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The Firearms Dance by Don Meredith © 2002
(first published in the February/March 2002 Alberta Outdoorsmen

It's been sitting on my desk for a few weeks now. I give it a glance every so often, and stick it back in my pile of work to be put off until later. However, it keeps popping up to remind me that time is running out. I'm talking about the firearms registration forms all licensed firearms owners in Alberta received in the mail last month, inviting us to register our firearms early (by March 19, 2002) and save the $18.00 fee.

Like many firearms owners, registration galls me to no end. I was raised to believe that responsible firearm ownership was a fundamental right that ensures tyranny (whether autocratic or democratic) will not gain a foothold in society. Having to register my firearms doesn't make me feel good about where our government and society are going. I feel my right to take responsibility for my own actions is once again being eroded.

Now, erosion of individual responsibility has been taking place for a long time. As we become a more crowded and urbanized society, and less connected to the land, we become more dependent on governments to ensure we will be protected and have enough to eat. Indeed, as we feel more threatened by crime, terrorism or the quality of our food, environment or health care, we place more demands on our governments to do something about it. In return, we give up some of our freedom to choose responsibly.

And indeed, if the registering of non-restricted firearms would actually reduce crime, I'm sure most firearms owners would gladly comply. But our federal government has taken extraordinary measures to avoid facing the fact that firearms registration will not reduce crime. What it will do is placate a large urban population that has been trained to fear its own shadow, let alone someone with a gun.

The feds are about to spend over one billion dollars on a useless system to avoid their responsibility for the illegal traffic of guns. As I've written elsewhere, the following is

Why Gun Registration Will Fail:

  1. It will not reduce crime. In fact, it will tie up our courts for years to come as legitimate owners challenge the law in court while criminals continue to use illegal firearms obtained from the usual illegal sources.
  2. It's too late "to close the barn door" or "push the toothpaste back in the tube." There are 7 to 20 million (no one knows for sure) non-restricted firearms in this country. Only a fraction of those will be registered. In the meantime, many more firearms will enter the country illegally over a long, "soft" border with a neighbor that does not register its firearms. The registration system cannot begin to handle this vast number of firearms, and as a result it will achieve no reduction in crime.
  3. The system depends on self registration. Think about it! During this initial registration period, owners register their firearms without verification by a firearms expert. You could put anything you desire on the form and there is no one to say nay. As long as the information looks legitimate to a quickly trained clerk in New Brunswick, it will be entered in the database. As a result, you could believe for years you have lawfully registered your guns, only to learn at some date in the future that you (or a clerk) entered the serial or model number of one in error and you're in violation of the law.

    Now, the federal government is asking for volunteers to verify firearms for them; and you will have to get your firearm verified by one of those volunteers whenever you transfer it to someone else (either through sale, gift or inheritance). But it will take many decades for all the self-registered firearms to be verified in this manner. Who will trust the information stored in the database, now or in the future? The police? The firearms owners? The criminals?

  4. It will be ignored by most enforcement agencies. Once officers in the field realize they cannot trust or effectively use the information in the database (as many already do), they will ignore it. The only time it will be used is when someone makes a firearms-specific complaint or the police discover firearms during another investigation. Many of these cases will be challenged in court, further tying up our judiciary and enforcement personnel, and achieving no reduction in crime.
  5. It will collapse under its own overwhelming, bureaucratic weight. Anyone who has looked at the system knows it cannot work. It was poorly planned and executed in a rush. No future government will be willing to spend the money required to fix it because it will achieve no reduction in crime.

So, why is registration proceeding? Because the federal government doesn't know what else to do, and people are demanding that something be done about illegal use of guns. The feds are so committed to this registration scheme they will gladly spend another billion dollars just to demonstrate their power and bullheadedness. And for me, that's where the problem lies.

I'm afraid we are stuck with this federal government for the foreseeable future, and that means gun registration will proceed. Starting January 1, 2003, a law enforcement officer investigating a complaint about an unregistered firearm will not care whether or not you have applied to have the firearm registered, only that it is not registered. As demonstrated by the licensing experience, if your firearms are not registered by January 1, 2003, you will be in violation of the law, registration backlog or no registration backlog.

Although the free registration scheme is a ploy to get us to register early and reduce the inevitable backlog of applications later on this year, it is also a way of justifying any enforcement efforts in 2003. The feds can now argue they provided ample opportunity for firearms owners to get their guns easily registered prior to the deadline. If we failed to take advantage of that opportunity, that's our problem not theirs.

So for me, the decision boils down to choosing on which hill I wish to die. Gun registration represents a major hurdle to the recruitment of new hunters — new committed advocates of wildlife conservation. If I want to help these people clear that hurdle, I must accept gun registration as a fact, and work to make it easier for everyone to be licensed and to obtain firearms. I can't do this if my guns are confiscated and I'm charged with a criminal offence.

Therefore, I'm retreating to the next hill behind me. I'm going to hold my nose and apply to register my firearms by the March 19 deadline. You may choose a different tactic and that certainly is your right. But to me, there is more at stake than firearms ownership. There is a wildlife heritage that over the ages has been protected and conserved by hunters, lawfully in the field with lawfully held firearms.


Don's previous articles on this subject: Gun Registration Designed for Failure and The Boondoggle Continues.
For subsequent articles Don has written on this subject, please go to Down the Road to Failure, Why Gun Registration has Failed and Everybody's Talking.


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Check-out Don's adventure novels:

Grizzly One
The Search
for Grizzly One
Dog Runner
Dog Runner