November 05, 2009

Isn't it Enough that the Registry is Useful to Police, Crowns?

Recalling how police use the gun registry, and how very, very often - John Geddes

Over at Macleans, John Geddes has put some perspective on the gun registry or CFRO. He points out that police used the CFRO over 9400 times per day last year, that police forces do find it useful and that it costs roughly $3 million per year to maintain. While it may not be the number one crime fighting tool to use, it is still another tool for police to take advantage of. He then asks, is that not enough for maintaining it?

When I showed Geddes' write up to a close acquaintance, who is an assistant crown attorney, they confirmed that the CFRO is used within the courts regularly as well. They said that before considering to grant bail to someone, such as an accused in a domestic assault, the CFRO is checked by the police. If the accused happens to have a registered gun in the house, then part of their bail conditions could require them to turn it in to the authorities. The crown may also ask to have an accused's surety checked through the CFRO to make sure the crown isn't turning a domestic assault accused over to someone else with a readily available weapon.

Why is this relevant? Because not all (many in fact) accused in domestic assault cases don't have prior records. Their actions are based on some sudden change in their situation or relationship. The argument that 'criminals don't register their guns' doesn't necessarily apply. Many law-abiding citizens, and possibly gun owners, who presumably would register, may have a sudden breakdown. Knowing if they have weapons readily available would be useful information for both the police and the crown when making decisions regarding such a person.

Depending on the scenario, the police do not necessarily have to enter into every scenario or deal with every accused with the full might of the police force. That's impractical, wasteful and unrealistic. But to have the knowledge that a gun is present can change the outlook and the planning of the police involved.

Do I think the gun registry is useful? Well if Canada's largest police forces, such as Toronto, Montreal and the RCMP are saying it's useful, then who am I to argue with them. And then throw in others from within the justice system such as crown attorneys, who also can find the information useful, then I'm left without any doubt.

That doesn't mean the system is perfect and that there isn't room for improvement or change. There surely must be a compromise that would make 'hunters and farmers' feel less like criminals - though I've always wondered how registering their guns did that - and still allow those who use such information for safety and preparedness to do so effectively and fully. Scrapping the system seems to be counterproductive and someone needs to step up and use their intelligence going forward in finding a solution.

What others are saying:
Soft on Crime - View From the Left
The Long Gun Registry & Violence Against Women - Devin Johnston
Gun Registry Gone: Good Lesson in Lack of political Imagination - Relentlessly Progressive Political Economy
About Representing Those Constituents - Peterborough Politics
Conservative "law and order" bizarro world - Impolitical
Gun Registry or Coffee Maker Registry? - Abandoned Stuff by Saskboy
Adult conversation on the gun registry? - BCer in TO
A note on the gun registry - Dawg's Blawg


Jennifer Smith said...


Thank you for raising the point about law-abiding citizens suddenly snapping. My husband had a friend like that. He was a perfectly normal, sane, law-abiding, legal gun owner - right up until he shot his ex-girlfriend in the face and himself in the head the next day. In his case it was a handgun, but it could just have easily been a shotgun.

It drives me mad when people make this arbitrary distinction between 'criminals' and 'citizens'. I'm sure it makes them feel better, but it just isn't reflective of reality - and especially not in the very rural areas the Conservatives are targeting with their divisive message.

austin said...

Jennifer, let me ask you, had it been a rifel and it was registered how would that of saved your husband's friend's wife?

Having laws just because the police like it is not very Canadian.

Jennifer Smith said...

I only brought up that case as an example of how an otherwise law-abiding gun owner can become a criminal rather abruptly, to dispute this notion that somehow regular non-criminal gun owners couldn't possibly pose a danger to anyone.

Beyond that, I don't really have enough details to answer your question. I'm not completely sure if the handgun was legally registered, or if police were ever contacted before things got out of hand.

There were rumours about an accusation of child abuse that may have led to the shooting. If that were the case, and if police were contacted, then yes - I would say that their knowing that he owned a registered firearm might have led to their taking a closer look at him and possibly preventing the shooting and his suicide.

(BTW, the ex-girlfriend survived, but was permanently blinded)

austin said...

I'm glad to hear she survived.

