1. Registration is Not Crime Control

1.0 Introduction

Firearm prohibitionists, and even the Prime Minister himself, indicate that we register dogs and automobiles but not guns, so "...what's the big deal?" (Harper, 94-10-22, p.A1); however, firearm prohibitionists and the government are simply trying to fool the Canadian public into believing that registration will be useful in fighting crime.

Knives and other cutting/piercing instruments are used in nearly twice as many violent crimes in Canada as firearms (Ogrodnik, 1994, p.12), yet no one proposes that homeowners register every potential "edged weapon" in their household as a "crime control" measure.

Just because a dog is registered doesn't stop it from biting anyone. Similarly, registering firearms will not prevent the criminal use of firearms; by definition, criminals and those with criminal intent do not obey the law and will ignore registration.

Automobile registration doesn't prevent motor vehicle collisions or deter their use in crime. When was the last time anyone ever heard of a criminal using public transit as transportation to/from an armed robbery? Over 100,000 motor vehicles are stolen in Canada every year and one of every four is never recovered (Ogrodnik, Paiement, 1992, p.1).

Registration of automobiles is primarily a revenue-generating tool to fund the considerable infrasturcture they require. The overwhelming majority of shooting ranges in this country are privately-owned and hunting is done on a "user-pay" basis; therefore, it cannot be argued that owner/firearm registration and/or permnit fees are necessary to maintain these activities.

This tactic of comparing firearms with automobiles as an argument in support of registration is ultimately not enlightening 2 . Federal and provincial governments have never required that every driver in Canada constantly prove their "need" for a car and provide a rationale as to why they can't rely on public transit. Transport Canada has never introduced policies designed to reduce to an absolute mininum the number of motor vehicles in civilian hands. Of even greater importance, automobile registration isn't feared, or even proposed, as the "first step" towards the confiscation of all privately-owned vehicles.

The bottom line is that the registration of firearms is useless in controlling crime or criminals.

Gary Kleck, Professor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, describes in detail why registration of firearms is of doubtful utility (Kleck, 1991, pp. 336-337):

"For registration to lead to the solution of a crime, all of the following five elements would have to prevail: (1) a gun was used in the crime, (2) the gun was left behind at the scene of the crime, or was lost by the offender somewhere else, (3) the police recovered the gun, (4) the criminal was not arrested at the scene of the crime or on the basis of information unrelated to the gun (if he had been so arrested, the gun would be redundant in identifying the suspect), and (5) either the criminal had registered the gun, using his true name or other uniquely identifying attributes, or the registered owner could somehow lead police to the criminal. Although criminal incidents involving all five of these elements probably have occured, they surely must be extraordinarily rare; certainly no empirical case has been made to the contrary. Even when such a crime occurs, the accused could simply claim his gun had been stolen and used by others. At best, registration would only help identify a possible suspect, not provide sufficient evidence for conviction."

"...Finally, even some gun control advocates have conceded that registration 'would be a cumbersome system to administer' (National Coalition to Ban Handguns [a firearm prohibitionist lobby group active in the United States], undated), which 'would require a massive paperwork and clerical effort.... The benefits that might outweigh its risks and costs have not yet been demonstrated'."

Handguns have been very strickly regulated firearms in Canada since 1934. Legal ownership requires registration and a host of other bureaucratic obstacles; however, over half a century of unrelenting and increasing control has had no mitigating effect on the use of this class of weapon in violent crime 3 .

It is an interesting paradox that the shotgun, one of the most numerous and least regulated firearm types in Canada, has historically been used less in homicide despite the fact that they are easier to obtain and considerably more lethal 4 . It is generally acknowledged that registration has no effect on the use of firearms in crimes of violence, suicide or accidents (Kopel, 1990, p. 143; Kleck, 1991, pp. 335-337).

The statement often made by government and senior police officials that registration will allow them to "track" stolen weapons in a fallacy (Berkowitz, 1994, p.B4). A recent study done by the Department of Justice recorded that 7 of every 10 handguns used in criminal incidents in Metropolitan Toronto had never been registered in this country. For the remaining 30%, there was no evidence that they were actually used by the registrant (Axon, Moyer, 1994, p.4) 5 . It is pointless to spend millions of dollars to attempt to "track" fireams that never originated in this country.

It must be remembered that once a direarm enters the criminal market, whether intentionally or through theft, it becomes completely untraceable.

In their survey of 1,842 convicted criminals in the United States correctional system, sociologists James Wright and Peter Rossi found that criminals identify untraceability as one of the most important characteristics they look for in a firearm (Wright, Rossi, 1986, p.14, p.162). Even in the United States, where firearm laws are perceived to be more lenient, nine of every ten firearms obtained by criminals are bought or traded through the completely non-regulated criminal "black market" precisely because they cannot be traced (Wright, Rossi, 1986, p.183). In the criminal milieu, no one registers their guns.

Government officials insist that registration will somehow make gun owners more "accountable" for their firearms; however, only a tiny fraction of 1% of all the guns in this country are every used for violent purposes 6 . It is not unreasonable to expect that this 1% will be the last firearms affected by any gun control policy. One can't help but wonder just how realistic is a policy which collectively punishes the overwhelming majority of responsible gun owners for the unregulated violent actions of a small and usually deviant minority 7 .