Day misfires on registry claim
by Danielle Smith

PUBLICATION: Calgary Herald
DATE: 2006.06.27
SECTION: The Editorial Page
COLUMN: Danielle Smith
BYLINE: Danielle Smith
SOURCE: For The Calgary Herald

Day misfires on registry claim

Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day claimed in a news release last week that, "Canada's new Government fulfills commitment to abolish the long-gun registry." Turns out he was overstating things. If you talk to gun owners, they will tell you the government position is a massive betrayal.

Killing the registry while keeping the licensing requirements is not what gun owners had in mind when they demanded the government scrap Bill C-68. Maintaining the licensing component is also not what Conservative Party members had in mind at the party's policy convention last year.

Party members passed a new firearms policy that said the government would repeal Canada's costly gun registry legislation and instead implement such measures as "mandatory minimum sentences for the criminal use of firearms; strict monitoring of high-risk individuals; crackdown on smuggling; safe storage provisions; firearms safety training; a certification screening system for all those wishing to acquire firearms legally; and putting more law enforcement officers on our streets."

The idea of requiring a "licence" for law-abiding gun owners was debated by party delegates and voted down in favour of certification. The difference is huge.

Licensing and registering firearms is, in theory, similar to licensing and registering cars: you need a valid driver's licence to drive on public streets and you need to register your vehicle separately.

There is value in registering cars: police can run the licence plate on a vehicle to check for outstanding warrants, it is an easy way to track a car leaving the scene of a crime and it is a way for citizens to report a hit-and-run incident.

There is no comparable value in registering firearms. Nearly all guns used to commit crimes are not legally registered.

There is no value in the licensing scheme, either.

To understand just how offensive licensing is to gun owners, consider if the same rules for having a gun licence applied to having a driver's licence. Imagine what it would be like if you allowed your driver's licence to lapse, and you automatically became a criminal who could be thrown in jail for up to five years. Imagine if that lapse also allowed the police to raid your home and confiscate all your cars.

If you allow your driver's licence to lapse, you can still keep your car on your own property as long as you don't drive it on public streets. It is not a crime to simply own a car without having a valid driver's licence. Not so with firearms.

What is particularly perverse about the firearms licensing scheme is it only monitors legal gun owners. In a meeting of the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights on Nov. 24, 2004, MP Garry Breitkreuz questioned this logic: Under the licensing requirements, law-abiding gun owners are required to notify the government of a change of address, yet there is no requirement for the 201,097 individuals listed as "prohibited from possessing firearms" on the Canadian Police Information Centre database to notify government of a change of address.

If the government were interested in tracking individuals most likely to commit a crime, wouldn't they put reporting requirements on the latter group rather than the former? The firearms commissioner responded that firearms officers "have no authority to collect information from someone who is not a client of the program."

The government has it backwards. We should not have a registry of individuals who are allowed to own guns; we should have a registry of those who are too dangerous to own guns.

According to Breitkreuz, that should include "all persons prohibited from owning guns by the courts, all persons with an outstanding criminal arrest warrant, all persons with restraining orders against them, all persons with refused or revoked firearms licences and all individuals who have threatened violence."

A more effective registry would track known criminals, require them to report change of address, vigorously enforce ownership prohibition, and have severe penalties for those who violate the possession rules. Meanwhile, law-abiding gun owners would return to the kind of certification system we had before -- which required safety training and criminal background checks before a gun is purchased.

That's what Conservative Party members thought they were voting for when they passed the party's firearms policy. Does Day's proposal fulfil the government's commitment? Not by a long shot.