Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Long-gun registry keeps criminals honest, so to speak

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I recently became a gun owner for the first time in my early 40s. I proudly own .22 and .30-06 rifles for target shooting and hunting. My experience with Canadian firearms licensing and gun-registration systems has been entirely positive and has left me strongly in favour of the long-gun registry the Harper Conservatives, as promised, are moving to dismantle.

Effective gun control should attempt to do one thing: make it as difficult as possible for dangerous people to obtain dangerous weapons.

This means preventing criminals from being able to simply buy guns across the counter and disarming gun owners who lose the privilege of gun ownership. In order to do both effectively, firearms must be registered.

Even those strongly opposed to gun control agree some people should not be allowed to own guns. To that extent, gun ownership is a privilege and not a right. It's common sense, for example, that anyone with a history of criminal violence should be disarmed.

Some 30,000 Canadians have had their firearms licences revoked. Without the gun registry, how can we be sure they have actually given up their guns? How to make sure someone doesn't have a hunting rifle stashed in the garage or a shotgun hidden under the floorboards?

If we are unable to be sure of actually disarming someone whose licence is revoked, then revocation is an empty gesture, and we are giving up on the basic need to restrict gun ownership to responsible, law-abiding citizens.

Similarly, if used guns can be bought and sold on a nod and a handshake, then criminals can much more easily obtain weapons, often from law-abiding gun owners. I don't dispute the usual anti-gun-control argument that criminals obtain firearms illegally, but the legal firearms market must operate in such a way as to continue forcing them to do so.

Without the gun registry, there will be little distinction between the legal trade in used weapons and the criminal weapons market, and lawful gun owners may find themselves supplying weapons to the underworld.

Arguments against the gun registry, which overstate its costs, understate its effectiveness, and blow the conservative dog whistle of criminalization, ignore the necessity of its operation to effective gun control in Canada.

The mind-boggling initial costs of the registry are indefensible, but its cancellation doesn't earn the people of Canada a refund. Its ongoing costs seem quite reasonable, given the scale and importance of the task. The argument it contains incomplete or inaccurate information should lead us to improve it, not delete it. No information is much worse than partial information. Requiring us to register our gun doesn't criminalize gun owners: It draws the line between law-abiding gun owners and criminals.

Without registration, guns are too easily able to make their way into the hands of exactly the people we should be keeping them away from. The Conservative tough-on-crime stance is difficult to reconcile with making gun control changes that open the door to easier criminal ownership of guns in Canada. At the moment, statistics suggest legal gun ownership and gun crime are very different worlds. Once guns can move more freely in the hands of criminals, how long will that continue to be true?

Steve McCullough is a Winnipeg writer and photographer who took up shooting and hunting at the age of 41.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 3, 2011 A11

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