The long-gun registry is back in the news. The government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper has launched a plan to finally put the federal long-gun registry out of business, plugging the hole down which more than $2-billion of taxpayers’ money have already drained.
The Tories have long argued that registration of rifles and shotguns is a useless burden on firearms owners and are now, with their majority in both the House and the Senate, in a position to scrap the database.
So once again the debate on the merits of the Tory initiative heats up: politicians posture and rant during Question Period and cable news channels top-up their schedules with interviews with much the same characters as we heard during the debate on Manitoba MP Candice Hoeppner’s Bill C-391 in 2009, which would have repealed the long-gun registry back then, had it not been voted down by the opposition.
I hear two primary arguments for retaining this costly program: (a) it’s a valuable tool for police services; and (b) it reduces crimes committed with long-guns.
Firstly, just because police say they want to have a certain tool doesn’t mean they should be given it. Many police services would like to have the option of searching homes without a warrant in times when a neighbourhood child goes missing. We may sympathize with police reasoning, but that does not justify suspending our basic right to privacy and protection against un-lawful search. Our laws should not be crafted primarily to make police work easier, otherwise, there would be an across-the-board ban on all guns, and be damned with individual rights. As to statistics police chiefs use in support of their contention the registry is a valuable police tool, here’s a passage from a piece I wrote last September:
A frequently used statistic to support keeping long-guns in the registry is the 14,012 average daily queries the RCMP claim were made in 2010. This oft-quoted statistic is grossly misleading as only 530 of those are specific to firearms registration (i.e., licence number, serial number and certificate number). The remaining 96.3 per cent (13,482) are automatically generated every time an address is checked or a [motor vehicle] license plate is verified.
Secondly, crimes committed with long-guns have indeed been declining. Some rightly point to the fact that from the mid-1990s—when the firearms registry became law—to 2010, there was a reduction in long gun crimes. But, as pointed out by the National Post’s Lorne Gunter in Wednesday’s newspaper, “there was already less [gun crime] in 1998 than there had been in 1988, and less in 1988 than there had been in 1978.” In other words, violent crime per capita in Canada peaked in 1975 and the rate has been on the decline since then.
It’s been the law in Canada since 1934 to register handguns. Yet handgun crimes are rampant on the streets of Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. If registration had the power to prevent crime and improve our safety, this simply would not be the case.
The long-gun registry applies only to sporting rifles and shotguns; all firearms classified as “restricted” or “prohibited” would remain registered, even after the House passes, as expected, its new bill.
Moreover, it is instructive to note there are alternatives in the form of other databases that keep track of firearm threats. Tom Stamatakis, president of the Canadian Police Association, gives the following examples:
- The National Information Centre holds criminal records;
- Police have access to data on firearms licences; and
- Provincial databases such as PRIME (Police Records Information Management Environment) in British Columbia, collect information from previous incidents, including where police noted firearms at people’s homes.
The long-gun registry was inspired by the murder of 14 students at Montreal’s Ecole Polytechnique by Marc Lapine using a legally obtained Mini-14 rifle. The current law would not have prevented that tragic incident.
Since its inception, the long-gun register has been mired in controversy, distortions and scandal. The gun registry has been reasonable described as a boondoggle and one of the most embarrassing spending scandals in federal Liberal Party history.
Spin, half-truths and muddled reasoning have been hallmarks of this debate. Let’s scrap the useless long-gun registry and move on.
A version of this entry was also published at
Postmedia’s Canada.Com The Real Agenda blog.
Postmedia’s Canada.Com The Real Agenda blog.