The gun registry and ignorance
Posted by cgccanada on September 8, 2010
Times Colonist, August 27, 2010
The government’s approach to the gun registry helps explain the Conservatives’ failure to win enough voters to form a majority government. Leave aside, for a moment, the core question of whether the registry should be retained or abolished.
MPs are to make a decision on that on Sept. 22. With the vote expected to be close, they should be seeking — and the government providing — all the information needed to make a smart, informed choice.
Instead, the Conservatives are sitting on a Canadian firearms program evaluation completed by the RCMP in February. At a May hearing of the Commons’ public safety committee, senior deputy RCMP commissioner Bill Sweeney said the report “was extremely positive” and should be released.
Not necessary, says the government. “Canadians don’t need another report to know that the long-gun registry is very efficient at harassing law-abiding farmers and outdoors enthusiasts, while wasting billions of taxpayer dollars,” a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the Toronto Star. “They don’t need another report to know that the registry does nothing to prevent crime.”
It’s a trite, wrong and dangerous response.
Trite, because the government has not even updated its talking points since it suppressed another positive report until after a preliminary vote last November. The comments were literally identical.
Wrong, because Canadians — aside from those on both sides of the debate whose minds are closed — do need useful information to help assess the costs and benefits of the gun registry.
And dangerous because of its underlying premise that ignorance is to be celebrated. The notion that prejudice or ideology should drive decisions while facts are ignored is extremely troubling.
There is room for debate on the issue. Any time the state asks for information that affects privacy, the public should ensure the program is necessary. And although the costs of maintaining the registry are small — about $4 million a year — all expenditures should be justified.
On balance, both the intrusion and the costs are easily justified. Obtaining the required licence and providing the information for the registry is not onerous. And the information is used about 14,000 times a day by police forces across Canada and about 2,500 times a day by police in B.C.
That’s why the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police has campaigned against the move to kill the registry. The chiefs say eliminating it would make it harder to fight crime, reduce public safety and put officers’ lives at risk. The Canadian Police Association, which represents front-line officers across the country, also supports the registry.
Their interest in maintaining the registry is understandable. An officer serving a warrant or investigating a dispute at a home has the ability to check for the presence of registered weapons — and learn how many and of what types — and take those factors into account. Stolen weapons can be traced back to their original owner, helping police solve crimes.
Criminals likely won’t register guns. But that allows police to seize unregistered weapons from those people.
Rifles and shotguns are useful tools. Some seven million firearms are registered in Canada (920,000 in B.C.).
But the registry doesn’t prevent people from owning weapons. It simply places them on a par with cars, which we all register without complaint.
This should not be a matter of ideology. The gun registry makes Canada a safer place for everyone — especially police officers. It should not be killed.
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