Vote on fate of long-gun registry looms

Point: Opposition to long-gun registry based on ideology and little else

Joseph McNinch-Pazzano

The Conservative Party has erred in advocating for the elimination of the long-gun registry. In introducing her private member’s bill, backbench Member of Parliament (MP) Candice Hoeppner questionably called the registry both “wasteful and ineffective.”

First, while the registry’s initial cost was overrun, the cost required to maintain it from year to year is minimal. Hoeppner’s frustration over the initial implementation cost of the long-gun registry is understandable.

When announced in 1995, Liberals said that it would cost the taxpayers $85 million. The ultimate cost of the registry program was almost $2 billion.
The argument about this cost figure, however, is now outdated. The Conservatives are free to take issue with the cost that has already been associated with the registry, but it stands as no reason to eliminate it. The only cause for concern now is the current cost of maintaining the program.

Former Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) gun program director Marty Cheliak has been credited with controlling the registry’s costs and estimates now point to an ongoing annual cost of only $3-4 million.

Furthermore, compare this to a $9 to 13 billion Tory proposal to build more Canadian prisons and the registry is like spare change in the crime prevention purse.

Second, Hoeppner’s stand on the ineffectiveness of the registry is not conclusively proven. While some—Hoeppner would say most—police officers do not want the registry, the RCMP say it is an effective tool for police who consult it daily to check for any guns registered to someone accused of a violent crime.

The registry is consulted 14,000 times a day on average in crime investigations, during police situations and after arrests. If the registry is eliminated, 7 million gun registry records will be erased.

Even if Hoeppner is correct about the ineffectiveness of those 14,000 inquiries, taking away one of the tools that a police officer can use to check a suspect’s gun record inhibits an officer’s awareness of what kind of suspect they are dealing with. Still, Hoeppner would argue that criminals won’t be using registered guns.

Waterloo Police Chief Matt Torigan argues that, in his experience, people have indeed taken their own and others’ lives with registered guns and that knowing where those guns are is helpful information for officers.

Any debate on this subject must concede that the registry does not know of the whereabouts of all guns. Even so, arguing that because the registry is unusable in some circumstances means that it should cease to exist as a tool in all circumstances, is not a logical argument. If the registry is flawed, Parliament should work to continually improve it, not eliminate it and negate all the work and money that has been put into it.

Hoeppner’s stand that the registry is an “imposition on farmers and hunters” seems to suggest that she believes there is an untenable burden on those who must register their guns.
Underlying this implication seems to be the opinion that the liberty and freedom of farmers and hunters is unduly breached by the registry.

An ongoing and perhaps unbreakable ideological difference underlies this debate: should government play a role in protecting collective societal rights at the possible expense of individual rights?

To make the claim that the registry does this, however, Hoeppner would have to make the utilitarian argument that the burden on hunters and farmers far outweighs that of the collective gain for society that comes with the gun registry.

Hoeppner hasn’t made this case and it would be a difficult one to make.

The fairly minimal burden of registering one’s gun is far outweighed by the burden that would be placed on officers who think of the registry as a valuable tool.

The passionate pursuit which Hoeppner brings to this debate is commendable. However, all debates must balance ideology with reality.

Hoeppner’s view of the reality of the gun registry leads her to believe that its imperfections should render it unusable. Perhaps, instead, Hoeppner should work with other members who see its imperfections as well and build on the registry’s successes instead of tearing it apart.

Counter-point: Costly long-gun registry does little to target violent crime

Martin Pineda

A summer filled with bus tours and barbecue events has come to an end and Canadian politicians will once again return to Parliament Hill to vote on a private member’s bill to scrap the long-gun registry.

Many Canadians, particularly shooting sports enthusiasts and those living in rural areas, are glad that this contentious issue is finally being given the recognition it deserves.

If passed, Bill C-391 will do away with the long-gun portion of current legislation requiring all firearms to be registered. In other words, most semi-automatic rifles and shotguns will no longer need to be registered with the Canada Firearms Centre.

All other firearms that fall under the restricted and prohibited classifications, such as handguns and more compact semi-automatic rifles, would still need to be registered.
The fact of the matter is that the existence of the long-gun registry is an ineffective crime prevention strategy that comes at an enormous cost to both Canadian taxpayers and law-abiding firearms owners.

One of the biggest flaws of the current long-gun registry is that it does nothing to mitigate violent crime or the use of firearms by criminals.

The mechanism by which firearms are kept out of the hands of criminals is through licensing.
This is why applicants who wish to obtain a Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) must take various safety courses depending on which types of firearms they would like to acquire, pay several fees and are subject to a criminal background check administered by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP).

Applicants are also screened for any previous history of domestic abuse, recent relationship failure, assault or mental health issues.

Prospective handgun owners must also be a member of a gun club and pay costly membership dues in order to obtain an Authorization to Transport permit (ATT), which is required in order to transport a handgun outside of home storage.

These policies provide sufficient regulation of firearms and present legitimate barriers that deter criminals from attempting to legally acquire firearms.

What needs to be emphasized is that it is illegal handguns and prohibited firearms purchased through the illicit arms trade which are the weapons of choice for criminals — not legally purchased long-guns.

The Vancouver Police’s Strategic Plan 2004-2008 reports that 97 per cent of firearms seized in 2003 were illegal firearms brought into Canada from the United States through organized crime.

Calgary Police Chief Rick Hanson spoke out about the failure of the long-gun registry in crime prevention when he said, “For the years it’s been in effect, there are more guns on the street today — handguns and prohibited weapons— than I can ever recall, and that’s since the gun registry has been implemented.”

The number of illegally acquired firearms continues to rise as does the cost required to maintain such an ineffective policy.What hurts all Canadians, regardless of whether or not they own firearms, is how taxpayers continue to be burdened by a long-gun registry that is unable to deter violent crime yet is blatantly irresponsible fiscally.

According to Public Safety Canada, the previous Liberal government promised in 1995 that the long-gun registry would be implemented at net cost of $2 million.

Today, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation estimates that costs have amassed over $2 billion and counting. We must not continue to blindly invest such a substantial amount of resources in failed policy.

Government spending should be directed towards initiatives that actually combat gun violence.
This is best achieved through having police forces that are better funded to deal with organized crime, better equipped border and airport security personnel that can more effectively intercept illegal weapons used in violent crimes and social programs that cut out the roots of delinquency before illegal possession of firearms even becomes an issue.