Gun registry is not a threat to freedom

On a list of favourite activities, renewing my car registration would rank rather low. Still, having done it recently, I can attest that it didn't feel like an assault on my freedom.

Other car owners with me in line seemed similarly undisturbed, apparently realizing this was part of a rather sensible system of licensing and registering drivers and vehicles in an attempt to ensure that the powerful, motorized vehicles we drive at great speeds kill and injure fewer people.

Yet, strangely, this week parliamentarians seem set to vote for a Conservative private member's bill to scrap a registry that provides a similar system of regulatory control -- but for a product that is far more likely to kill.

Of course, cars can kill. But that's not their primary purpose. Guns, on the other hand, are weapons designed to kill and maim. They can be used lawfully but they cry out for basic licensing and registration.

Yet hardcore gun owners have bizarrely characterized the registration of their long guns as an assault on their freedom. (Alberta argued the registry violated constitutional freedoms in a case it eventually lost at the Supreme Court.)

It's hard to grasp exactly what freedom is under assault here. All that's required is registration -- which is about as coercive as being obliged to put recyclable garbage into a separate bin.

Certainly, it's hard to imagine a less onerous registration process. Unlike car registrations, which must be renewed annually, guns (unless sold or traded) only have to be registered once.

But licensing and registration help prevent guns falling into the wrong hands, argues Wendy Cukier, a Ryerson University professor who heads the Coalition for Gun Control. The system holds gun owners accountable, allowing guns to be traced back to their owners. This discourages owners from storing guns carelessly, or giving or selling them to unlicensed individuals.

Statistics Canada data show that rifles and shotguns are the weapons most often used in domestic violence, suicides and police killings. Since the long-gun registry was introduced in 1995, murders with rifles and shotguns have dropped -- from 61 in 1995 to 34 in 2008.

This suggests that the registry may be playing a role in reducing gun deaths. Surely this possibility, plus the strong support for the registry from police chiefs across the country, should be enough to convince any government -- particularly one claiming to be concerned about crime -- to retain the registry.

Yet the Harper government has pushed relentlessly to scrap it, with the Prime Minister even vowing last week that "the party I lead will not rest until the day it is abolished."

This steadfast determination -- so lacking when it comes to tackling real threats like climate change -- is all about playing to the Conservative base by stirring up libertarian feelings and anti-urban resentments in rural gun owners.

Simple rationality calls for keeping the registry, especially now that the initially costly program is operating for less than $4 million a year -- the cost of a couple of minutes of "security" at the billion-dollar G20 summit last June.

How absurd has the political situation in this country become that MPs -- including some from the NDP -- are afraid to stand up and defend the registration of lethal weapons?

While the Harper government builds prisons for imaginary crimes, it plans to leave guns with real killing potential -- some 7 million of them -- unaccounted for in our midst.

Linda McQuaig is author of It's the Crude, Dude: War, Big Oil and the Fight for the Planet. This article was originally published in The Toronto Star.

"The world needs to hear a lot less from the mainstream media, and a lot more from rabble.ca," says Linda McQuaig. We agree Linda! Help us spread the word by becoming a member of rabble.ca (www.rabble.ca/membership) and get your own new set of words in the form of a magazine subscription.

Related Items

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.

Comments

We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:

Do

  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.

Don't

  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.