The Conservative government’s hotly debated decision to scrap the long-gun registry back in April 2012 infuriated Quebec. The province went so far as to sue the federal government for the right to acquire the registry’s information before it was officially destroyed; and they won. A Quebec Superior Court judge ruled that Quebec had a right to access the information and build their own provincial registry. If Quebec goes through with their plans, they’ll be relying on a two billion dollar outdated and worthless registry to do so.
To start, the long-gun registry never actually helped prevent any crime from occurring. To legally buy a long-gun in Canada, a category of firearms that only includes rifles and shotguns, one already has to go through the process of obtaining a license. That means a criminal records check, a background check – a psychological illness examination is included in this – and a reference check. It is a common mistake for people to think abolishing the gun registry takes away a layer of protection and security, but those who are licensed have already been thoroughly examined, and the long-gun registry did not further investigate the individual; it just added their name to yet another list.
Having their name on the list did not mean much anyway. The RCMP and Statistics Canada were both forced to admit that statistics on gun crimes committed by licenced gun owners using registered guns have never actually been collected. Basically, there is no clear data or analysis as to whether registering a gun contributes to a lower rate of violent crime. The closest estimate we have is from Gary Mauser of the Simon Fraser University who has calculated that only 3% of the murders in Canada since 1998 have been committed by licenced gun owners. This still tells us nothing about the guns themselves – if they were registered or not, or whether they were long-guns or any other type of firearm. This begs the question of why the Canadian people, and the province of Quebec, are so focused on saving the registry when it would be much more beneficial to focus on the remaining 97% of cases. The registry did not provide any statistical information to prove the need for its own existence.
The other problem with the long-gun registry is that it was never very reliable. When it was introduced in 1995, gun owners had to opt-in to the new system voluntarily. If you bought your gun at any point before the legislation was put into law, you had no obligation to sign-up. Realistically, one cannot expect many hunters and farmers jumped at the idea of registering their weapons with the government. Because of this the Canadian Shooting Sports Association estimates that seven million firearms are absent from the registry and that there could be many more. If the Canadian government wanted to track every long-gun the country, it found a very ineffective way to do so.
There is one final straw that effectively renders the long-gun registry absolutely useless. When the Harper government was elected to a minority government in 2006, it knew it would not be able to scrap the registry without losing the confidence of the House. However, it deliberately allowed licensed long-gun owners to trade rifles and shotguns without notifying the government of the transaction, something that was previously illegal. This effectively means that thousands of weapon transactions have occurred without the government’s knowledge, and therefore an equal number of firearms are registered to the wrong people and likely untraceable. The Conservative government’s decision to do this may be questionable, but like it or not, it long ago killed any hope of salvaging the registry.
Given the flawed and outdated information encompassed in the long-gun registry, it would be a grave mistake for Quebec to try to save it. The federal government spent about two million dollars a year maintaining the registry at a price tag of two billion dollars since the program began. Though the province would only keep the Quebec portion of the registry, it would still cost millions before they could ever have a functional registry set up, and even then there would be countless flaws in the system.
If the provincial government truly believes having a long-gun registry is in the interest of Quebecers, they would be better off starting right from scratch. It would be costly and it would take a long time to create a useful database, but they could learn from the mistakes of the federal government instead of simply piling more problems on top of them.