Gun registry is not a threat to freedom

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On a list of favourite activities, renewing my car registration would rank rather low. Still, having done it recently, I can attest that it didn't feel like an assault on my freedom.

Other car owners with me in line seemed similarly undisturbed, apparently realizing this was part of a rather sensible system of licensing and registering drivers and vehicles in an attempt to ensure that the powerful, motorized vehicles we drive at great speeds kill and injure fewer people.

Yet, strangely, this week parliamentarians seem set to vote for a Conservative private member's bill to scrap a registry that provides a similar system of regulatory control -- but for a product that is far more likely to kill.

Of course, cars can kill. But that's not their primary purpose. Guns, on the other hand, are weapons designed to kill and maim. They can be used lawfully but they cry out for basic licensing and registration.

Yet hardcore gun owners have bizarrely characterized the registration of their long guns as an assault on their freedom. (Alberta argued the registry violated constitutional freedoms in a case it eventually lost at the Supreme Court.)

It's hard to grasp exactly what freedom is under assault here. All that's required is registration -- which is about as coercive as being obliged to put recyclable garbage into a separate bin.

Certainly, it's hard to imagine a less onerous registration process. Unlike car registrations, which must be renewed annually, guns (unless sold or traded) only have to be registered once.

But licensing and registration help prevent guns falling into the wrong hands, argues Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson University professor who heads the Coalition for Gun Control. The system holds gun owners accountable, allowing guns to be traced back to their owners. This discourages owners from storing guns carelessly, or giving or selling them to unlicensed individuals.

Statistics Canada data show that rifles and shotguns are the weapons most often used in domestic violence, suicides and police killings. Since the long-gun registry was introduced in 1995, murders with rifles and shotguns have dropped -- from 61 in 1995 to 34 in 2008.

This suggests that the registry may be playing a role in reducing gun deaths. Surely this possibility, plus the strong support for the registry from police chiefs across the country, should be enough to convince any government -- particularly one claiming to be concerned about crime -- to retain the registry.

Yet the Harper government has pushed relentlessly to scrap it, with the Prime Minister even vowing last week that "the party I lead will not rest until the day it is abolished."

This steadfast determination -- so lacking when it comes to tackling real threats like climate change -- is all about playing to the Conservative base by stirring up libertarian feelings and anti-urban resentments in rural gun owners.

Simple rationality calls for keeping the registry, especially now that the initially costly program is operating for less than $4 million a year -- the cost of a couple of minutes of "security" at the billion-dollar G20 summit last June.

How absurd has the political situation in this country become that MPs -- including some from the NDP -- are afraid to stand up and defend the registration of lethal weapons?

While the Harper government builds prisons for imaginary crimes, it plans to leave guns with real killing potential -- some 7 million of them -- unaccounted for in our midst.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. This article was originally published in The Toronto Star.

"The world needs to hear a lot less from the mainstream media, and a lot more from," says Linda McQuaig. We agree Linda! Help us spread the word by becoming a member of ( and get your own new set of words in the form of a magazine subscription.

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