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Patrick Deegan, a senior range officer at the Shooting Edge, looks through the scope of long gun at the store in Calgary, Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010.

Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Proponents of the federal gun registry claim the annual cost is just $4-million, which sounds suspiciously like the $2-million cost promised when the registry was born 15 years ago. That $2-million estimate proved to be a Big Lie, whether intentional or not. The real figure, cumulatively, was more than $1-billion by 2005, as Canadians now know. And once again - as Parliament prepares for a close vote today on whether to scrap the bill - the long-gun registry is being portrayed as virtually free for taxpayers.

It's not so. The source of this estimate of $4-million appears to be a badly written line in the RCMP's 2010 evaluation of the Canadian Firearms Program: " . . . the gun registration portion of the CFP has been determined, by independent sources, in terms of cost savings to the CFP, at a range of $1.195-$3.65 million for the initial year, and subsequent years will range from $1.57-$4.03 million. . .." (Emphasis added.) The key phrase is cost savings. The RCMP, which took lead responsibility for the program in 2006, claims it is doing so more efficiently than its predecessors. Elsewhere in the report the RCMP puts the annual net cost of the Canadian Firearms Program for 2010-11 at $66.4-million.

If the RCMP were truly able to run the program for $4-million, the management of all government departments should probably be turned over to the Mounties. Until then, the program that has cost roughly 500 times more than promised should be held to a very high standard of proof of its worth. Is it vital to public safety? The registry did not stop James Roszko of Alberta from killing four Mounties in 2005, with his arsenal of three unregistered guns and one registered (but not to him) gun. It did not stop Kimveer Gill of Montreal from his deadly rampage at Dawson College in 2006. It did not stop Fred Preston, 70, from killing an Ontario Provincial Police officer, Vu Pham, in March, with a registered weapon. And it does not stop drug gangs in urban Canada from obtaining and using their weapons of choice - the vast majority not registered.

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With or without a registry, police on domestic calls will and should act as if any home might contain a gun or other dangerous weapon. With or without a registry, all those who seek to own guns, including long guns, will need to be licensed, which involves a series of background checks, and a requirement that long-gun owners take safety courses, and follow rules on safe storage. The death of the registry would mean an end to a cumbersome, bureaucratic system that never lived up to its billing, or its price tag.

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