Recalling how police use the gun registry, and how very, very often - Macleans.ca

Recalling how police use the gun registry, and how very, very often

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Last spring, just after Prime Minister Stephen Harper revived scrapping the gun registry as a Conservative priority, I tried to find out how useful the registry is to police.

What I found out then seems relevant right now given this evening’s vote in the House to get rid of the federal system for keeping track of who owns rifles and shotguns.

The RCMP, who were made responsible for the Canadian Firearms Program back in 2006, told me that police across Canada used their computer systems, often terminals right in their patrol cars, to pull information from the Canadian Firearms Registry over 9,400 times a day last year.

If you’re interested in more details, I talked to officers and broke down the statistics for this posting. By the way, more details on the functioning of the registry provided by the RCMP in an unreleased report are being held back by Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan, according to this news story.

When I reported last spring on the staggering 3,438,729 times police officers used the registry last year, many critics of the registry told me those numbers are meaningless. Among other things, they said criminals don’t register their guns, so the police are wasting their time when they check the system.

But police officers I spoke with said they occasionally learn that a gun might be in the home where they are responding to a domestic dispute, or at an address where there’s just been a robbery. It’s really not hard to imagine why they’d like to know what only the registry can tell them.

So let’s assume that the registry is of at least some use to police. The question, then, is whether it’s of enough use to warrant the cost of the registry to taxpayers and the inconvenience it represents to gun owners.

On those two points, I’d make these observations. A friend who just registered his deer-hunting rifle, and who doesn’t like the registry, admits registering was no real problem. And the Auditor-General figures getting rid of the long-gun registry will save about $3 million a year.

In other words, I’m told the inconvenience is minimal and the ongoing cost marginal. If that’s true, why deny police the registry even if it’s not all that potent a crime-fighting tool?