Civil Silliness: The Gun Thing
As has been on the news in Alberta and various places, the federal government’s gun legislation went into full effect on New Year’s Day. This means that if you are caught with a fire-arm that you have not yet registered, you can be charged, have your gun taken away, and be fined or even sent to prison for up to 10 years.
Here in Alberta, this legislation has some folk up in arms, so to speak. We even have an MLA who is openly defying the law (SEE: http://www.douggriffiths.ca/php/dougsspeeches/2003-01-02-dougsspeeches.php).
People who are against the law, including the Ontario Government (SEE: http://www1.newswire.ca/government/ontario/english/releases/January2003/03/c7191.html), say that it is doing nothing to prevent crime, that it is very expensive, and that it targets law-abiding gun owners. The MLA for Alberta, Doug Griffiths, says that the registry is improperly filing the forms and that it has already been broken into which endangers the personal information it holds. He uses this as justification for why he refuses to register his fire-arms. Sun Columnist Roy Clancy (SEE: http://www.canoe.ca/Columnists/clancy.html)says he hasn’t registered because the process is too confusing and difficult.
Personally, I have no idea what all the fuss is about. The process is hardly difficult, my wife registered three guns for her father online. It took all of five minutes out of her day – and that includes the search for the site where she had to register. Perhaps if Mr. Clancy made half an effort he would have had more success.
As to the concerns Mr. Griffiths has, I will certainly agree that they may have merit, but that alone is no reason to break the law. Would he also refuse to register his vehicle if it turned out that the Alberta DMV made mistakes or was not completely secure? I highly doubt it. These are just excuses from a person who feels he has some sort of right to comply only with the laws he likes.
Finally, the complaints of the Ontario government about the legislation not preventing gun crime miss the mark entirely. This is a gun registration program, folks, not a gun confiscation program. Like a vehicle registration program, it does absolutely nothing to prevent crimes or accidents from occurring with those vehicles – it isn’t designed to. Saying that a piece of legislation is failing to do something it was never intended to do is spurious at best. The legislation is designed to make criminal investigations easier, and to protect the lives of our enforcement officials. In short, it is not designed to prevent crime, but to aid in bringing criminals to justice.
Similarly, being upset that a registration program targets law-abiding owners makes just as much sense as being upset that a vehicle registry targets law-abiding vehicle owners and not car thieves. The registry enables stolen guns, when found, to be linked to their lawful owners – thus solving a theft in one part of the country, returning property to a crime-victim, and possibly alerting police to multiple crimes that a single gun may have been involved in during its travels. It also enables the police to be aware when they are heading into a house for some situation, such as a domestic dispute, whether they need to be concerned about the presence of a gun at the premises. Surely even the most rabid gun-lover can see the sense in this?
Finally, it seems many gun owners are concerned that this legislation is some kind of punishment for owning a gun. Again, I liken this to vehicle registration. In this day and age, you certainly do not need to own a vehicle, and if you choose to do so, there are certain fees, taxes, and laws that you must abide by in order to have the privilege of vehicle ownership. We do this because a vehicle is a tool that if improperly used can cause very serious damage. Why should gun ownership be any different? Gun owners would probably respond that the same logic could be applied to knives and that next I should be calling for knife registration. Of course, this is wrong simply because a knife requires a lot more effort to be used in such a way as to cause the amount of harm a simple trigger pull or wheel swerve can. The degree of risk associated with an item is a very valid consideration, and guns are simply a much higher risk than a knife.
If gun owners really want to protest having to register their guns, then they should at least be consistent and protest having to register their vehicles as well. Doing that would at least make it obvious how ridiculous their position is.
That all being said, there is one valid complaint that keeps arising, and that is the astounding cost of the gun registry program. With some projecting these costs to rise above a billion dollars by 2005, it seems like there is an astonishing amount of waste going on. What is rarely said, however, is that one billion dollars is the total cost of the program since it’s inception in 1995, which includes the additional costs taken on by the federal government as various provinces opted-out of maintaining their own portion of the database, and also includes both initial set-up costs and operating costs for the program until 2005. According to Justice Canada’s projections (SEE: http://canada.justice.gc.ca/en/news/nr/2002/doc_30764.html), the highest-cost portion of the registry – program implementation – is now complete, and costs will start to go down year by year as the program becomes more mature and streamlined.
Even so, one billion dollars is still a lot of money. This money most likely could have been spent better in health care, education, or increased enforcement budgets for police. Yet this does not mean that we should scrap the program, as some are saying – especially now that we’ve already spent the money to actually implement the system. Scrapping the program would not get that money back. What we need to do now is perform some serious audits and see where money is being wasted and how we can improve the service. It is developed and running now, we should at least see if it will provide some benefits. According to the Justice Department, it already has provided benefit by lowering the number of gun thefts and the number of lost or missing fire-arms. This is an extremely good benefit as the more guns that remain in the hands of the law-abiding owners, the less we all have to fear.
What we also need to do is convince our authorities not to be as cowardly as they were with the Alberta protestors. If there is a known violator of the law, they should be arrested, charged, and tried. If the legislation is not legal under our charter of rights, then let’s start the proceedings now so we can find out. If it is legitimate, then we should show people that it will be properly and fully enforced. Let us have the convictions to follow our ideas.
A native Calgarian, Karl is perpetually nearing the completion of his Bachelor of Arts with a Major in Information Studies. He also works for the Computer Sciences Virtual Helpdesk for Athabasca University and plans to eventually go on to tutor and obtain his Master’s Degree.