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 Title

The Gun Registration Boondoggle

 Synopsis

Notes for an address to the Tofield Gun Club Annual Game and Awards Dinner

 Author

Lorne Gunter

 Author Notes

Regular columnist with The Edmonton Journal, and frequent contributor to the National Post, National Report, and other publications.

 Essay - 2/5/2000

Good evening ladies and gentlemen. When I was asked to speak here this evening, it was suggested I might offer my assessment of Ottawa's gun registry.

Okay, I don't like it.

If you want a more technical assessment: The registry is a mess, and it's getting worse, not better.

But that is hardly enough to earn my supper.

The trouble is, I probably can't tell you much you don't already know. You are the people who to deal every day with the interminable waits for licenses, registration certificates and authorizations to transport. You are the ones who have to put up with conflicting interpretations and information from bureaucrats in the same office. And with verifiers who don't know a thing about firearms. And with ID cards with someone else's photo where yours should be. I just have to write about it for my newspaper.

But let's talk about the registry for a couple of minutes. It is a mess -- an enormous one. There are reports, which I cannot confirm, but which I have no trouble believing, that the Canadian Firearms Centre in no longer registering existing firearms. It is accepting the forms, but backlogging them. All it is said to be doing at the moment is licensing owners and recording current sales. Some owners have told me they have waited nearly a year for registrations for firearms they had in their possession before the CFC opened its doors, and still have no word yet.

Right around 200,000 owners have been registered to date. The lowest of the government's low-ball estimates of the number of gun owners in Canada is 2.2 million. The 200,000 they have registered so far represent just nine per cent of this ridiculously low figure, and it has taken the CFC 14 months to deal with them. In the 11 months remaining before all firearms owners are required to be licensed it is inconceivable the registry can license them all. Inconceivable.

The costs of the registry are wildly out of control. The Liberals will admit to well over $300 million in spending so far, so you can bet the real price tag is well above that. Yet they still insist the start up costs will be just $120 million.

This may actually be technically correct, but only through some clever accounting, such as the accounting of some fly-by-night holiday tour operator who lures you in with promises of deeply discounted fares only to reveal later that the too-good-to-be-true price does not include food, drinks, loading your luggage on the plane, a seat to sit in during flight or a bed in your hotel room. You find out about these charges only after you've reached the resort.

Perhaps Ottawa HAS kept the start-up costs to $120 million. But if it has, it is only through declaring stacks of related expenses to be unconnected.

Why just this week, Saskatchewan Reform MP Garry Breitkreuz (and is it worth saying at this moment that if it were not for the brilliant and determined work of Breitkreuz and his assistant, Dennis Young, we would know only a fraction of what we do know about the registry): Just this week Breitkreuz revealed that 57 per cent of the original $85 million the government estimated the registry would cost went to one computer consulting firm, EDS Canada.

A little more than two years ago, EDS was given two contracts worth a total of about $15 million to help set up the registry's computers. Since that time the pair of contracts have been revised nearly a dozen times as the government either expanded the tasks it wanted EDS to perform or realized it had grossly underestimated the work involved. To date, these two contracts alone have cost Ottawa not $15 million, but $49 million.

This total appears to be just to write software and design computer networks. It probably doesn't include the cost of buying computers for the registry. And it certainly doesn't include staff, buildings, printing, travel, telephones, ad campaigns, payments to provinces and the RCMP, an army of verifiers and so on.

It was never possible that the registry would cost just $85 million (and remember, the government said that would be spread over five years). It is not possible the start up costs are a mere $120 million. Still the Liberals cling to that number, and they hide behind "cabinet secrecy" to preserve their charade, because they know a full accounting would anger the public the way their NHL subsidies and make-work schemes have lately.

Breitkreuz again, also discovered that the government had a full accounting of the costs available in February 1998 during the period between the time the Alberta government's case against the registry was argued before the Alberta Court of Appeal and the time the judges rendered their decision. The Liberals had it, but chose to conceal it for fear it would affect the judges' decision against the registry.

The Liberals were so afraid of the truth about the cost getting out, so afraid because they knew what that truth would do, that they hid the truth from judges.

What else can I tell you about the registry?

It will never achieve its twin goals of licensing all owners and registering all guns, and even if it did, it would have no effect on crime or domestic violence or public safety.

