2. Something for Nothing

2.0 The registration myth

Mr. Rock's statement that introducing firearm registration won't cost anything is misleading.

A recent report on the Restricted Weapons Registration System (RWRS), done on behalf of the Department of Justice, reveals that it costs between $50 to $85 to produce just one registration certificate for a restricted firearm (Wade, 1994, p.27). The integrity of the existing restricted weapons registration database is compromised by significant data error (Wade, 1994, p.x). The manual nature of the registration process makes it extremely difficult to determine the present status of applications (Wade, 1994, p.x).

Responding to queries from the police and the public is time-consuming and expensive. The RWRS traces approximately 100 firearms every year and most of these are unsuccessful (Wade, 1994, p.5).

Tomlinson (1994, p.5) calculates that even if one-half of these traces produced a positive result, the cost involved equates to over $2 million per successful trace - enough money to hire at least 50 additional police officers in Canada every year.

The entire computer system which maintains the registry requires expensive upgrading (Wade, 1994, pp.xv-xvi). The only feasible way this can be done is through a large infusion of public money.

The report indicates that the funding could be obtained through unspecified "user fees" (Wade, 1994, p.36); i.e., civilian gun owners (and presumably other external police agencies) will be expected to "foot the bill" to upgrade a system that is notoriously unreliable.

It is evident from the Justice Department's report that registration of all non-restricted firearms in Canada (estimated to number anywhere between six to twenty million) simply cannot be done on a cost-effective basis with the existing technology. The only way to upgrade the system to accomodate universal registration is through an extensive form of cost-recovery (i.e. "user fees").

The belief that universal firearm registration can be accomplished without costing Canadian taxpayers anything is a deliberate fiction designed to placate Members of Parliament who rightfully question the Justice Minister's firearm control proposals.

It is extremely likely that the government will either not "charge" owners of presently non-restricted firearms for the initial registration, or levy a nominal amount. This is simply a ploy to persuade people to register their guns. These individuals will later be targeted with a range of fees to possess, transfer, and re-register their firearms - all in the name of "cost efficiency" and "improving the system"

This situation will be similar to Great Britain's, which since 1988 has increased both the firearm control bureaucracy as well as the annual fees for possession of rifles, shotguns, and handguns to the point where the rate of legal gun ownership declined by 22% between 1988 and 1992 (Government Statistical Service, August 1993, p.3, p.5).

Ironically, the violent crime and firearm robbery rates in Great Britain increased by 29% and 109%, respectively, during the same period (Government Statistical Service, December 1992, p.35, p.65).

Professor Gary Mauser of Simon Frasier University estimates it will cost the government between $400 million to $500 million to register all rifles and shotguns in Canada. The cost will be the same whether firearm registration is phased in over a period of years or in a single year (Mauser, Oct. 1994, p.1).

Professor Mauser's estimate doesn't include: income lost by a minimum of 3 million firearm owners who will be required to take time off work in order to register their guns; the owner's transportation costs to/from the firearm registrar's office; and, lost productivity to employers. Owner's costs (including lost wages and transportation) have been estimated by the Shooting Organizations of Canada at between $100 million to $200 million 8 .

Should the government proceed with universal registration of all non-restricted firearms, it will be forced to: divert funding from other more important social programs which have a far greater probability of reducing crime; borrow the money, which will increase the annual operating deficit and national debt; and/or, charge firearm owners a "fee" for registering every gun.

In the long run, the last option is the more likely, although it represents a false economy.

Approximately one million firearms are sold every year in Canada (Mauser, September 1994, p.1). Assuming that the government will eventually charge a minimum fo $10 to register a firearm, that represents a collective expenditure from Canadian firearm owners of $10 million. This does nothing but pay bureaucrats for the production of paper permits. That $10 million dollars could have instead been put towards the purchase of "hard" goods such as household appliances, automobiles, etc., which would stimulate the economy, create employment opportunities, and expand government tax revenues that could be used to maintain social programs.

Of course, there is the very real possibility that the government won't have to pay anything to register presently non-restricted firearms simply because owners will refuse to register them. The former Progressive Conservative government ordered the registration of over 20 varities of "politically incorrect" firearms in October, 1992 (Bartlett, 1994, p.7). Mauser (1992, p.25) estimated that only 12% of these "politically incorrect" firearms were submitted for registration.