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Misfire: Firearm registration in Canada

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Release Date: March 19, 2001
Firearm registration is ineffective, costly, and is another step that could damage individual freedom for all Canadians, despite lack of proof these laws reduce violence, says a new study Misfire: Firearm Registration in Canada released today by The Fraser Institute.

"Gun laws are usually passed during periods of fear, but after the threat recedes, and individual freedoms have been diminished, the appropriate level of control for firearms is never addressed," says the paper's author Gary Mauser, a highly-regarded academic from Simon Fraser University.

For the past 15 years, Mauser has conducted research on the politics of gun control, the effectiveness of gun control laws, and the use of firearms in self-defence.

Escalating Costs and Minimal Benefit

The federal government claimed in parliament that it would cost no more than $85 million over 5 years to implement firearm registration. In 1995, Mauser predicted that the final cost for the registry would be between $1 billion and $1.5 billion. To date, the cost of setting up the registration bureaucracy has already passed $600 million and the total is expected to reach $1 billion in 2001.

The number of employees working on firearm registration grew from under 100 in 1995 to over 1,700 in the year 2000. At the same time, the total number of RCMP officers has declined by over 10 percent since 1975 on a per capita basis. The ratio of police officers to population is at its lowest point since 1972.

"These costs might be worth it if the benefits were substantial enough," says Mauser. "But there is no evidence that merely increasing the difficulty of obtaining a firearm through stricter gun laws has any important effect on crime rates," he stresses.

Canadian gun control illustrates the "slippery slope"
Public fear has made firearms a convenient target but the history of gun control in Canada, emonstrates the "slippery slope" of accepting even the most seemingly benign gun control measures.

At each stage, the government either restricted access to firearms, or prohibited and confiscated arbitrary types of ordinary firearms. Government claimed it needed ever more intrusive violations of basic rights and freedoms to protect the public. However, after several increasingly restrictive changes to the law, there is no evidence that these firearm laws have actually reduced violent crime.

Declining Public Support

Polls find over 80 percent of respondents support registering firearms. But public opinion begins to shift as soon as people realize that it will cost them, as taxpayers, a significant amount of money, or that it will divert government resources from more desirable programs. Support drops to 50 percent when respondents are told that it might cost $500 million to register firearms; it drops further to around 40 percent when the trade-off is a reduction in the number of police officers.

According to the father of modern policing, Sir Robert Peel, the police must have the support of the "policed" for laws to be enforced effectively. However, many Canadians who own firearms do not accept the legitimacy of firearm registration.
"Without resorting to military force, it is difficult to enforce laws that are not supported by the public," notes Mauser, "the imposition of registration will alienate citizens from the police."

Surveys show that in Canada a high percentage of gun owners will refuse to register their firearms. Unintended consequences may include illegal hunting. "I predict this law will contribute to an increase in poaching," says Mauser.

Mauser's study also shows that firearm registration has had a significant impact on Canadian politics. Five provinces have held general elections since 1995 and firearm registration was an issue in every one of them; no party supporting firearm registration managed to get elected.

"The 'demonization' of people who own a gun lays the foundation for a massive increase in governmental intrusiveness in the lives of ordinary citizens," says Mauser. "Firearm registration threatens Canadian liberties and freedoms, while it protects criminals by keeping police off the street. This is definitely not what Canadians want," he concludes.


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