Stephen Harper announced on April 4 that a re-elected Conservative government would scrap Canada’s long gun registry. That hardly comes as a surprise. The Conservatives hate the registry. They tried in the last parliament to do away with it and have all of its records destroyed but they lost the vote narrowly in the House of Commons in November 2010. The Conservatives habitually use the registry as a wedge issue that they hope will dislodge votes from NDP and Liberal MPs in rural and small town areas. For a long while it looked as though the politics of division was working, but prior to last fall’s vote there was a growing chorus in support of the registry from police chiefs, emergency room physicians, nurses, people who run women’s shelters, labour unions and others. The Conservative bid to divide and conquer could well backfire in this election.
The Firearms Act was passed in 1995, a response by the Liberal government to the 1989 massacre by Marc Lepine of 14 young women at Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal. The Act required gun owners to obtain permits and to have their rifles and shotguns registered. People were not prevented from owning and using these guns but they were expected to register them. Supporters of the registry believe it is a valuable tool for preventing gun violence, often arising from domestic disputes. Some people, for a variety of reasons, including a record of instability or violence, can be denied ownership if compromising information comes to light when they seek a firearms permit. With a registry, police heading to the scene of disturbances can find, by running a computer check, if there are registered firearms at the address.
The Canadian Police Association, the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Association of Police Boards all support the registry. The RCMP produced early in 2010 that said the registry works, but the government prevented its distribution for months and released it only reluctantly.
Myths and reality
Conservative MPs (and some others) untroubled by the facts have been constantly repeat a mantra against the long gun registry â€“ but repetition does not make it true. Let’s look at some of their claims:
The registry is a financial boondoggle:
The registry’s implementation in the 1990s did go badly, a saga that involved large cost overruns and expensive computer software that at first didn’t work. But those problems have been sorted out and more than seven million guns have now been registered. The boondoggle argument is out of date and the registry’s costs are now modest. The RCMP manages the registry and reports that in 2009 the long-gun portion of the entire firearms registry (which also includes restricted weapons like handguns) cost $4.1 million to operate. Speaking of financial boondoggles, the government spent $1 billion for a three-day G8-G20 summit that occurred in Ontario last summer.
Criminals use handguns, while only law-abiding hunters and farmers use shotguns and rifles:
Criminals also use shotguns and rifles. There were 16 police officer shooting deaths in Canada between 1998 and 2009 and 14 of those officers were killed by a long gun. These weapons are also used in domestic violence and in suicides.
Gun violence is a big city problem but long gun registry targets people in rural areas:
In fact, gun deaths are higher in rural areas and Western provinces. In Yukon, for example, gun deaths run at about three times the national average.
The firearms registry does not save lives:
The Firearms Registry and associated measures have worked to reduce rifle and shotgun murders in Canada. Death and injury from firearms have declined by over 40 per cent in Canada during the era of stronger gun laws. Can all of this be attributed to the long gun registry? Probably not, but it is irresponsible to claim that the registry has had no impact in reducing risk and death, and even more irresponsible to want to get rid of it.
The firearms registry does nothing to prevent violence against women:
Safety experts and front-line workers women’s shelters across the country beg to differ. They say that the registry helps reduce violence against women. Do you prefer to believe them or to believe a gun shop owner on this one?
Making people register their guns means that law abiding gun owners are treated like criminals:
How so? We register cars, boats, mortgages, even bicycles and dogs. Nobody can seriously argue that they are being treated as second-class citizens for having to register a firearm, particularly when it has been shown to improve public safety.
The government wants guns to be registered so that it knows where to go to confiscate all of them:
This is the biggest whopper of them all and it is difficult to believe that anyone would actually use the argument — but read this from the pen ofÂ Saskatchewan MP Garry Breitkruez: “Why are the police chiefs so strident in their quest to keep the registry in place? They won’t admit it, but it appears they don’t want Canadians to own guns. To that end, they need a database that will help them locate and seize those firearms as soon as a licence or registration expires.” The National rifle Association in the U.S. has been lending assistance to anti-registry forces in Canada and has spread this myth as well. It is either an entirely cynical argument or a symptom of paranoia. In either case, it is unworthy of adult debate.
The Conservatives are using every conceivable method to defeat opposition MPs who they believe are vulnerable because they voted to keep the gun registry. But a significant coalition of people and groups believe that it is useful and should be kept. In fact, it may well be Conservative MPs in closely contested urban seats who will be the losers if they persist in opposing the registry.