I can also tell you the registry has created a gun lobby where none existed before. (I get a chuckle out of the charges by the anti-gunners that a vast, powerful gun lobby is threatening to undo all the good work they have done in the past half dozen years. Well, if there is such a lobby, the anti-gunners created it with their hysterical efforts to rid the civilian population of guns. Yet if this lobby is so all-fired powerful, name the one victory it has won from either of the past two federal governments.)

The registry has also created a dangerous US vs. THEM environment --between the governed and the governors, between law-abiding citizens and the police -- where none existed before either. How many of you know look with suspicion at the Mounties when they drive by your home where once you took great comfort from seeing them there? In Canada, we used to enjoy what is called "consent policing." The police used to be part of us and considered law-abiding firearms owners as extensions of their efforts. Now there is a growing suspicion on both sides, and I DON'T LIKE IT.

The government and the anti-gun lobby did that, and it is a malignancy loose in our democracy.

But despite all of this, the Supreme Court will uphold C-68, the Firearms Act, as constitutional and legal. And the Liberals will never abandon it.

What I expect the Liberals to begin doing soon is revising downward all their estimates about guns and gun owners so they can claim their registry is a success rather than an utter failure.

Through a bit of puffery, they claim to have a few more than half a million owners in their system. Soon they'll begin to say, "We guess even our lowest estimates about the number of owners were way too high. Gun owning really is a pastime enjoyed by very few Canadians. There aren't 3 million owners, or even 2 million; the true total is probably under 1 million. So look at what a raging success our registry has been in registry well over half."

And they'll soon start saying much the same about the number of guns, "Why it's not 7 million. It's likely not much more than 2 million, and we know where about 85 per cent of them are. Aren't we the clever ones."

Nothing short of a change of government will reverse the Firearms Act and end this duplicity.

However, you already knew all of this, so what am I doing here tonight?

******************************

I have never owned a gun.

I have never hunted.

I have never even fired a gun.

I barely know the business end from the thingee at the other end.

So what am I doing here speaking to you, a group of sportsmen?

In short, I have come to encourage you to keep your guns; to plead with you to bear whatever burden the government imposes on you in order to do so and to pass on your interest in the shooting sports on to your children and grandchildren. If you don't, THEY (the government and the anti-gunners) will win.

But why should I care whether you own guns or not? I will probably never own guns, so it doesn't make much difference to me personally if guns are always available for sale to private citizens.

I don't want to live in a society in which only the police and military have guns.

The Luther Pastor Martin Niemoeller said famously, "In (Nazi) Germany they came first for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew...Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."

That means I am here tonight for selfish reasons. Government should be limited. It should have limited power to regulate and dictate and advise us in our lives, our homes, families, properties, communities and businesses. And any government that has lost sight of these limits to such an extent that it has come to view the private ownership of firearms as a threat to the general well-being is a threat to my freedom. Any government that can come today for your guns, can come tomorrow for my computer.

If a government sees nothing wrong with its trampling of your right to own firearms, it may eventually see nothing wrong in squashing my right to free speech. Oh, it would never see itself as trashing free speech, just as it is convinced it is not trampling your right to own guns. It may well do with speech as it has done with firearms, claim the right never existed in the first place, or that it existed, but always within significant and necessary limits.

Or it may wait until a majority no longer remembers what free speech means, and then it will claim, as it has with firearms, that it is merely acting on the democratic will.

But one way of the other, if it has overstepped its bounds on firearms, it easily could some day overstep its bounds on a right that affects me.

Expect no relief soon though from either governments or the courts, because both have become deaf to any arguments but their own. Those who populate government and the courts are members of the same elite, and that elite has become so imbued with its own self-importance and intelligence

that it never occurs to it members any thought they have, any idea that enters their heads might be wrong.

A noted liberal scholar, Garen Wintemute of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California at Davis, recently wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that many of the most common gun controls were next to useless in preventing firearms crime. Buy-backs and hand-ins don't work. Assault weapons bans don't work. And, his work implied, neither do registries.

Sending lots of police into neighbourhoods with lots of crime at times when crimes normally occur, that worked really well at cutting crime. Duh. Tougher penalties for using illegal weapons worked. As did tougher dealer licensing, instant background checks and preventing large volume handgun -- handgun (not long gun) -- purchases.

In other words, focussing police efforts on cracking down on criminals who use guns works. Concentrating on firearms in the possession of law-abiding citizens produces few, if any results.

But will the chattering classes listen to Wintemute? Nope. They will now do one of two things: ignore him or slander him. He was an expert when he was on-side. Now that he has simply told the truth, it will be said that there were always doubts about his qualifications or methodology.

