Failing Gun Registration Program

Posted By April 3, 2000 No Comments

For those who have not yet noticed it, the Institute does tend towards a Libertarian perspective at times – although this is complicated by the hodgepodge of other ideologies (populist, liberal, social conservative, and anarchic) that sometimes percolate here. The complexity of perspective is compounded by the Director’s Churchillian gestalt. However, it is with great delight that we notice some of our predictions have been coming to pass.

In researching the black market in firearms in 1995, and in publishing an opinion poll on gun control in 1997, we predicted that Bill C-68, the Federal Government’s gun control law, would result in a wave of civil disobedience. While Canadians appear on the surface to be a law-abiding and placid people, it is – as we have said several times – a mistake for lawmakers to rely on this. There are limits.

When researching the black market in cigarettes and the black market in alcohol, we were appalled and pleased in equal measures by the eagerness with which ordinary Canadians decided to break the law. Sin-taxes represent both an attempt at social engineering and a blatant revenue grab by governments. Canadian consumers obviously felt little need to respect these artificial prices and sought out alternative supply sources.

Gun control likewise represents a form of social engineering. While truly dangerous weapons (handguns, automatic weapons and so-called “assault weapons”) have been required to be registered well before the passage of Bill C-68, the Federal Government’s sudden prohibition of many types of registered weapons alerted gun-owners to a hostile and confiscatory administration. The banning of properly registered handguns and collector’s items was coupled with contemptuous language and behavior from the Bill’s creators and backers. Even before the passage of the bill, gun owners decided not to cooperate with it. We predicted that fewer than 40% of firearms owners would register all of their weapons – and that this figure was perhaps a trifle optimistic.

Ottawa has been traditionally eager to conceal its failures, and this practice has become stronger than ever in recent decades. So far, the Fire-Arms Registration Program bids fair to become one of the biggest boondoggles ever. Although expenditures on the Registration program are salted away in various other budgets, Canadian Alliance MP Garry Breitkruz and his staff have been digging out material on the cost of the program and its effect so far.

The program is a failure. In 1995, Allan Rock, then Minister of Justice, promised that the program would be scrapped if it cost $150 million. By the end of 1999, the program had cost at least $327 million and was generating annual expenses of $85 million (excluding the separate registry for Quebec). Both Rock and his successor Anne McLellan have assured Canadians that the full costs of the program would come from fees from firearms owners. As of April 2000, fees had raised $6.4 million in revenues. Interestingly, the Federal government only spent $17 million on cancer research in 1999.

The program was not supposed to take a single police officer off the street… but it has. The equivalent of 395 RCMP officers alone (plus officers from provincial and municipal forces) are involved with the program, as well as some 1,400 government workers.

Of the 3 million Canadian firearms owners (who likewise must be registered), less than 190,000 have complied – mostly because as the owners of previously registered weapons they had to comply. Another 50,000 applications are back-logged. Of the 3 to 8 million rifles and shotguns, it seems that very few weapons have been registered. However, to pad the program’s figures, a feat of bureaucratic legerdemain was performed. All previously registered handguns (plus police and military firearms) were lodged with the new registry to give it an appearance of success. But the best estimate is that, after five years, the program has only been able to account for less than 10% of Canada’s inventory of tin-can plinkers, duck guns and deer rifles.

The absent owners and guns represent a massive exercise in civil disobedience. Canadian legislators should take note.