At work, there is only one thing I really, really am afraid of. Itâ€™s that someone will sneak a gun into the Centre. Two springs ago I got a phone call from the Centre that the police thought a client had snuck a gun into the Centre. We ripped the place apart looking for one (and never found one).
We have had gun violence on our street where we live and I work in a section of town that has a large gang presence and the fewer guns that exist in Saskatoon, the better. The sound of gun shots in the city is a horrifying one. Canada has long severely limited the ownership and transportation of hand guns and I completely agree with them.
This summer at Arlington Beach we heard gun shots several times. It is a different sound in rural Saskatchewan. While it is an unexpected sound, it isnâ€™t alarming, even when realizing that the gun shots came from a couple of teenagers (who later walked by with their rifles after a [hopefully productive] evening of shooting skunks and other rodents).
In rural Saskatchewan, long guns are tools. One Sunday afternoon while visiting friends on their farm, our friends excused herself, walked out on the deck and shot a coyote who was part of a pack that was killing their family dogs. Itâ€™s part of rural life and people have an unusual attachment to their gunsâ€¦ quite honestly because in a lot of families, they are both rights of passage into adulthood and family heirlooms. They arenâ€™t just tools, they are a way of life.
Part of the problem with the Canadian long gun registry was the opponents of it, turned the registry from a database where guns would be registered into a database where the government was just tracking your guns to be seized at a later date. During the debate, every small town gas station bulletin board had a poster on it about how the evil Liberal government was going to international conferences about the abolition of firearms. For all I know, the government may have been speaking out against abolishing all firearms but that wasnâ€™t the message. In western Canada where the Liberal Partyâ€™s infrastructure is almost non-existent, it was the only message that was heard.
Of course I have never heard anyone explain how a long gun registry was going to make Canada safer. A .22 isnâ€™t the weapon of choice for the gangs in Toronto and for the cases where a long gun was used, would the fact that the gun was registered ever change anything? Even the Auditor General wonders if it is effective
The performance report focuses on activities such as issuing licenses and registering firearms. The Centre does not show how these activities help minimize risks to public safety with evidence-based outcomes such as reduced deaths, injuries and threats from firearms.
The head of the Ontario Provincial Police said this.
We have an ongoing gun crisis including firearms-related homicides lately in Toronto, and a law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped us solve any of them. None of the guns we know to have been used were registered, although we believe that more than half of them were smuggled into Canada from the United States. The firearms registry is long on philosophy and short on practical results considering the money could be more effectively used for security against terrorism as well as a host of other public safety initiatives."
Well it does change how the police deal with emergencies and routine police calls. Police departments frequently use the Canadian Firearms Registry data base to allow police officers to check if a residence or property might contain a registered firearm before responding to a call. The Canadian Firearms Centre says police make more than 13,000 queries to the system each week. In a Canada Firearms Centre (CAFC) survey, 92% of general duty police officers stated that they use the system.
So I asked the RCMP, who were made responsible for the Canadian Firearms Program back in 2006, and they provided up-to-date statistics. In 2008, police across Canada used their computer systems, often terminals right in their patrol cars, to pull information from the Canadian Firearms Registry On-line over 9,400 times a day.
That adds up to a staggering 3,438,729 queries from police officers last year. Itâ€™s hard to imagine a federal database more intensively mined.
I asked a veteran officer in an informal conversation to explain how the system is typically used. He said a cop called to domestic dispute will routinely conduct a quick computer check to see if there is a licensed gun owner at that address, and find out exactly what guns are registered there.
Itâ€™s not hard to imagine how discovering that a resident owns a single hunting rifle might suggest one thing to an officer; finding out the man causing the disturbance possesses several exotic weapons would indicate something else again.
Police also use the registry to conduct so-called reverse checks; in cases where they recover a gun, perhaps from a crime scene, they check on who is the registered owner. Those in favour of scrapping the so-called long gun registry make a point of stressing that, even without it, police would still be able to check out who has a license to own guns. But that wouldnâ€™t be any help when the cops are working to trace the ownership of a specific firearm that turns up in an investigation.
A few statistics help round out the picture of how the online data is used. Police most often plug a name into the system to find out if that person is a licensed gun owner and what registered guns the individual owns. They made that sort of query more than 2 million times last year, so often that this has obviously become very basic step in Canadian police work.
They want to know if when dealing with a guy who has had too much to drink, threatening his neighbors, and is screaming and yelling at his spouse has a gun before he or she pulls it out on them. As MPs vote to abolish the long gun registry this week, they seem to be playing more politics than looking at police safety.
In an annual report from Canada’s Firearms Commissioner prepared by the RCMP, police said they used the registry more than 2.5 million times in 2007.
But Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has not made the report public.
"Canadians don’t need another report to know that the long-gun registry is very efficient at harassing law-abiding farmers and outdoors enthusiasts, while wasting billions of taxpayer dollars," Van Loan’s office said in a release Wednesday.
A 2006 study by the auditor general found that eliminating the long-gun portion of the registry would only save taxpayers about $3 million a year.