The Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police cannot be faulted for their recent unanimous vote in support of the national long-gun registry. Police will understandably always want as much information about those they investigate as they can lay their hands on. It is in the nature of their business. A national fingerprint registry of Canadians would no doubt also be seen as an aid to police work. But just because police chiefs would like a long-gun registry does not make it good public policy or a wise public expenditure.
A RCMP evaluation of the Canadian Firearms Program released on Monday also argues for retention of the "full registry," stating: "It is important for officer and public safety." How important? While some $2-billion has been spent on the registry, there is no way to accurately deduce the registry's effectiveness in meeting its stated objective of minimizing the public risk from firearms.
The RCMP report argues that "universal licensing and registration of firearms create an atmosphere of accountability." But how does this nebulous "atmosphere" explain the actions of Kimveer Gill, who used three weapons he had legally registered during his rampage at Montreal's Dawson College in 2006? Nor did this sense of accountability prevent Eric Kirkpatrick from using a registered weapon to murder his former boss at a company Christmas party in Vancouver two years ago, or indeed prevent other legally registered guns from being used in homicides, suicides and accidental deaths. There is simply no evidence to support the claim in the report that the knowledge that an individual is "accountable for their firearms and the use of them decreases the likelihood that an individual will misuse, traffic or commit a crime with a firearm."
The RCMP report also argues that "in a call for service or investigation, general duty police officer safety is increased by knowing if firearms are associated to a person or residence." Certainly that is the view of the police chiefs. But officers surely know that it is generally law-abiding citizens who will trouble to register their weapons, and that dangerous individuals and criminals will generally not bother with the red tape. James Roszko was banned from owning firearms. That fact was available to police. Yet he used three unregistered guns and one registered (but not to him) gun to kill four Mounties at Mayerthorpe, Alta., in 2005.
If passed, a vote in Parliament on a Conservative MP's bill to end the long-gun registry would not represent the end of gun control in Canada. Stringent and necessary requirements will remain in place for handguns, and restricted weapons such as automatic rifles. A process that already requires gun owners to be licensed before obtaining a firearm would remain, with safety and background checks required for gun owners. Rules for safe handling and storage of guns will remain in place. What will end is the cost, the red tape and the stigmatization of the "law-abiding duck hunters and farmers," often cited by Prime Minister Stephen Harper. In the absence of any meaningful evidence of the long-gun registry's efficacy, the program should be ended.