Ottawa

Criminals didn't register guns, but registered guns figured in crime

What about those guns that are no longer in the possession of law-abiding citizens?

Among the arguments against the long-gun registry, I think the most compelling, at least superficially, was the indignant assertion that gun owners are, by and large, law-abiding citizens who present no danger to society. I know that’s true. Why impose a registration requirement on them?

I’m inclined to respond with smart-alecky questions about similar impositions. Why audit taxpayers when most dutifully pay up? Why ask drivers to blow at those RIDE checks when most are sober? But I fear that many of those who hated the gun registry would miss my rhetorical point and heartily agree that random roadside breathalizers and routine CRA audits should be done away with next.

So let’s stick to the registry for a moment. Since criminals didn’t register, was the system useless? In 2009, Statistics Canada reported that in the previous five years police recovered 253 guns used in murders and, in fact, about a third were registered. Some had been stolen, some used by their owners, some were owned by the victim. In any case, registration records figured in the police investigations and trials.

Did registration help police in tracking down stolen guns that might end up being used in future crimes? Police chiefs certainly told us, to no avail, that it was a useful tool. Critics of the registry dismissed that claim. Yet Statistics Canada recorded 3,100 thefts and robberies in 2006 in which at least one firearm was stolen. Three-quarters were rifles or shotguns. None will be registered now. That will make it less likely owners will report the thefts (especially if, say, they neglected to store their guns properly), and far less likely police will figure out where criminals got those guns if they turn up later at crime scenes or in the arsenals of gangs.

But guns used by career criminals of that sort likely aren’t the biggest concern. So we turn to the saddening matter of suicides, accidents, and violence done by troubled individuals. In 2009, 515 firearms licences were refused and 2,085 licences were revoked, often by judges. Licences will still be required, thank goodness, after this week’s scrapping of the long-gun registry, but police and courts won’t know anymore exactly what guns are in the possession of people previously granted licences, but later deemed unfit to own a gun.

And that means people who succumb to mental health problems, or who have been convicted of crimes but are out on probation, or who threatened a spouse or neighbour, or who show suicidal tendencies. Providing courts and cops with a tool that helped get guns out of the homes of hundreds of Canadians who fall into these disparate categories might even have been worth asking law-abiding farmers and duck hunters to put up with a bit of inconvenience.

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