Don Meredith Professional Writing

Why Gun Registration has Failed in Canada by Don Meredith © 2003
(first published in the April/May 2003 Alberta Outdoorsmen

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Do you remember when you were a little kid and got caught by your parents or friends telling a lie? Only you didn't own up to it, and instead kept expanding on the story until the falsehood became so large that it was totally indefensible? Eventually, you had to admit your guilt in overwhelming embarrassment, and were chastised for not telling the truth in the first place.

Usually, that happens only once or twice in a person's life before the lesson is learned and you move on to becoming a responsible citizen. However, some people never learn, and their lives become pathetic sagas of denial and avoidance of the truth. That is, unless you're a politician. Then it seems denial and avoidance of the truth, at least for some, are rewarded.

The gun registration system is a perfect example. For the sake of argument, I'd like you to put all the emotional arguments you may have against registration on the shelf (e.g., attack on personal freedoms, lack of any ability to control crime, etc.) and pretend you are the bureaucrat in charge of designing the registration system back in 1995-98 when this mess began. What information would you want that system to provide the police officer or prospective gun buyer? I would think, first and foremost, you would want to provide accurate information — make, model, calibre, serial number, etc. — the fundamental data describing any firearm. How would you obtain that information? Would you rely solely on the word of the owner? Or would you want the information about the firearm to be verified by a firearms expert? I would think that if you wanted the users of the system to have confidence in the data provided you would want that information verified by experts.

Consider vehicle registration in the provinces. When you purchase a vehicle, new or used, what must you provide to the government to register your vehicle and obtain a licence for it? A bill of sale containing the Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) verified by the previous owner and stamped in several locations on the vehicle. The VIN identifies the specific vehicle in the registration system and all the basic information about it — make, model, year, etc. If the car is new and purchased from a commercial dealer, that dealer must provide you with the correct documentation including the verified VIN from the factory. If the car is used, the previous owner must provide you with his registration paper (containing the VIN) that he signs to transfer the vehicle to you. This system works well. Industry and the police use and rely on it every day.

Then why doesn't the federal government require the same verification for firearms? Believe it or not, verification of each firearm by a firearms expert was part of the original registration plan. At first, it was proposed that police departments would verify the non-restricted firearms, as those departments had done for restricted handgun registration. But the police services baulked at that idea. They realized that having to verify the information for 7 to 20 million individual firearms would take up a lot of valuable time at local constabularies, and the federal government refused to subsidize this activity.

The next idea was to train and hire experts to do the verifications. However, this was deemed too costly. Now, wait! I know what you're thinking: "Too costly?" But back in those days the people designing the system actually thought there was a limit to their budget.

Unfortunately, the use of logic ended at this point — for the next plan was to convince people to volunteer to become verifiers and donate their time to verify the information for the 7 to 20 million firearms. As anyone with a foot in the real world could predict, this idea flew like the proverbial "lead balloon." Few people were willing to take an onerous course in the properties of the many different kinds of firearms that are extant in the world, and then verify the millions of firearms in Canada for no remuneration.

This is where a senior bureaucrat, or alas, a politician should have stepped in and asked the very basic question: "Is it really worth it?" If it's going to be too costly to acquire the accurate information that will be required by the users, should the system be implemented? Now, maybe someone did step in, but if they did, the illogical answer to that question was "yes." As a result, the vast majority of firearms have been registered by their owners without any verification whatsoever, and users of the system have rightly questioned the reliability of the data it contains. However, all such questions have been dismissed by the politicians in charge who insist nothing is wrong with the system — in effect, defending an indefensible lie.

Now let's go back to that bureaucrat who was involved in the design of the system, and who may have asked the question, was it worth it? How do you think he or she felt about the system when told accurate information wasn't really necessary? I'm guessing that person and the many minions below him felt that if their respective superiors didn't insist on proper information, there was no reason to bust their rear ends to obtain it. Hence, we firearms owners received application forms that asked for ambiguous data, registration certificates that could be easily modified or counterfeited, and poor instructions about how the certificates and indeed firearms licences were to be used.

In other words, the lie kept getting bigger and bigger, and as long as we kept calling both the bureaucrats and the politicians to account about how big it was getting, they kept making it bigger (e.g., spent more money) in the hope that we'd eventually give up — like we hoped our parents would give up when we were caught in our respective big lies back when we were five or six years old. But of course like our parents, we haven't given up because the Big Lie is now so big that it cannot be ignored.

The irony of all of this, of course, is that if the bureaucrat who was initially in charge of designing the plan had been told that he had one billion dollars to spend, I can't imagine he wouldn't have been able to develop an efficient system and hire and train sufficient verifiers to actually do a proper job registering the nation's non-restricted firearms. Hasn't each province implemented a vehicle registration system for significantly less money?

Instead, the Big Lie continues — only to be admitted when someone finally has the guts to do so. Maybe then we'll be able to once again ask the question, "Is it really worth it?" and dust off those other concerns about personal freedoms and controlling crime. However, as I've argued in print since 1998, firearms registration is failing in Canada not because it is flawed policy but because the system was designed to fail from the start!

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

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