Police officers in British Columbia check the long-gun registry 2,700 times a day, and the province's police chiefs say there's no doubt the registry makes it safer for both the public and officers.
The B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police said Wednesday that instead of dropping the registry, the country's politicians should be talking about more ways to improve firearms safety.
In an open letter to members of Parliament, the BCACP urged British Columbia politicians to vote to support the registry. It said a broad coalition that includes the fields of health care, education, youth and social development and police are opposed to Bill C-391, which would scuttle the registry.
"The untold story of the value of the gun registry is the unknown number of spousal homicides, accidental deaths, suicides-by-cop or other potentially fatal interactions it has prevented," the letter said.
Clayton Pecknold, deputy police chief for the Vancouver Island community of Saanich and president of the BCACP, was among several police leaders who gathered in Vancouver Wednesday to argue killing the registry would be regressive.
"We need to have a conversation about firearms-related violence in this country and gang-related violence. This registry is one tool in a comprehensive approach to dealing with this. So let's not move backwards, let's move forward," Mr. Pecknold told reporters.
Jim Chu, Vancouver's police chief, joined Mr. Pecknold at the press conference and said the less information officers have on a call for help, the greater the risk of danger.
"There have been many arguments, lots of rhetoric around this," Chief Chu said. "We just keep coming down to it keeps Canadians safer, it helps police officers do their jobs."
Peter Lepine, West Vancouver's police chief, said officers once used the registry when a student told friends on their Facebook page that they were tired of being bullied at school and were finally going to do something about it.
"Early intervention when we get to separate a troubled youth from easy access from their parents' firearms may be a crucial first step as we deal to the underlying issue that are causing them to consider this option," he said.
Chief Lepine said it would take more time for residents to register their dog than it would to get on the Internet and register their long gun, at an annual cost of about 12 cents in taxes per person.
Tom Stamatakis, president of the Vancouver Police Union, said law abiding citizens have to buy licences to hunt, to drive and even for their dog, and licensing their firearm shouldn't be considered a hindrance to law-abiding citizens.
"I don't think it's a question of trying to criminalize the average citizen who's owning a firearm for legitimate purposes," he said. "It's about prevention."
Mr. Stamatakis said the entire police community is concerned about the ballooning cost of running the registry, but now that the money has been spent the registry is still an extremely valuable tool.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the registry is a $1-billion waste that targets honest citizens while doing nothing to fight crime.
New Democrat Leader Jack Layton has predicted the NDP's support of the registry in next week's vote will keep it alive.
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