Some things seem to never go away. One is the issue of abortion, another is the legalization of marijuana and yet another is gun control. What they have in common is the issue of personal choice versus considerable state intervention into people's lives. What they also have in common are the social and economic costs involved in exerting government control, costs that may well do more harm to society than if these areas were much less regulated.
Take the case of firearms. Any rational person would agree that there needs to be some control over lethal devices, but just like controlling a person's body or use of intoxicants, there are limits to effective control, and a point where the control itself causes more problems than it prevents.
Currently in Canada there is a bill in Parliament, Bill C-391, which will repeal the long gun registry. It should come up for final vote in September. Predictably the anti-gun enthusiasts are up in arms tossing statistics about to show how much safer the country would be with the registry.
My favourite statistic is that "police access the registry approximately 11,500 times per day across Canada." So what does that prove? The police certainly will use every tool that they are given, and should. But it really doesn't tell us how effective the tool is in reducing violence. The right to conduct searches on a whim without a warrant would certainly help police, too. By the same logic used to support the registry, this would be a good thing, also.
There is also the argument that with registration the police know where all the firearms are and that saves lives since they know when answering a call whether firearms may be involved or not. I have worked in law enforcement and that logic is a recipe for a dead cop, a dead, stupid cop. Believing that a registry will determine whether there will be firearms involved or not is living in a fantasy world. It would be better to know nothing than take it for granted that there are no firearms. Prudence tells us that until proven otherwise by direct contact, every situation involves firearms. One does not need a registry to be prudent.
Proponents of the registry like to tell us that we do not know how many people are alive today because of the registry, the insinuation being that it has saved lives. Of course on the other hand we also do not know how many people are not alive today because of the registry. A case could be made that indirectly it may have cost more lives than it saved.
The gun control lobby likes to make a point that homicides with firearms have been dropping for about 20 years, and credit increasing regulations. According to Statistics Canada, though, the rate of firearms homicides increased 24 per cent between 2002 and 2008. However, this is of little import given the low rate of homicides in Canada (611 in 2008).
In 1998 51 people were murdered with a long gun. In 2008 that number had declined to 34, so the number of long gun homicides has declined. How much the registry is responsible is questionable, but, again, of little import.
Setting aside the billion or more blown by the government to set up the registry, it costs about three to four million a year to maintain. The question then arises, is lowering the murder rate by a dozen or so worth the expense? If that were the net result the answer might be yes. But, is it the net result? What if that three to four million was spent on things like women's shelters and proactive violence reduction programs instead? How many lives might that save? Are we abandoning more people than we save?
In a world as densely populated as ours we certainly need to have reasonable control over dangerous items for the protection of all of us. Licensing people to operate dangerous tools makes good sense. But, in the case of long guns is registration a good use of resources, or does it do more harm than good?
Jerry West is the publisher, editor and janitor for The Record, an independent, progressive regional publication for Nootka Sound and Canada's West Coast.
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