The gun registry is worth keeping
(Apr 18, 2006)
Many supporters of the federal Conservatives will have to hold their fire on the gun registry. This may disappoint them, but they should realize that Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives will have to think carefully before carrying out their pledge to end the registry.
As a story in yesterday's Record reported, some Canadians who oppose the registry have started putting pressure on Conservative members of Parliament to scrap it. Justice Minister Vic Toews has said some of his constituents in rural Manitoba are confused by what has happened. Apparently, they thought that electing the Conservatives would end the registry. The gun registry, however, was approved by Parliament and it can be abolished only by Parliament. The government alone cannot end it.
Because Harper commands only a minority government, the opponents of gun control might not win a vote on the subject if the government permitted a vote to be held. The opponents should also know that the throne speech did not even mention gun control, so the Commons will probably not even debate the issue in the near future, let alone vote on it. Harper is not likely to devote much attention to the gun registry when it isn't one of the key priorities he has outlined for his government.
Perhaps the debate on the gun registry has gone awry and become embroiled in side issues, such as the cost, that it has become difficult to discuss properly. Critics point out that the registry cost about $1 billion during its first 10 years. This is far more than expected, but the cost is a matter of efficiency and organization.
This concern is not the same as opposition to the registry in principle. The principle behind the registry -- and it is a sound one -- is that government officials, such as police officers, should know who might possess a weapon that could cause massive harm. A firearm poses no problem when in the hands of a responsible person but can do immense damage in the hands of an unstable or anti-social individual. The gun registry, it should be stressed, does not ban guns such as rifles; it merely requires them to be registered.
Critics rightly point out that some criminals don't bother to register their guns and that criminals may acquire them by illegal means. The fact some people ignore the law does not mean that the registry serves no purpose. On this point, the critics have to argue with Canada's law-enforcement officials. The Canadian Professional Police Association and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police both want to keep the registry. They say it helps them fight crime. Tony Cannavino, the president of the professional police association, said police make about 5,000 queries to the registry a day. That is a significant number.
What the Conservatives should do is review their policy on the registry. They have a right to maintain their previous opposition to the registry but they would be much wiser from a policy as well as a political perspective if they focused their energy on making it more efficient and effective.
This is only somewhat true. Many of the regulations were put in place by Order in Council (OIC)- a similar concept to the Executive Order in the US. The Conservatives can shitcan the majority of the registery by simply rescinding the OIC's, with no need to have the whole house vote.