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since June 19, 2001


Gun-laundering registry a farce

One billion dollars a big investment for a national firearms lost and found


Gun-laundering registry a farce: One billion dollars a big investment for a national firearms lost and found

Sunday 13 July 2003

p. A14

Wes Winkel, the manager of Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods in Orillia, Ont., -- "For all your hunting, shooting, fishing and camping needs" -- says "OPP officers were laughing their heads off," when they came this week to confiscate a hunting rifle from his store, just "two minutes north of Weber's barbeque restaurant," on Route 11.

OPP stands for Ontario Provincial Police, the force that polices rural Ontario the way the RCMP polices much of Alberta outside the big cities.

The rifle had been listed in the RCMP's national crime computers since it was reported stolen in Quebec in 1992. Still, the Liberals' national gun registry had registered it not once, nor twice, but three times. On the fourth, someone at the registry finally got around to matching the rifle to the RCMP's list of heisted guns and prevented its re-registration; actually, its re-re-re-registration.


A customer first brought the rifle to Ellwood Epps Sporting Goods in May, wanting to sell it. Winkel bought it and the customer gave him the gun's registration papers, which the RCMP said Friday were legitimate.

Sometime before May the customer had bought the gun and registered it himself, even though the serial number matched one in the Mounties' stolen-goods database.


Winkel then called the Liberals' gun registry in Miramichi, N.B., and, as required by law, registered it to the sporting goods store, the gun's new owner. The registration went through without so much as a hiccup.


An avid hunter, Winkel then bought the gun for himself in late June and, again, registered it without incident.

Far from keeping Canadians safe from gun crime, far from encouraging gun owners to lock up their guns ever more securely so as to discourage criminals from stealing guns to use in robberies, far from inducing a "culture of safety," the Liberals' registry is now laundering stolen guns -- giving stolen guns legitimate pedigrees and the proper papers to go along with them.

When CanWest News broke this story on Friday, no spokesman could be found for Solicitor General Wayne Easter. So the country was denied the pleasure of the government's weasel-word excuse for a "hot" gun slipping through their allegedly airtight security blanket three times without detection.

But let me hazard a guess of what the Liberals will say Monday about this embarrassing flaw in their vaunted, billion-dollar gun registry. They'll proclaim: "Look how well the registry worked! It actually identified a stolen gun and took it off our streets, thereby making Canada and Canadians safer."

Good thing the registry got four chances to "work" so well, though.

If, at any earlier juncture in this story, any of the gun's three legal owners -- the original customer, Epps Sporting Goods or Wes Winkel -- had decided to hold on to the gun, then a stolen rifle would be out there with all the legal documents necessary to stay in circulation forever.

But once Solicitor General Easter or his spokesthingy has put the best possible face on this gross incompetence, we will still be left with the question "How has this made Canadians any safer?"

It is never a bad thing when property is returned to its rightful owner. But returning it doesn't make Canadians safer: Stolen goods don't commit robberies; robbers do. Attempting to stop robberies by controlling stolen goods is putting the cart before the horse.

One billion dollars also seems a frightful price to pay for a sort of national lost and found for firearms.

If taxpayers are going to fork over a billion for an elaborate tracking system so gun owners can enjoy a greater chance of seeing guns returned after they've been stolen, then why not half a billion for a national stamp collection registry, or $2 billion for a car stereo registry or a quarter billion for a Royal Dalton figurine database?

Easter and the other supporters of the Liberals' registry also claim the registry will encourage legal owners to lock up their guns better, so criminals will have a harder time finding guns. Right. Just the way registering cars and locking them up prevents thieves from stealing them.

Guns stolen from homes have never been a major source of weapons used in gun crimes, despite Ottawa's claims. The fact that handguns are now the murder weapon in nearly two-thirds of firearm murders in Canada proves that.

Handguns have been subject to registration since 1934 and to tight ownership control since 1977. Yet in just the past decade, handgun murders, as a percentage of total murders committed with firearms, have more than doubled to over 60 per cent.

The last time Statistics Canada compiled numbers in this way -- in 1991 -- of all the murders committed in the entire country, the number committed with handguns that were once legally owned and registered in Canada, but no longer in the possession of their registered owner, was three.

Smuggling is the main source of Canada's crime guns -- not theft from private Canadian homes or sporting goods stores. Yet Ottawa puts almost no resources into stopping smugglers while putting a billion into harassing law-abiding duck hunters.

Now, far from helping reduce gun crime by forcing every one to register, Ottawa is helping register stolen guns.

No wonder the OPP officers were laughing. The registry is a farce.
Lorne Gunter
Columnist, Edmonton Journal
Editorial Board Member, National Post

Index to some of Lorne Gunter's articles

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Posted 2003 07 13