Californians run risk of reliving Canadian gunowner nightmares
November 15, 2011
by Joseph P. Tartaro
Just a few days ago, The Toronto Star reported that Prime Minister Stephen Harper, whose party has been discussing repeal of the law for a couple of years, took a step not only to repeal the law but acted to kill any attempt by a provincial or future federal government to recreate the doomed long-gun registry.
In a surprise move aimed at putting a bullet in the registry for good, the newspaper reported that the Conservative government bill tabled in October orders the commissioner of firearms to destroy “as soon as feasible” records related to 7.1 million long-guns collected over the past 15 years.
If passed, Bill C-19, the repeal measure, would, as promised, end the legal requirement for owners of rifles and shotguns to register their firearms under a federal gun control law that was inspired by the 1989 École Polytechnique massacre in Montreal, Quebec. It does retain the requirement for long-gun owners to be screened and licensed.
Asked what motivated the destruction of data, Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, the lead minister, said the Conservatives want to thwart the ability of any other party, such as the NDP, to reestablish it in the future.
Registry opponents like the Canadian Taxpayers Federation cheered the Conservatives’ new plan and urged it to go further to eliminate the licensing of long-gun owners, too.
The debate continues even as the Conservative Party’s majority moves closer to repeal.
Lorne Gunter in the National Post of Canada noted “Last week, several victims’ rights groups banded together to declare that the federal Tory government wasn’t listening to them concerning the long-gun registry. That’s what people always say when someone else hears what they’re saying but continues to disagree with them‘you’re not listening.’
“I’m quite certain the Tories have listened to the victims’ groups’ arguments in favor of retaining the registry. But as the introduction of Bill C-19 demonstrates, the government simply doesn’t buy the assertion that the registry is needed to cut crime.
“There is no evidence whatsoever that in its 14 years of existence the registry has lowered Canada’s crime rate, so there is no reason to believe that retaining the federal database on long guns and their owners will ever prevent the violent crimes victims’ rights organizations highlight.”
Gunter continued, “There is less gun crime in Canada than in 1998 when the registry opened its doors, but there was already less in 1998 than there had been in 1988, and less in 1988 than there had been in 1978. The peak year for violent crime per capita in Canada was 1975. The rate has declined more or less steadily since then.”
Gunter then quotes Gary Mauser, an emeritus professor at the Institute for Canadian Urban Research Studies at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, saying the same is true of licensing in general. “The Tories aren’t planning to get rid of the requirement that all gunowners obtain a federal firearms license, but they could. In his research over the past two decades, Mauser has found that while the murder rate went down 1% in the first decade after licensing became a requirement, it had gone down 9% in the decade before licensing,” Gunter noted before concluding that,
“Just as the Tories are getting rid of the registry, they could also do away with licensing without jeopardizing public safety.”
Preliminary findings from a study done by Mauser are pointing to similar conclusions about licensing.
Jeff Davis, also in the National Post, reported on claims that the history of Canadian gun-control laws amounts to “a slow, creeping process of criminalizing law-abiding members of the public.”
Rather than cracking down on criminals, police have laid firearms charges most often against those who have not really committed crimes at all, says Friedman, an Ottawa-based lawyer specializing in firearms law.
Since the gun registry law came into force in 1998, Davis reported, lawful gun users say they have lived with intense surveillance, and sometimes harassment and prosecution by police. After years of complaining about being treated as presumptive criminals, they hope the legal noose that has been tightening around their necks will at last loosen.
“I feel like I have no rights,” he quoted Lawrence Manzer of New Brunswick as saying. Manzer was charged criminally after taking an unloaded shotgun to help a neighbor during a disturbance. “They should be punishing criminals with smuggled, illegal guns and leaving us alone.”
Manzer’s case is far from the only example of prosecution, or persecution, of law-abiding gunowners.
A major problem for Canadians, according to Davis’ report is the Firearms Registry database is now automatically included in the routine identity searches of many major police departments, something Canadian Sports Shooting Association (CSSA) executive director Tony Bernardo knows all to well.
“One day Mr. Bernardo was pulled over for a routine traffic stop in Ontario, and upon checking his identification, the officer learned he was a registered firearms owner. The officer asked if he had a gun in the car, and wanted to check if it was safely stored. Bernardo refused to participate,” Davis reported.
“I said: ‘Excuse me, what did you pull me over for? If I broke a traffic rule, give me a traffic ticket and let me go,’ Bernardo said. “Most gun owners would not react as confidently.”
Many gunowners less familiar with their rights have consented to such searches.
In July 2010, the CSSA released the results of a non-scientific survey on the changing relationship between police and gunowners. The survey was anonymous and responded to by 2,018 random legal firearms owners in Canada.
To the question “Do you believe police target firearms owners?” more than 87% responded “yes.” Some 74% said they no longer trust the police since the implementation of the Firearms Act. Furthermore, 64% of respondents said they were now more afraid of the police than criminals.
And more than 53% of respondents to the questionnaire said they personally knew someone who was “unjustly charged with a firearms offence.”