragedy. That only sparked outrage and incredulity; Mr. Price has been playing in Montreal for 15 seasons. The goaltender himself followed up with a post correcting the record and saying he was sorry if he hurt anyone.

In his original post, Mr. Price indicated his support for the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, which had been tastelessly touting the promotional code POLY to sell merchandise on its website. The CCFR has taken particular aim at a Liberal amendment, introduced on Nov. 22, that the group says will “effectively mean the end of all semi-automatic long guns in Canada,” leaving many hunters such as Mr. Price in the lurch.

Mr. Mendicino riposted that the model of firearm held by Mr. Price in his photo is not covered by the ban and warned against “operating from false assumptions and confusion.” But the Liberals have been as guilty as the CCFR and its Conservative Party allies in propagating misleading information about the intent and effect of the gun control measures that they have embraced in recent months.

The sweeping amendment introduced by Liberal MP Paul Chiang would ban any “firearm that is a rifle or shotgun, that is capable of discharging centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner and that is designed to accept a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity greater than five cartridges of the type for which the firearm was originally designed.” The definition is complicated and open to interpretation. To spring it on opposition MPs without warning at the committee stage ensured that the move would be seen as suspect.

Still, the amendment is typical of the Liberals’ opportunistic approach to gun control. It was tabled days in advance of a Dec. 12 by-election in Mississauga-Lakeshore, a suburban swing riding. The Liberals successfully used gun control as a wedge issue against former Conservative leader Erin O’Toole in the 2021 election, so it is hardly surprising to see them resort to the same tactic now.

Of course, Mr. O’Toole stepped into the Liberals’ trap by promising (before flip-flopping) to repeal a Liberal order-in-council ban on “military-grade assault-style weapons” adopted only days after the 2020 mass shooting in Nova Scotia. The shooter in that tragedy obtained his guns illegally – at least two were smuggled into Canada from the United States – but Liberal opportunism apparently knows no bounds.

On gun control, the Liberals and Conservatives have both engaged in crass political tactics to mobilize factions within their respective bases. Both parties have sought to polarize the debate for fleeting political gain.

Mr. Price unwittingly served their purposes by expressing his opinion publicly. But he is not the problem. It is the politicians who are making a mess of this debate.