Canada and the World

The Canadian solution

John Geddes April 17 2000
Canada and the World

The Canadian solution

John Geddes April 17 2000

The Canadian solution

The debate over Ottawa’s new gun registry is all about who is being turned down and how many are being signed up. The registry’s strongest selling point is the number of applicants it is rejecting: more than 1,500 since it was launched on Dec. 1,1998, about 14 times the refusal rate under the old, less stringent system. Advocates of the registry say that means fewer abusive husbands, police suspects and other potentially dangerous would-be owners are getting guns-at least not legally. But the registry's biggest problem is the sluggish pace of its more routine business: only about 500,000 registrations were approved up to the end of March, out of at least two million-some estimate up to five million-Canadian gun owners. Given the record for the registry’s first 16 months, critics argue the system will never succeed in registering the remaining huge population of gun owners by the legal deadline of Dec. 31,2000.

The Canadian Firearms Centre, which runs the registry, is studying ways to cope with a massive surge of applications late this year. “It's like filing your income tax return,” said one official.

“We expect a lot of people to wait until the last minute.” Another reason they believe gun owners are, so far, signing up slowly is that the Supreme Court of Canada has yet to rule on whether the registry is legal. Six provinces, led by Alberta and backed by a bevy of pro-gun lobby groups, challenged the registry as an

encroachment on provincial control over property and civil rights. Ottawa argued it has the authority to create the registry as a crime-prevention measure.

The judges gave the provinces’ lawyers a tough grilling when the case was heard in February. Still, their decision may not be delivered until late summer, and some gun owners may be waiting until then to see if they have to register. But for some, even a Supreme Court ruling in Ottawa’s favour may not end the debate: one group, calling itself the Law-abiding Unregistered Firearms Association, claims to have more than 16,000 members ready to go to jail before they will obey the law.

John Geddes in Ottawa