Politics

READY, FIRE, THEN AIM

Mary Janigan February 9 2004
Politics

READY, FIRE, THEN AIM

Mary Janigan February 9 2004

READY, FIRE, THEN AIM

The gun registry should be maintained— but the ludicrous spending has to stop

UPFRONT

Mary Janigan

IN A FEW WEEKS, my husband marks a bleak anniversary: it will be 18 months since he began his futile bid to correct numerous errors in the registration of his seven elderly rifles and shotguns. The Canada Firearms Centre (CFC) has failed to provide the required sticker for a gun with no serial number; two other stickers are illegible; the address for where the guns are stored is wrong; several are listed as basic frames instead of functioning guns; and the CFC shows an unlicensed stranger, a Mr. Emmel, with prohibited weapons in our house. After many letters, my husband did elicit a response last June: because officials could not reach him by telephone, “as part of our ongoing commitment to client satisfaction,” he can now call them. This—from an agency that regards being on hold as a lifestyle.

I recollected his ongoing struggle when Paul Martin asked Minister of State for Civil Preparedness Albina Guarnieri to review the agency’s effectiveness. Since 1996, the CFC has cost almost $1 billion. In 20032004, it is gobbling up $113 million; in the coming year, it says another $95 million would do nicely; the year after, $76 million. Those sums are even more ludicrous when measured against the $8 million that Justice earmarked in 2004/2005 to fight organized

crime—and its $18 million for enhanced security against terrorism. Guarnieri is now diligently consulting everyone from hunters to victims— and she will report before year’s end.

Canada has registered handguns since 1934. In the 1970s,

Ottawa required that all gun purchasers get a firearms acquisition certificate which, in

The Canada Firearms Centre now lets my husband call them: this from an agency that regards being on hold as a lifestyle

effect, screened them; their purchases, in turn, were recorded. In the early 1990s, the Tories instituted even more detailed screening of buyers, mandatory safety courses—and increased penalties for crimes with firearms. The approach was sensible and systematic.

Then along came the Liberals: in late 1995, they decreed that all gun owners should be licensed and every gun registered. So, even if a hunter had a certificate and his gun was recorded, he had to do it again—for himself and his gun. The technology buckled: firearms commissioner William Baker recently boasted that the centre has lowered its error rate from 90 per cent in 1998 to 10 per cent. Then he noted the centre is still mulling changes to rules for everything from imports to fees. (Ottawa recently extended the lifespan of its five-year licences when it belatedly realized they would all expire at once.)

So what now? We cannot simply scrap the centre: it is the flawed depository of data we started keeping in the 1930s for handguns and in the 1970s for long guns—much of it collected twice. Of course, police consult these records: they did so before the centre was created, too. Now there are 1.9 million licences on file, and 6.8 million firearms. It would be insane to throw out $1 billion of data that may, one day, be accurate.

But the centre cannot be allowed to keep spending at this clip. There were 149 firearms murders in 2002:45 were gang-related; twothirds involved handguns. Three-quarters of recovered handguns were not registered: many were smuggled across the CanadaU.S. border. Guarnieri could tackle the huge software problems, pare the number of permits, declare a partial amnesty on the registration of old guns—and greatly increase the lifespan of licences. (None of this, of course, will do much to curb smuggling.) Most of all, she could affirm that governments should save their pennies for real problems. lil