Wednesday, 11 May 2011

On the Long Gun Registry and Gun Control in general

It is the intent of our incoming Conservative government to scrap the Long Gun Registry. Leaving aside the fact that police associations across the nation have spoken out against this action, the money's already been spent. Cancelling the Long Gun Registry will save a very small amount of money.

But more important is the simple question: why object to registering your firearms?

Let me explain - in a very general way, I am against gun control. Every repressive government in history has limited access to weapons, from the Japanese Shogunate and Feudal Europe to Communist Russia and China. A disarmed populace is a helpless populace, and therefore incapable of opposing the government. Without weapons to defend ourselves, we are sheep at the mercy of the wolves and beholden to the dogs who are set out to protect us.

I'm also of the opinion that an armed population is a polite one. Or would be, in the generation or so after natural selection was given time to demonstrate its effects. Of course, I'm also of the opinion that an educated population is a free one, and our current level of education and awareness is woefully lacking at the moment. So no, I would not support a dismantling of gun control in Canada at this time. Canadians are insufficiently mature to handle that sort of personal responsibility.

Please note: I include myself on that list. Given license to carry a firearm on a daily basis, I would give myself three months before I used it in a fit of pique on some slack-jawed moron. Six at the outside, but I do not suffer fools gladly. So no, we're not there yet. Not as a whole, not as a nation.

Gun control, of various sorts, has been a reality in Canada since 1892. It has been trending steadily upwards from the first. It isn't new, and it's not a surprise. Anyone who has been paying attention during the last century could view the curve towards control of firearms. While from a philosophical point of view I am troubled by this restriction of my freedom, I am both a practical and deeply cynical man. I have no illusions that the restriction also applies to people who are far more dangerous/foolish/deranged than I. The laws may keep interesting and entertaining technology out of my hands, but they do the same for criminals, potential criminals, idiots and the insane.

So I am both willing and ready to register any firearms that Canada will allow me to own. I may bemoan the fact that some firearms are restricted or prohibited (often for reasons utterly divorced from their capabilities, in many cases based entirely on their appearance) but I accept it. If I truly felt a need to own, say, an FN FAL like the one my father carried while he was an officer in the Camerons, or a Kalashnikov, I would move somewhere less restrictive.

Will the Long Gun Registry save lives? Possibly, but a significant percentage of firearms used in crimes aren't registered and a great number have been smuggled in illegally from the United States. It goes without saying that criminals are less likely to register their firearms. In the same sense that locks are for honest people, the Firearm Registration is for law-abiding citizens.

But the Registry has proven to be a valuable resource for police, and while I have less respect for the Rozzas than I did when I was younger (see the G8/G20 protests, Stacy Bonds, Robert Dziekanski, etc) they still serve an important purpose for the public and if the Canadian Firearm Registry is a useful tool to them then I have no serious objections to it. More than 10,000 hits a day, or so wikipedia informs me here. The RCMP certainly believe that it works.

The objections to the Long Gun Registry seem to come down to cost overruns, which are a feature of virtually any government program (F-35 jets? G20 security? Those damned submarines we bought used?) and that it doesn't make us any safer.

Originally, the Long Gun Registry was supposed to pay for itself, with taxpayers only on the hook for $2 million. Back when this was announced, I was in high school and I still laughed uproariously. Government programs, especially ambitious ones that have never been implemented before, rarely come in under budget, and even more rarely are they "self-funding". However now that the registry is finally up and running, ongoing costs are fairly modest. We pay for our police and the RCMP to protect us, and if they find the CFR-Online to be a useful tool in crime prevention, doesn't it make sense to maintain it? Certainly I would rather offer them a tool like that than Tasers that are used more as devices of torture than as an alternative to their own firearms.

On the safety point, I tend to disagree. Deaths by firearm have been trending steadily (if slowly) downwards in Canada. Here is a reference page from Statistics Canada listing deaths by firearms from 2000 to 2007. Suicide by gun and accidental death have dropped, while homicide by firearm has increased slightly. I would be interested to see the statistics on death by registered versus illegal firearm, but I was unable to find that on StatsCan's website. A quick look shows that homicide statistics as a whole have been relatively stable the last decade and that the trend in death by homicide has been downwards since the 1970's.

In any case, you're more likely to be murdered with a knife, and I haven't seen any suggestion that the government wants us to register anything sharp longer than 2.5 inches.

Overall, I find the thought of the Long Gun Registry being scrapped both pointless and partisan. It's self-evidently a sop to western and rural residents who feel put upon having to inform their government that yes, they own some guns. It does not cost anything to register or transfer the registration of rifles and shotguns, so the complaints about it costing too much loses even more credibility: the boondoggle of organizing it has already happened, the waste that was going to happen has already happened and keeping it running will be really quite reasonable.

My problems with gun control are largely with the restrictions on purchase and availability. If the government wants to know that I am armed, and even with what, I'm perfectly willing to tell them. Again - if I had any objection, I would simply do what real criminals do and go to the black market. My problems are also largely philosophical, because there are far better candidates for my ire than gun control.

My concerns with scrapping the Long Gun registry are far more concrete and immediate: if it is removed, in ten or fifteen years we will just have to waste the money all over again starting from square one. It has proven a valued resource for law enforcement personnel and may well be reducing deaths by firearms.

We have to license cars, planes, boats, bicycles, pets... is it so outlandish to require that one also registers their rifle or shotgun?

If anyone could present me a cogent, reasoned and logical argument in favour of scrapping the Long Gun Registry, I would change my tune. Until such time, it remains just one more Conservative plan - long on partisan agenda, lacking in benefit for Canada.

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