AS the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper celebrates the passing by the House of Commons of a bill that would abolish the long-gun registry, it perhaps should water the wine just a bit.
The Conservatives have opposed the registry since it was implemented by a Liberal government amid the distress that followed the killing of 14 women at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal in 1989. But in government they have done little to fulfill their promise to abolish it. It took a private member's bill, put forward by Manitoba Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner, to move the issue forward.
On Wednesday, it moved ahead by a giant step as MPs voted to eliminate it. The use of a private member's bill to eliminate this extravagant and pointless piece of penitence was a good tactic, as it allowed Liberal and New Democrat MPs to participate in a free vote. At the end of the day, the result surprised almost everyone, with the bill passing by an unexpectedly large majority -- 164-137 -- in a packed House of Commons that included one swine-flu-infected Bloc Quebecois MP in a face mask who struggled in to support his party's defence of the registry.
The Bloc was unanimously opposed to the bill and has already begun trying to make political hay out of the vote, telling Quebecers that all three federal parties are soft on gun crime. There is no logic in that. Most owners of long guns -- rifles and shotguns -- are farmers, hunters and recreational shooters who pose no criminal threat. If the bill passes as it should, handguns and prohibited weapons will still have to be registered.
The long-gun registry cost at least $1 billion, perhaps as much as $2 billion, to establish under a Liberal government that loved it, and costs at least $1 million, perhaps as much as $2 million, a year to maintain, and that is under a Conservative government that has hardly bothered to enforce it.
The cost is not hard to measure. What is difficult is to find is the benefit all that money has bought Canadians. The answer would be none, or at the most optimistic, very little. Most polices forces, although, tellingly, not all of them, like it, but the police tend to be professionally obsessed with identification. What all that expense has done is to inconvenience, harass and sometimes criminalize farmers with shotguns.
Even the Liberal party -- along with the Bloc Quebecois the last, lorn supporter of the gun registry -- is now watering its own wine. Leader Michael Ignatieff suggested this week that the farmer who neglects to register his shotgun should not be criminally convicted, but merely punished by a pointlessly punitive fine.
No one should be popping champagne corks yet, however. Ms. Hoeppner's bill has a long way to go before logic is restored to this country's gun laws. It must first go to a parliamentary committee, where opposition parties can try to disarm it, then to another reading in the House of Commons and finally to Senate, which at the moment, is dominated by Liberal political appointees.
If common sense prevails in the committee, however, and the MPs remain true to the votes they cast on Wednesday, and the Senate realizes that this is not an issue on which it should disgrace itself once again, then it is possible that by the end of this parliamentary session, Canadians will be freed from this bit of tiny-tyranny that the gun registry represents.