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Gun-control group fights to save the long-gun registry

Ending the long-gun registry will have a major impact on public safety, a panel of public safety experts and victims of gun violence said on Wednesday at a press conference in Toronto.

The Coalition for Gun Control, an alliance of more than 300 organizations, believes that the Conservative dominated Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security (SECU) is deliberately ignoring the pleas of police, victim groups and public safety experts by recommending that the House of Commons proceed with Bill C-19 unchanged.

The third reading vote to send the proposed law to the Senate could come soon.

The legislation, introduced on October 25, not only ends the registration of rifles and shotguns but removes the requirement that gun owners' licenses be verified when they purchase a firearm. It also allows an individual to acquire an unlimited number of guns and eliminates the need for gun dealers to record who purchases them.

"All of this will have serious consequences for women experiencing violence," said Ann Decter, Director of Advocacy and Public Policy, YWCA Canada.

"Our shelters report that the long-gun registry is now an integral part of domestic violence policing. Our rural shelters tell us police consult the long-gun registry every time they go to a domestic violence incident."

If passed, the records of the currently 7.1 million registered rifles and shotguns will be destroyed, weakening the ability of police to trace guns back to their last legal owners if they end up being used in crimes.

At the moment, police use the gun registry every day to enforce prohibition orders, take preventative actions and remove guns from dangerous people.

Twenty years ago, when she was a fellow at the Hospital for Sick Children, Dr. Katherine Austin Leonard wrote a research paper on the problem of firearms mortality in Canada.

At the time, there had been 1,444 deaths from firearms that year. By 2004, the mortality statistics had dropped to 743 deaths in Canada.

"In the pediatric age group, firearm mortality has also declined substantially since the early '90s," said Dr. Leonard.

"The registration system is essential for encouraging compliance with, monitoring and enforcing of the safe storage regulations and responsible use of firearms."

The cost of maintaining the long gun registry as an investment in public safety is less than $4 million annually, according to law enforcement officials.

By comparison, the province of Ontario spends $40 million every year on flu vaccination to keep its citizens safe. But the province won't create its own long gun registry if Bill C-19 passes into law.

Karen Vanscoy's 14-year-old daughter was shot and killed in 1996 by an acquaintance using a stolen gun.

"The proposed weakening of our gun laws will make it easier for those at risk of committing acts of violence either towards themselves or others to acquire guns," said Vanscoy.

"It's incomprehensible to me that the MPs who voted to support the national strategy for suicide prevention in October will allow this measure to pass."

As a former politician and former Attorney General of Ontario, Michael Bryant listened to people debate the long-gun registry issue for more than 10 years.

"The Conservative government has a choice between listening to the people here today who have lived the horrors of gun violence or the National Rifle Association (NRA)," said Bryant.

"I can't imagine a measure that will do more to harm public safety, and in particular violence against women, than this bill which goes well beyond scrapping the gun registry to set our gun controls back to the time of the Wild West."

Bryant predicted that the black market for guns will expand and anticipates an increase in firearm suicides, homicides and accidental deaths by guns.

The government's decision to erase the current registry if Bill C-19 passes, said Bryant, is to avoid political accountability, which would make it impossible to know whether or not a gun was part of the old registry.

"It's a brutally cynical move at the expense of evidence that could be used for prosecution," he said.

Last Sunday marked the sixth anniversary of Aidan Lumley's death when he was shot and killed crossing a street in Montreal.

"The government's proposal is not addressing the concerns of victims of violence who want to make it harder -- not easier -- for dangerous people to access guns," said Elaine Lumley, mother of Aidan.

"Politicians must put the priority on public safety when they cast their upcoming vote."

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