Designed for Failure by Don Meredith © 1998
(first published in the January 1998 Edmonton Sports Scene
Stumbling their way through the House of Commons and Senate, the federal regulations concerning the registration of firearms, under Bill C-68 (passed December 1995), are about to come into effect. Like many firearms owners, I'm not happy with this registration system. It penalizes legitimate, law-abiding gun owners for the actions of a few criminals.
If registering firearms would reduce crime, I would support these regulations as I support the remainder of Bill C-68 dealing with the criminal use of firearms. But registration won't reduce crime. It will instead create a costly bureaucratic nightmare that will drive more people away from hunting, further eroding grass-root support for wildlife conservation.
Like most firearms laws, Bill C-68 only works after the fact, after the crime has been committed. If a criminal is caught using a registered firearm, so what? He will be penalized under the law already in effect, and the firearm will be tracked back to its owner (I seriously doubt the criminal will have registered it). Law already exists to penalize firearms owners for unsafe storage. I don't think this expensive registration system was designed just to return stolen property.
So, why register firearms if you wish to reduce crime? One argument is that police officers will be able to confirm whether registered guns are in a house before they enter it to settle, for example, a domestic dispute. Again, so what? First, if you are an officer about to enter such a house, would you approach that house any differently knowing it doesn't contain registered firearms? I think not. You would probably be more concerned about the unregistered firearms that house might contain. Second, this argument depends upon there being up-to-date information available in a data base that can be accessed easily by officers from a patrol car. This will not be the case. The bureaucracy has admitted the system will be too slow and cumbersome to provide such service.
So, why is the government proceeding with such a flawed system? The simple answer is politics. Most people in this country are not gun owners. They have been erroneously told registration will reduce crime involving guns. Polls show they support registration. Today's politicians are driven more by polls than reasoned argument. The registration will proceed, and I believe will crumble under its own weight, much like a similar system in New Zealand has crumbled, becoming useless to police and ignored by gun owners.
Why will it crumble? The more accurate question is why is it crumbling? Most of Bill C-68 came into effect on January 1, 1996 with gun registration slated to begin on January 1, 1997. The latter date was rolled back to January 1, 1998 and now October 1, 1998 (further delays are predicted [postscript note: the effective date was December 1, 1998]). The delays were caused by the bureaucracy coming to grips with the onerous and expensive task at hand. It has had to make changes, changes that have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the system.
In order to be effective, a registration system depends on accurate information. Today, to register a restricted weapon (such as a pistol), it must be independently inspected and the serial number confirmed by a firearms expert, such as an officer of the law. Such a system would be impossible to implement for the estimated 20 million, unrestricted rifles and shotguns in Canada. No police service would stand for such a use of its time, and neither would taxpayers.
The solution: self-registration. Yes, as the regulations now stand, you will register your firearms by mailing in a registration form containing a description of each firearm, its manufacturer, serial number and your signed statement that all is correct. No one will have to confirm your information. It will all be on your head. The chances for error are great. Will you be penalized five, ten or twenty years down the road for inadvertently flipping some numbers or for a clerical error made in Ottawa? Will the police respect the information in the system enough to actually use it? Will you respect the system enough to update your registration with changes you make to your firearms?
The decision that each gun owner must make is whether to register early and save a few bucks betting the system will go ahead, or whether to wait in the hope of saving a few more bucks betting the system will fail before January 1, 2003. You can bet with certainty that such a decision is not being contemplated by the criminal this legislation is supposed to affect.
© Don H. Meredith 1998 Any reproduction of this work, in whole or part, in any media is prohibited unless expressly granted by the author. For more information, see the copyright notice.