Tuesday, 24 August 2010

Aiming For The Middle Ground

Steve laments that there is no sensible discourse on the topic of the gun registry.

The most frustrating part of this entire long gun registry "debate" is the lack of any middle ground, as proponents and detractors distort and present one sided arguments, that can't even entertain any evidence which doesn't fit nicely into the preconceived bias.

So here's my attempt at providing some rational arguments for this debate.

It would help an awful lot, if we knew the purpose of the gun registry, what is it supposed to accomplish?  If the registry were a compulsory accurate list of all long-guns and their owners in Canada, what benefit would it provide?

As a crime prevention tool, it appears reasonable that it is almost 100% ineffective on that front.  If someone wishes to commit a crime with their long-gun (of passion or pre-mediated) the tool is already at hand.  The fact that it is registered does not prevent access to the weapon.  So the only utility of the registry is after the crime has been committed.  Being able to link a weapon to its owner is a major step in any investigation.

Others might point out that police would like to know what weapons are in a house when responding to a call.  This registry does not provide that information.  As officers do not know who is in the house, they do not know what is in the house with them.  If me and my neighbours were holding a rifle appreciation meeting at my home, the registry would not tell an officer that there were 10 men with 25 rifles in the residence.  After busting up the meeting, they would be able to link weapons to their owners, but that's it.  They would not have pre-knowledge of what was in the house.

So for investigative purposes, it requires that the database be as accurate as possible.  Unfortunately the long-gun registry has the same problem that the new voluntary long-form census suffers from.  It is, to all intents and purposes, voluntary.   If you do not register your long-guns, the federal governemnt takes away your license to posses any guns.  That's it.  There are no other penalties being applied.  I speak from personal experience folks, I got away with not registering my guns.  And I'm still walking the streets.  And since they take away your license, being a licensed gun owner is effectively voluntary as well.

So the registry only provides information on weapons that people have voluntarily registered.  What percentage of all weapons this is, is unknown.  How much effort people put into maintaining accurate records is also unknown.

A second problem is that many guns cannot be uniquely identified.  There are no identifying marks whatsoever.  I know it is hard to accept in this modern age of brand awareness, but serial numbers and stamping your brand all over your product is a recent phenomena.  Many family owned weapons that have been handed down through the generations have no unique markings whatsoever on them.  If you found one discarded in a ditch after a crime, you would be unable to link it to its owner.  But even if the serial number is stamped into the barrel, it can easily be ground off.  So relying on this is not a guaranteed method of identification.

Right now what we have is an incomplete registry, that counts on people not scrubbing identifying marks off their weapons and making it easy for investigators to link guns to owners.  In short, we're counting on criminal stupidity.  We don't need a registry for that.

So this is why I find the gun registry a waste of time and money, no matter how much money that is.  Its utility is severely impaired.  Anybody that wishes for the gun registry to continue must address these short-comings.  And then maybe you'll have my support.


Anonymous said...

Except it has been used to help officers plan their actions. Case in point, the WCB hostage taking in Edmonton. The EPS used the registry to determine the types of weapons the hostage taker might be using and were able to clear the area and establish a perimeter appropriate for what they thought they might be getting into. It's not perfect, simply another tool.

Thanks for your post.


Catelli said...

Thanks for your comment.

The operative word there is "might".

An armed hostage taker is armed, period. Given that the effective range on many weapons is several hundred feet, a safety perimeter is a given. That's just SOP. The additional information gleaned from the voluntarily entered information is negligible at best.

Anonymous said...

I can understand your point of view. And you’re right, it is similar to a SOP. But SOP’s in an emergency service are guidelines that support employee actions in the line of duty. There are going to be situations where an SOP is deviated from. In those cases, emergency services may require additional scene information. There are fire departments that request dangerous goods storage information from local companies and public yards, since 10,000 litres of an elevated temperature liquid would require a different tactical approach than ten 500 litre diesel containers.

I think that it’s the same principle in this case.

Besides. We register our vehicles. We register our children. We register for a liquor licence. Why can’t a hunter or an enthusiast (or a gun shop owner even) register a gun?

I agree that a gun could be altered and get lost in the underworld, making the gun registry useless in some, maybe several, instances. I don't see how that any different than if there were no registry for the police to access if they chose.

I also agree that a police officer or any emergency personnel, when going into situations where they have limited specific knowledge should take every precaution, and use caution. I believe emergency personnel are intelligent enough to understand this and be able to utilise another information tool. While still exercising caution.

Thanks again for offering a forum for discussion.


Anonymous said...

I should clarify that a SOP’s in an emergency service are not only meant to support employee actions in the line of duty, but alos provide direction on, hopefully, best practice.


Catelli said...

I'm not against registering rifles per se.

However, I would point out you only have to register a vehicle IF you are going to drive it on public roads. I was raised a country boy, and there are 3 types of vehicle owners I know of that have vehicles that are not registered.

1) Farmers with pickup trucks that never leave the property.
2) Race car drivers
3) Smash-up derby drivers

As to registering long-guns, we haven't solved the problem of uniquely identifying them. I owned 3 rifles, with no markings whatsoever on them. The governments solution was a sticker with a serial # to be applied somewhere on the rifle. Oh gee, that's such a reliable solution.

I never registered, couldn't be bothered. So the government took away my license. That's all they did. We haven't addressed this, this is a problem with the system. I have no reason to register. According to the letter the government sent me (when they cancelled my license), I could interpret it that they are making licensing and registering optional for me.

Before, I was a registered long-gun owner. How many was not specified. But the government knew that I was a licensed long-gun owner. According to the system, I am no longer a long-gun owner. No official has ever verified that information. They actually took the old system of licensing the owners (which we never had a problem with, and the new photo IDs were an improvement IMHO) and made it worse.

So say I take my wife and kids hostage, what information is available to the police under the new system? Nada. Under the old system, they would have known I was a long-gun owner.

Catelli said...

To clarify my point on registering vehicles, the registration allows use of a personal vehicle on public roads. If you don't want to or need to use public roads (classic car collector) you don't have to register anything.

So if we are to apple to apple the registering guns and vehicles systems, that means registered guns can be used in all public spaces?