There’s a curious inconsistency in the credo of those — including Stephen Harper — who want to crack down on crime.

While they’re keen to increase jail times — a keenness likely to increase in the wake of last week’s biker killings — Harper and other anti-crime hardliners are also keen to take away an indispensable crime-fighting tool in the arsenal of police: the gun registry.

The Harper government is proceeding with plans to dismantle the gun registry, over the objections of the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police.

It’s not surprising that police strongly support the registry. Police officers find it extremely useful to know in advance whether there’s a gun in a place they’re investigating. Police use the registry more than 5,000 times a day, according to the Canadian Professional Police Association.

It’s astonishing that Harper would deprive the police of a tool they say helps them deal with dangerous situations.

Some critics argue that the registry needlessly imposes a burden on law-abiding owners of rifles and shotguns.

But, in the wrong hands, rifles and shotguns can be extremely dangerous.

They are the weapon of choice in domestic violence and are used in half of all shootings of police officers, notes Wendy Cukier, who teaches justice studies at Ryerson University.

Licensing gun owners and registering guns help prevent weapons falling into the wrong hands. The system allows guns to be traced back to their owners, so owners are inclined to store guns more carefully and to refuse to sell them to unlicensed individuals.

The burden is hardly onerous; no more than obtaining a driver’s license and registering a car.

We have no trouble seeing that a car can pose a significant risk to the public, so the privilege of driving is accompanied by certain responsibilities.

Guns are, if anything, more dangerous. While cars can kill, that’s not what they’re designed to do. If the inconvenience of registration is too great, there’s always the option of not owning a gun, just as there’s always the option of not owning a motor vehicle.

The gun lobby has managed to distort the public debate on this important subject by keeping public attention focused exclusively on the Liberal government’s cost overruns in setting up the $1 billion program (registering 2 million gun owners and 7 million guns).

Regrettable as those inflated costs were, that money has already been spent and nothing will bring it back, certainly not cancelling the registry.

Furthermore, the ongoing costs of operating the registry are only $15 million a year.

If licensing and screening costs for gun ownership are added in, the total comes to $80 million a year — less than the annual cost of running the passport office.

Surely we as a country can afford $80 million a year to provide police with a tool they consider vital for fighting crime, and protecting themselves and the public.

If that’s obvious to me, why isn’t it obvious to a government that purports to take crime seriously?

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...