On December 6th, 1989, a virulent misogynist named Marc Lépine entered a school in Quebec and murdered fourteen women and wounded ten women and four men with a long gun — a Ruger Mini-14 semi-automatic .223 calibre rifle, which he obtained and owned legally. He hunted women explicitly, screaming “I hate feminists” as he mowed them down, separating men from women before shooting them en masse.
In 1991, in response to this massacre, a number of long guns became restricted weapons including semi-automatics and the class of gun called “sniper rifle”, generally any rifle built for accuracy over long range and/or fitted with scopes for precision firing. And in 1995, a federal long gun registry was established, so owners of any long gun would, like owners of handguns have had to do since the 1930s, register ownership of these longer guns. Any transfer of ownership would be recorded and kept in a database that law enforcement could use to trace the gun to its owner. In addition, to legally obtain the gun, a license proving your competence was required, and the gun registered on purchase.
Creating the database took between one and two billion dollars, depending on the person reporting. Maintaining the database thereafter costs about 66.4 million a year, or about half the Conservatives’ annual advertising budget.
The database is used at a rate of about 17,400 queries a day. It is considered a useful tool by those officers in the field who use it daily, and a full report by the RCMP gives hard numbers that tend to agree. But it is to be scrapped as part of Harper’s steamroller government’s plans to reformat the entirety of the country while they have the Mandate of the 39%. The actual projected savings per year for scrapping this registry of unrestricted long guns, however, according to a study by consulting firm Pleiad Canada for the RCMP, are a mere $1-4million, suggesting strongly that much of the 66.4 million is defrayed by the costs of the registration, and the facts that it will actually cost money to scrub old database records to comply with the new law and sizeable chunks of the existing infrastructure will remain in place for the ongoing registration of restricted weapons and handguns.
This omnibus legislation also plans on delisting sniper rifles and semi-automatic rifles altogether, rather than placing them on the restricted list. Meaning the gun that caused the backlash, the gun that Marc Lépine used, will be perfectly legal to obtain without a license — owing to the fact that the gun will be wholly untraceable. While you have to go through a criminal record check and get licensed to get or transfer ownership of a handgun, sniper rifles and semi-automatic rifles will be every bit as free-for-all as the shotgun you use to hunt deer with. No record of ownership, no way to tell if you’ve simply handed the rifle to someone unqualified, all such guns will become essentially ghosts.
Statistics Canada has measured a great number of statistics regarding handguns, long guns, and deaths by firearm for many decades. There is a significant downtick in almost every number from 1991 to present, though some conservatives have argued that gun violence has ticked downward in some areas of the United States in the same period, and that gun violence was actually on the decline even before these restrictions came into play. There’s one extraordinary number that has most assuredly not ticked downward prior to these new regulations: spousal homicide. And more specifically, homicide by firearm, according to the aforementioned CBC reporting on the StatsCan numbers:
Share of firearms used in homicides that were registered: 30% (Police recovered 61 firearms that had been used in suicides in 2006, about 36 per cent, and 18 of those guns were registered.)
Spousal homicides caused by shootings, 2000-2009: 167 (23%)
Reduction in the rate for spousal homicides involving firearms from 1980 to 2009: – 74% from nearly three per million spouses in 1980 to less than one per million spouses in 2009, according to Statistics Canada
Share of firearm-related spousal homicides involving a long gun: 50% (The rate of long-gun spousal suicides dropped about 80% between 1983 and 2009.)
Share of family-related homicides of children and youth (7 to 17 years), by shooting, 2000-2009: 26%
About 80% of spousal deaths are men killing women. If that number is reduced 74%, that’s an amazing drop in the number of women killed in domestic abuse situations. All this from adding a few not-insurmountable barriers to obtaining and maintaining a gun, whose permit only needs be renewed every five years. Is this so onerous that we simply cannot spare the chump change it takes to drop these numbers so precipitously?
Considering that the vast majority of the money that needed to be spent to establish the registry was already spent, and considering that the federal government is mandating that all this useful data be outright destroyed to “protect citizens’ privacy” (never mind that they’re going to have to register their cars!), how can you consider this action anything but a bonfire of the $2-billion it took to set this registry up? You can’t unspend that money. And the data is useful to police, and useful in providing actual barriers to crime (which no Conservative politician would ever dare argue — they simply can’t). Whether the precipitous drops in actual crimes are mere correlations or causally linked, it seems absurdly wasteful to simply throw the system out over some desire to appease the ‘tinfoil hat crowd’.
And worse, the stipulation to destroy the existing data is wholly intentional — the Harper government wants to ensure that the registry cannot simply be reused in the future once they are out of office. They want to make sure that the registry is gone for good, since it would be practical political suicide to have to rebuild the data from scratch.
Quebec is fighting back, though. They remember why the gun registry was built, and they understand what utility function the registry has. They have designs on defying the government’s orders to delete all the data, building their own autonomous provincial database for their Sureté to use. And barring that, they will require gun shops to keep records, the way the States does presently, to ensure that this data-destruction does not result in wholly untraceable guns.
And what’s more, the Tories are not interested in debate, having invoked cloture for the 5th time in 35 days to shut down attempts to debate the topic in parliament. Which is an unprecedented frequency, but not entirely unsurprising given Harper’s 39% “majority” government — might as well ram them through, since you know you’ll get more than enough votes to pass every damn time. Even if you were voting to stone every firstborn child.
My own antipathy against firearms — weaponry designed to put holes in things at range — notwithstanding, this sort of steamroller nonsense wouldn’t sit well with me even in cases where “my team” was in power. (Whoever “my team” happens to be at the moment.) Considering the consequences will be clear, I completely fail to comprehend apologetics about this gun registry evisceration. I mean, the closest thing to a convincing argument I’ve heard is the Libertarian “one shouldn’t register ANYTHING with the government, not guns or cars or nothin’”, but that falls well short of my “rational debate” mark given the other mitigating security factors at play here. And not even “security theatre” factors or fearmongering e.g. about terrorists, but actual demonstrable statistical differences in numbers of violent crimes against women.
Is there any good reason to destroy the existing data and let long guns go wholly unregulated and untraceable? And do these reasons overwhelm my intense desire to protect women from misogynists with unregulated firearms?