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A coalition of women's groups, police chiefs and emergency room staff in Nova Scotia is urging Ottawa to maintain the long-gun registry, arguing the program is critical to fighting domestic violence.

Members of two women's crisis groups, Halifax's police chief and the provincial nurses' union said the federal government would do away with a valuable source of data and hamper investigations if it scraps the registry.

Pamela Harrison, executive director of the Transition House Association of Nova Scotia, said her groups use the program routinely to find out what weapons are in a home where spousal abuse is suspected.

"It's extraordinarily important in terms of preventing women's deaths," she said at a news conference in Halifax.

"We use the registry all the time, particularly in cases that have the greatest risk of lethality."

Ms. Harrison said the registry, which requires gun owners to declare their rifles and shotguns, makes potential abusers aware that justice officials know they own weapons, which may serve as a deterrent.

She said it's valuable because it can be used to set conditions and restrictions on gun possession for people who have been charged with offences, which women's advocates say increases safety.

The coalition issued the call to save the registry one week before MPs vote on a tightly contested private member's bill to kill it.

A Commons committee has recommended that the bill not proceed to third reading and if the recommendation is accepted, the bill will die.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said the registry is a billion-dollar waste that targets honest citizens while doing nothing to fight crime.

But proponents say it is a useful investigative tool that has led to more responsible gun ownership and a reduction in suicides and deadly crimes of passion.

Janet Hazelton, president of the Nova Scotia Nurses' Union, dismissed the Conservatives' argument that only a small percentage of crimes involve long guns.

She said 88 per cent of Canadian women who are killed with guns are shot with long guns.

"Access to guns is the fifth highest of 18 risk factors in spousal homicides," she said.

"We believe the registry is one more tool that will help keep our citizens safe. … It's a small price to pay for keeping our communities safe."

Police chiefs have also endorsed the registry, with the Cape Breton Regional Police Service also lending their support Wednesday.

An RCMP evaluation of the program in August found that while it needs some major improvements, it does save lives.

Halifax police Chief Frank Beazley said the registry provides a gun's history and can help determine its ownership, which could aid in laying charges.

With more than 280,000 guns in Nova Scotia and one in four of them registered, Chief Beazley said, dismantling the registry would strip police of vital data.

"That information will be gone," he said, adding that about one-third of the firearms Halifax police take into custody are long guns. "It's a sad day in my mind if this takes place."

The federal vote will likely be extremely close.

The bill passed second reading with the help of 12 New Democrats and eight Liberals. The Liberals say they will whip their caucus to vote against it this time.

The New Democrats allow MPs to vote as they will on private bills, but party leader Jack Layton said Tuesday that he has mustered enough votes to kill the bill and save the registry.

Peter Stoffer, an NDP MP in a largely rural Nova Scotia riding, said he has long opposed the registry for failing to tackle the issue of gun control after the shooting deaths of 14 women at Montreal's École Polytechnique in 1989.

Mr. Stoffer said he will reveal how he plans to vote at a news conference Monday, adding that a growing number of his constituents now support the registry.

Asked whether amendments proposed by Mr. Layton to salvage the registry would sway him, Mr. Stoffer would only say, "Well, our leader is trying to do that, but we'll have to wait and see."

Mr. Layton has said he would like penalties for non-registration to begin as non-criminal fines, no fees for registering guns and stronger protection for the aboriginal treaty rights and privacy rights of gun owners.

The Canadian Press