Police, Health and Safety Experts defend the long-gun registry (Bill C-19)

OTTAWA, Nov. 17, 2011 /CNW/ - After testifying before the SECU Parliamentary committee against Bill C-19, outraged safety experts insist that dismantling the registration of rifles and shotguns and destroying the data on 7.1 million guns will compromise public safety and undermine police investigations.  They challenge the myths promoted by the Conservatives in defending their decision to dismantle the registry. They also urge the public to consider the fine print of the proposed law which will not just dismantle provisions introduced in 1995 but will turn back the clock more than thirty years.

Bill C-19 goes far beyond simply ending the registration of unrestricted rifles and shotguns (including the semi-automatic Ruger mini 14 used in the Montreal massacre).  It removes critical measures that have been in place since 1977. Bill C-19:

  • Makes verifying a firearms purchaser's licence voluntary, which increases the chances unlicensed individuals will be sold rifles and shotguns.
  • Erases data on 7.1 million rifles and shotguns currently registered, despite the fact that the data could be useful as an investigative tool for police officers for firearm tracing purpose. Several international treaties require that countries maintain firearm sales records for the purpose of tracing.
  • Omits provisions to reinstate the requirement that businesses keep records of sales. This has been a requirement since 1977, and was removed when the Firearms Act passed in 1995 as the information would be in the registry. Without this information there is no way for police to investigate the source of rifles and shotguns recovered from crime scenes or seized from suspects. 
  • Destroys a tool widely used by police officers to remove guns from dangerous or suicidal people, enforce prohibition orders, take preventative action and investigate crime.

Denis Côté, President of the Fédération des policiers et policières municipaux du Québec (FPMQ):
"Why carry out the destruction of the data? After the physical evidence of the weapon, the data is often the starting point for an investigation and identify important witnesses if a suspect."

Currently, licensed gun owners must have the guns they own registered, one time only. Registration fees have been waived. Over 7 million non-restricted rifles and shotguns have been registered. Most industrialized countries register all firearms. A number of studies have examined the effects of the Firearms Act on gun death and injury rates and concluded significant reductions. For example, the Institut de santé publique du Québec has associated the law to a decrease of 250 fewer suicides and 50 fewer homicides annually1.

Yves Francoeur, President of the Montreal Police Brotherhood added: "On the island of Montreal alone, there are about 75,000 weapons, 60,000 are long-guns. You cannot seriously claim that losing track of 60,000 weapons has no impact on public safety."

Dr. Barbara Kane, Rural B.C. Psychiatrist: "Contrary to the mythology, gun deaths and injury are higher in rural Canada where there are more firearms. As a rural psychiatrist working in Prince George, I have used the registry on numerous occasions in situations where people were suicidal or mentally ill or unstable. I would not want to minimize the impact of any type of suicide but finding someone you love with half their face shot off is devastating.  Ironically, rural areas where there is the most vocal opposition to gun control are also the areas with the highest rates of suicides, homicides and accidental injuries with firearms. Polls have shown that women in rural areas, and particularly women living with gun owners, are in the majority in supporting gun control and the registry. Rates of suicide and domestic violence in rural Canada are much higher than in urban centres. With stronger controls on firearms we have seen these rates decline. In my professional practice, I have personally seen many cases where the registry has been used to remove guns from individuals who might present a risk to themselves or others. While it is hard to definitely "prove" in a specific case that a life was saved we do know for certain that the registry has contributed to a decline in suicide, particularly in rural areas. The registry makes people accountable for their guns and helps people like me and the police prevent gun death. It is a vital tool we need to preserve."

Wendy Cukier, President of the Coalition for Gun Control: "Much of the opposition to the registry is ideological and grounded in misinformation. More than 7 million firearms are already registered. The costs of maintaining the system are modest: less than $4 million a year, while the cost of gun violence is immense. This law goes far beyond previous efforts to end the registration of firearms. It eliminates provisions to track gun sales that were put in place in 1977. Now that the money has been spent, destroying the data makes no sense whatsoever, and is simply punitive. Rates of firearm death and injury have significantly declined with stronger controls on gun control and the registry is an essential part of the mix. We can debate statistics all you want but at the end of the day we know for sure, the firearms registry never killed anyone. While getting rid of it might."

The long-gun registry:

  • Helps ensure that gun owners are accountable for their firearms. If gun owners are licensed but there is no record of the guns they own, they can give or sell guns to unlicensed owners without consequences.
  • Is an essential tool used by police when taking preventive action, and enforcing prohibition orders. It is used to ensure that all firearms are removed from an individual's possession when the situation warrants it.
  • Assist police investigations. When police recover a gun at the scene of a crime, they can trace it to its rightful owner. Two men were identified and convicted as accessories to the murder of 4 RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, in part because a registered gun was left at the scene of the crime.
  • Allows police to differentiate between legal and illegal firearms. Without information about who owns firearms legally and the firearms they own, police cannot charge individuals with illegal possession.
  • Allows police to trace firearms easily, thus facilitating further investigations into illicit trafficking.
  • Reduces the chances that legal guns will be diverted into illegal markets.

The Coalition for Gun Control, founded in the wake of the Montreal massacre, is an alliance of more than 300 organizations including the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Public Health Association, Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians, Canadian Paediatric Society, the YWCA of Canada, the Canadian Federation of University Women, Canadian Auto Workers, Canadian Labour Congress as organizations and community groups across the country. The alumni and families of the victims of the Montreal massacre along with other victims of gun violence played a pivotal role.

1 Lavoie, Michel, Pilote, Ruth, Maurice, Pierre, Blais, Étienne. (2010) Brief Submitted to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Public Safety and National Security Concerning Bill C-391, the Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act. Québec: Institut national de santé publique. http://www.inspq.qc.ca/pdf/publications/1090_MemoireProjetLoiC391ArmesFeu_VA.pdf


For further information:

Coalition for Gun Control: 514-528-2360, coalitionforguncontrol@gmail.com

A copy of the Coalition for Gun Control's brief is available at www.guncontrol.ca

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