Politicians, bureaucrats, journalists, even law school academics have little or no understanding of the Common Law right to own firearms.

William Blackstone, the great 18th-Century English legal scholar, traced the right to own arms back to the time of King Canute in the 11th Century. By the time of the Assize of Arms in 1181, the right was known as an "ancient" right.

Blackstone identified three absolute rights, rights that could not circumscribed except in the most dire of situations: The right to personal security (including a very aggressive right to self-defence); the right to personal liberty (freedom of movement, action and thought); and the right to own and enjoy property.

To protect these absolute rights, Blackstone identified five subsidiary rights as already existing in Common Law in his day: a freely elected Parliament; limits on the power of the monarch; due process of law; the right to petition the monarch or Parliament for redress of grievances; AND the right to own arms.

It is said Canadians do not have a constitutional right to keep and bear arms the way Americans do, which is true. Until Allan Rock and Anne McLellan we had something better, a right extending back nearly 1,000 years; a right that was so basic and well understood it did not need to be written down.

But as our connection to our rural past, our masculine traditions and to our subsistence way of life have declined, so has the understanding among our elites of the civilian role of firearms in free society. Guns are no longer tools in the homes of the elite, but rather just props in the televisions shows and movies they watch. Elite impressions about firearms are not formed by direct personal experience -- ie. by knowledge -- but by ignorance, prejudice and fear. And, boy, aren't those good factors to be driving public policy.

There is also among our elites no fear of government and no sense of freedoms lost to government. The rapid and unchecked growth of government has increased their power, not decreased it. Since they are in charge of government, it remains their servant not their master. They delude themselves into thinking that all Canadians are fully free, because of all the people they know and associate with, none is prevented by government from doing or saying anything he or she might want to do or say.

There is also a lot of unconscious snobbery. They firmly believe they know better than you.

Which brings me back to my real purpose here tonight.

Among the dozens of press release and news reports I see each month on firearms, one I saw this week really troubled me. It was from the Montreal Gazette of 3 February, and it is headed "Many gun-owners said to be giving up weapons to avoid bother of registering."

Now this is a story by a journalist who probably holds some pretty typical views about guns and is based on an interview with an apparently anti-gun police chief. So I'm not sure it's facts and figures are reliable. But if it is true, even just a little, the trend disturbs me.

We who value the private ownership of firearms often quote Ronald Reagan when he said "Guns don't kill people, people do," which is exactly so. But then we also say that guns are safeguards of our liberty and rights, which is not so.

Guns don't safeguard liberty, gun owners do.

I believe the Liberals were just dumb enough to believe their registry could be made to work and, once implemented, would create "a culture of safety" that would reduce crime and violence. I suspect it was never more than a minor goal of theirs to over-complicate the lawful ownership of firearms to such an extent that many casual owners threw up their hands in frustration, gave up their sports and got rid of their guns.

But my guess is that it is beginning to dawn on the Liberals that while the registry is a bust -- a colossal, expensive bust -- if they can keep it open long enough tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of law-abiding gun owners will call it quits. They will have disarmed a significant portion of the population without really trying.

I said before that I don't want to live in a society where only the police and military have guns, despite my tremendous respect for both the police and military. Guns are symbols of where the real power is in society, and who the true sovereigns are. And I do not choose to live in a society where even the most benign police officers and soldiers are the sovereigns.

A government that doesn't trust its ordinary citizens to own guns should not be trusted to own guns itself.

The American writer William F. Buckley, Jr. likes to say he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston phone book, than the 2,000 members of the Harvard faculty. And frankly, I'd rather be ruled by duck hunters, skeet shooters and firearms collectors than by the politicians, bureaucrats and chiefs of police who have lined up to limit the private ownership of firearms.

Every time a gun shop owner locks his doors for the last time, every time a hunter hangs up his orange vest for good, every time a gun club has too few members to compete for all its trophies, every time a Canadian gives up his guns with a sigh and a shrug, every time that happens, Allan Rock and Anne McLellan, Wendy Cukier and Richard Mosley [Note 1] come one step closer to achieving the gun-free Canada they dream of.

Don't let that happen.

Don't (if you'll pardon my French) let the bastards win.

Thank you.

NOTES

1. In order: the former Minister of Justice (who introduced Canada's latest gun controls), the current Minister of Justice (who refuses to alter them), Canada's leading anti-gun activist and the senior federal anti-gun bureaucrat.


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