Anti-gun rhetoric fails test of time: Costs,
crime statistics belie Ottawa's arguments in favour of registry
Fri 15 Nov 2002
The sky was the limit, promise-wise, when the Liberals were
trying to sell their gun control scheme in 1994 and 1995.
No purported benefit was already too big that it couldn't be inflated even more. No
ludicrously unlikely side effect was too outrageous to be promoted as a sure thing. Gun
control was a Liberal shibboleth and the need to pass it made any tall tale justifiable.
(Not unlike the government's current "full-court press" on Kyoto.)
The two most famous distortions were the registry's estimated cost and the number of
violent crimes involving firearms.
Allan Rock, the justice minister at the time,
famously pledged that licensing all Canadian gun owners and registering all their guns
would cost just $85 million and take five years. As we approach just the fourth
anniversary of the registry (Dec. 1), Saskatchewan Alliance MP Garry Breitkreutz
calculates Ottawa has already spent $875 million - more than 10 times the original
promise. Treasury Board admits spending $690 million to the end of the 2001-02 budget
year. Then there is $113 million in the 2002-03 budget, plus another $72 million in
supplemental spending recently approved when the budgeted amount ran out five months
As to fabricating crime statistics to bolster its case for
a registry, the government -- also famously --claimed the RCMP had investigated more than
620 violent crimes committed with firearms in 1993, a sure sign, it claimed, of an
emerging gun culture in Canada. When it was pointed out -- by the Acting Commissioner of
the RCMP, no less -- that the Mounties had, in fact, investigated just 73 violent gun
crimes that year, the government plowed ahead anyway. No sense permitting such a noble
cause to be derailed by the mere fact that its extreme intrusiveness was revealed by the
facts to be totally unnecessary.
In the Liberal world, symbolism always triumphs over substance, whether it's symbolic
gun controls or symbolic emissions targets.
But Rock made one other promise it is worth returning to.
On Feb. 16, 1995, in Parliamentary debate, Rock claimed his registry would "reduce
the number of firearms smuggled into the country."
"Surely," he added, "we must reduce the number of firearms stolen and
traded in the underground. How do we achieve that? Through registration. Registration will
enable us to record what arrives and track it to the point of sale into the hands of a
lawful owner. Registration will enable us to stop ... people illegally selling that which
is illegally imported."
So then, those reports of Toronto being in the midst of a wave of street murders --
eight in the past four weeks and 41 since January 2001 -- must be false; at best parodies,
at worst cruel hoaxes. We have a registry, so "surely" we must have far fewer
murders, especially murders with smuggled guns, because now that we can "record what
arrives and track it to the point of sale into the hands of a lawful owner," and stop
"people illegally selling that which is illegally imported," we must have far
fewer "firearms smuggled into the country," and thus far fewer being
"traded in the underground." We simply must.
Mustn't we? Liberals are convinced they can make things happen merely by believing
them, even contra-logical things such as stopping criminals from obtaining guns by
harassing legitimate gun owners without end.
But Toronto police know that wishing something doesn't make it so. Most of the brutal
murders their city has experienced recently -- some of the killings have occurred in broad
daylight in very public places, such as strip mall parking lots -- have been committed
with handguns smuggled in from the United States, according to Det. Sgt. Gary Keys, head
of the city's gun task force.
Two facts jump out of that admission: First, handguns have had to be registered in
Canada since 1934, yet that hasn't stopped them from becoming these murderers' firearm of
choice, nor stopped them from being used in nearly two-thirds of the firearms murders in
the country each year. And, second, the registry hasn't done a blessed thing to stop
smuggling. Indeed, Canada's Criminal Intelligence Service admitted in its 2002 annual
report that smuggling has boomed since 1998 and that in part this boom has been in
response to the registry.
Most of the demand for illegal guns comes from the drug trade and from organized crime.
(Most of the deaths in Toronto are believed to be drug-trade and gang related.) But the
CIS admits the difficulty of buying guns legally in Canada has driven criminals to
And contrary to Rock's fantasy about tracking the movement of every gun in Canada, the
CIS explains "It is difficult to quantify the number of firearms illegally entering
Canada each year and the overall total of illicit firearms in Canada is unknown."
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post