A long gun registry is not really the answer to problems like that. Better screening on the people licensed to own guns might help but there really is no way of knowing who is going to snap one day. And if they are going to snap they will do it with or without a gun. No matter what the situation a long gun registry has never or will never save anyone.

Anonymous said...

Jennifer good post,

As to why it makes farmers and hunters feel like criminals is perhaps because it is a criminal offence to not register and then continually re-register their long guns. And it seems like duplication. It is already a criminal offence to possess a long gun without a PAL. And all those with a PAL are registered as gun owners. Not only that handguns are restricted so that police would already know that they were dealing with a gun owner with a restricted licence possessor

I can see why the police would like to be able to know something more than just that they were dealing with a gun owner restricted or not. That is, I am sure it helps police to know what kind of firearm. So the registry makes some sense.

All of this why should gun owners pay more than a one time fee to register their gun? Why should the arm have to be re-registered and why is the paper work so arduous? People who want the registry should be addressing these issues.

Jennifer Smith said...

You only have to register long-guns once - there is no renewal. And the paperwork is not that arduous. Certainly less so than a PAL or POL.

I always thought they should have worked the gun registry into the license forms. Those have to be renewed every five years anyway, so why not just add a section that says, "Have you acquired any additional firearms since your last renewal?" and have space for details. It wouldn't be totally up to date, but it would cut down on administration costs and make it easier for the gun owner.

Anonymous said...

Hi Jennifer,

Sorry I took the word of some members of the anti-registration camp. I stand corrected and corrected my blog post.

On the registration and licensing. The licensing is for possession and the registration gives the gun a certificate. The certificate has to stay with the gun. This allows gun owners to share guns. If the two were unified each gun would still need a separate certificate. And the registration program requires verification of the arm prior to registration.

So I can understand why the two parts of the gun control regime cannot be easily merged.

I suspect much of the anti-reg side is by those who do not have a PAL or POL and therefore cannot legally register their guns. It strikes me that they should allow those not possessing a PAL or POL to register their guns (provided they are not restricted arms) and a one year amnesty to get their PAL. They have an amnesty now but I think it has the incentives backwards. Get the guns registered and then worry about the fire arms safety course, which is all the PAL amounts to.

Jennifer Smith said...

A PAL or POL involves more than just the safety course, which is very important anyway. There are background checks, plus those 'intrusive' questions like "Have you recently ended a long-term relationship?", "Have you ever been diagnosed with a mental illness?", etc. I tend to think those are pretty important too.

You have ALWAYS needed a PAL or POL before being allowed to own a gun, so if these guys have firearms without one or the other, they would be breaking the law with or without the registry.

Anonymous said...

Well they might be intrusive questions but they are hardly onerous. I did not mention them because it takes about 2 minutes to answer them. The arduous part of the PAL is taking the course (yes I know you can challenge it) and then sitting the exam. That takes a weekend and some cash.

You would be surprised how many people have long guns without a PAL. Lots of people inherit long guns or are given long guns by friends and relatives. My point was that if we want to encourage registration of these types of arms we should work the amnesty in reverse. I.e., one has to register their gun in order to qualify for an amnesty on the PAL.

That is of course if the stated reason for the program is to create a database that lets police know who has guns and of what type is the real issue.

Quotes from people smarter than me...

"If a free society cannot help the many who are poor, it cannot save the few who are rich" ~ JFK

"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. " ~ Martin Luther King Jr.

"Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety. " ~ Benjamin Franklin

"First it is necessary to stand on your own two feet. But the minute a man finds himself in that position, the next thing he should do is reach out his arms. " ~ Kristin Hunter

"When you're a mayor and you have a problem you blame the provincial government. If you are provincial government and you have a problem you blame the federal government. We don't blame the Queen any more, so once in a while we might blame the Americans." ~ Jean Chretien

"Which is ideology? Which not? You shall know them by their assertion of truth, their contempt for considered reflection, and their fear of debate." ~ John Ralston Saul

"It is undoubtedly easier to believe in absolutes, follow blindly, mouth received wisdom. But that is self-betrayal." ~ John Ralston Saul

"Everybody dies, Tracey. Someone's carrying a bullet for you right now, doesn't even know it. The trick is to die of old age before it finds you." ~ Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds (Firefly, Episode 12)