NDP Leader Jack Layton says the long-gun registry may not be done just yet. Layton said Tuesday enough of his MPs will vote against a private member's bill to scrap the registry that it may be saved.

Layton said Tuesday "a very strong majority" of the NDP's rural caucus has decided to vote against the bill during a vote in the House next Wednesday.

Tory MP Candice Hoeppner tabled the bill, which passed second reading with the support of 12 New Democrats and eight Liberals. The Bloc Quebecois says it will vote against the bill next week, and Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff has ordered his caucus to do the same.

That puts the bill's fate in the hands of the NDP.

Layton had said his MPs can vote freely on private members' bills. As of Monday, four New Democrats who originally voted for Hoeppner's bill said they will vote against it next week.

Speaking to CTV's Power Play from the NDP caucus meeting in Regina, Layton would not reveal how many of his MPs he convinced to change their votes.

"My members have asked that they have the opportunity to make whatever announcement they have to make in their own ridings in their own way, because it's really from listening to their own constituents that they've arrived at this conclusion," Layton said. "And so you'll have to await those announcements over the days to come. But what I can tell you is that we now are very confident that that registry can be maintained and therefore fixed."

The NDP and the Liberals have proposed keeping and amending the registry to make it more palatable to rural voters, including decriminalizing first offences if they don't include other crimes, and respecting the treaty rights of First Nations people.

CTV News's Ottawa Bureau Chief Robert Fife said Tuesday if Layton is sure he has enough of his members who support saving the long-gun registry then that's what should happen, unless some Liberal MPs who previously supported killing the registry are absent from the vote. However, Ignatieff has said he wants all members of his caucus in the House of Commons when the vote takes place.

Fife said this gives Conservatives ammunition for the next election campaign.

"What they want to be able to do in the next election campaign is to go into Liberal and NDP ridings and rural areas and say, ‘this member of Parliament, he said he wanted to kill the registry -- and he didn't do it,'" Fife told CTV News Channel. "And so from the Conservatives point of view, they think they can win seats in rural Canada as a result of the NDP and Liberal MPs who have changed their mind on the vote."

Fife reported later Tuesday that although the Conservatives, Liberals and the NDP hope to avoid a federal election this fall, a senior Conservative told him the party thinks it can win between 15 and 20 seats in rural ridings when Canadians next go to the polls. "And that could be the difference between a majority government," Fife said.

Tories deny ties to U.S. gun lobby

The news from the NDP camp came hours after the federal government was forced to deny Liberal accusations that it has ties to the U.S. gun lobby, including the powerful National Rifle Association.

"This friends, is typical of the arrogant intellectual contempt in which the Liberal party holds so many people, especially in rural Canada," Harper told supporters in Edwards, Ont., Tuesday night.

Harper was responding to charges from Liberal House Leader David McGuinty that the Tories are bowing to the U.S. gun lobby with their decision to scrap the long-gun registry. McGuinty also called on the Conservatives to come clean about any ties to the NRA.

In an address to reporters Tuesday, McGuinty offered no evidence that the NRA or other U.S. gun lobby groups have had direct influence over Tory policy. He only referred to recent media reports that suggest the NRA has been providing advice to Canadian firearms groups for their lobbying efforts against the long-gun registry.

McGuinty also cited a 2006 forum co-hosted by Tory MP Garry Breitkreuz that featured the head of the NRA as a keynote speaker.

But he said the Liberals want to get out the message that "the National Rifle Association, its members and its leadership, should butt out of Canada's gun registry debate.

"Canadians should be very concerned about the influence of the largest and most controversial U.S. lobby group on our gun registry debate," McGuinty said. "This is a government that is choosing to listen to a powerful foreign influence over our own police, our victim's groups, our medical experts (and) in fact, the majority of Canadians when it comes to gun control in this country."

After McGuinty repeated his charges during an interview on Power Play, Hoeppner called the allegations "another example of Liberal misinformation and nonsense.

"And the supporters of the Liberals and the long-gun registry keep spewing this kind of stuff into the public. The fact is they have no argument left to support their billion-dollar boondoggle, and so they put forward complete untruths and misinformation."

Hoeppner said Breitkreuz did not organize the forum at which the head of the NRA spoke. He was invited along with all members of the rural caucus, she said.

During his speech Tuesday, Harper vowed that his government "is not going to rest until that long gun registry is abolished."

In an effort to sway votes, the Conservatives launched a publicity campaign Monday aimed at the ridings of the New Democrats and the Liberals who originally supported the bill. The campaign includes radio and billboard ads that urge constituents to pressure their MP to vote to scrap the registry.

With files from The Canadian Press