If Ryan Leef’s Facebook page is a gauge of anything, it looks like Leef intends to make the now-defunct gun registry a major issue in the next election. Leef (or his handlers) posted firearms related content on no fewer than five separate occasions in the last week.
I have never supported the gun registry but find the passion it evokes on both ends of the spectrum overwrought and out of proportion to the impact the policy has on our lives. I think it would be misguided for Yukoner’s to base their decision in the next election on this tired issue.
The registry’s supporters seem to be emotionally attached to the idea (or the appearance) of “doing something” about gun crime while failing to demonstrate the registry’s effectiveness or justify its cost. Supporters offer up Marc Lepine and the massacre at Ecole Polytechnique as conclusive proof that we need a gun registry, without showing how the registry improved public safety.
For many Canadians, the gun registry was just too expensive and its merits have never been proven. I can be counted among this group.
It is not enough to say that a policy like the gun registry will accomplish a social objective of some importance. Governments also need to ask itself how much a policy will cost, and what other policies we must forego to pay for it.
Unfortunately, the gun registry failed on both sides of the cost-benefit equation. It wasn’t just exorbitantly expensive – with a price tag of more than a billion dollars – it was also ineffective, or at least has never been proven to be effective.
Despite having years to do so, registry boosters haven’t been able to draw a clear line between the information contained in the registry and the solving of crime. Crimes committed by long guns were on the decline long before the registry came into place and continued doing so after it was created.
Yes, the police regularly accessed the registry for information, but it is hard to imagine that competent officers would let their guard down just because they received a negative search of the database – unregistered weapons being ubiquitous as they are. In any event, gun owners themselves must be licensed, giving police another way to assess whether a resident may have a firearm.
There is another line of argument against the gun registry. I am referring to the overstated libertarian view that sees the possession of unregistered guns as a right of fundamental importance, in case some future King of England decides to quarter redcoats in our home. From this perspective, even without the cost overruns, the gun registry is a threat to individual liberty.
I do not find this view terribly compelling. The idea of armed resistance against 21st century Canadian state is obsolete. In this era of a big government and modern weaponry, a rationale along the lines of the American second amendment isn’t very persuasive.
What’s more, requiring people to register their guns is really a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things and a trivial infringement on our rights. While the government should always attempt to minimize inconvenience and streamline processes, I cannot accept that our rights are significantly infringed by requiring that we register our firearms. But, for whatever reason, we accept the requirement that we register our cars and our dogs with far less resistance and exaggeration.
Returning to the issue of cost effectiveness, as I have said, I am no fan of the now-defunct long gun registry. It was ineffective policy and Canadians were justifiably angry at the price tag. But we do need to keep it in perspective. It was a boondoggle like so many others that we have seen from governments of all stripes.
Bear in mind that Stephen Harper unapologetically spent a comparable amount of money – $1.1 billion – on security at the 2010 G8 and G20 summits in Toronto. The only Canadian whose security was enhanced by that particular expenditure was Stephen Harper himself.
There is never any excuse to waste government money, but we should not lose sight of what was wrong with the gun registry – it was a waste of money. For most of us, this is not a fundamental issue of rights, and with so many problems in the world we shouldn’t make a ballot box issue out of a requirement that gun owners fill out a form.
Kyle Carruthers is born and raised Yukoner who lives and practises law in Whitehorse.