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since June 19, 2001


Anti-gun rhetoric fails test of time

Costs, crime statistics belie Ottawa's arguments in favour of registry


Anti-gun rhetoric fails test of time: Costs, crime statistics belie Ottawa's arguments in favour of registry

Fri 15 Nov 2002
Page: A16

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 early.

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 smugglers.

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."
Lorne Gunter
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post

Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

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Posted 2002 11 15