Wednesday, September 22, 2010

What to make of the Gun Registry

The existing Federal Long Gun registry is an issue on which I have mixed feelings.

To begin with it is a flawed peice of legislation, its startup costs were exhorbitant, and its operating costs remain higher than they should be. That said Canada's police chiefs say it is useful, and the current operating costs aren't so extreme that the program should be cancelled on that basis alone. It should, however, be subject to a full review, with the intention of making the program both more useful to law enforcement and cheaper. A committee of the House of Commons with representation from all parties would be the ideal mechanism for this, though it is hard to see how it would work in the current poisoned climate in Ottawa.

Do I think Canadians ought to be able to purchase and own firearms? The answer to that is, unhesitatingly, yes. Do I think they should have to register those firearms? The answer to that is yes as well. It is a question of responsibility; where society is trusting you with a weapon you should be accountable for the maintenance, safety and use of that weapon. We all register our cars for the very same reasons, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to me that we be accountable for our weapons in the same way. This is especially the case for handguns and automatic weapons, whose designed purpose is for use on humans. Long guns in the traditional sense have real and enduring utility outside city limits, but handguns and automatic weapons do not, outside of the pleasures of target shooting or collectors.

The argument that 'criminals don't register their guns' is a disingenuous straw man. It is, of course, partially true - but it is also a red herring. The goal is to restrict their access to weapons, with the acknowledgement that you can never eliminate it entirely, and to reduce gun crime by making it more and more difficult. in Switzerland, where nearly every household has several military-issue firearms, a result of their universal militia service, gun crime is among the lowest in the world. Their system of registration and accountability is one of the most important reasons why.

The other concern most often used by opponents of gun control is that "the government may take away my guns". I'm afraid that, with or without gun control legislation, if the government has reason to then they can certainly do that. Preventing unreasonable search and seizure is a part of the ongoing battle to maintain due process! Another, more reasonable, version of that argument holds that the government can retroactively ban certain weapons, making your formerly legal possession illegal. In my view almost all weapons should be allowed, provided the purchaser meets reasonable requirements, and thus the confiscatory concern should be addressed. Where there should be severe penalties is on the purveyance, and use in criminal activity of, illegal and unregistered weapons.

Given that we register our charitable donations with CRA, file for permits to move plumbing in our houses with city hall (in order to maintain our valid home insurance, if nothing else!), and register our vehicles with multiple authorities it hardly seems unreasonable to me that I should file that I own a deadly weapon.

People who really want to kill will find alternative methods, and there is no way to eliminate crime through legislation. Given the evidence of what stricter attitudes towards the responsibilities of firearms ownership, for example the British or the Swiss, does to crime and injury rates as opposed to the looser attitudes of the United States or Mexico I have to place myself in the stricter camp.

The problem with the Long Gun registry is that it is such a flawed and inadequate measure I'm not convinced it is more a part of the solution than it is a simple obstruction.

EDIT: It appears that the Registry has survived the private member's Bill to abolish it, by the narrowest of margins: 153-151 against. Now I hope there is a Bill introduced with changes to the legislation, to be followed by an open debate on the merits of said changes. Note the use of the word 'hope'.

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