With no thanks to the gun registry: Marginally lower firearms murder rate shows registry has had zero impact


Lorne Gunter

Friday 3 October 2003

p. A16

In 1998, when the Liberals opened their vaunted gun registry, 151 Canadians were murdered with firearms. Last year, firearms were used to murder 149, as Statistics Canada reported Tuesday.

Anyone tempted by the headlines that followed StatsCan's Tuesday release --such as the National Post's "Gun-death rate hits all-time low" -- to point to the registry as the cause of these "historic" low numbers, should pause first and consider the above statistics: 151 firearms murders before the registry, 149 now.

Net effect of intrusive, error-plagued, billion-dollar registry?


Total firearms-murder numbers jump around annually within a range of 150 to 180, largely dependent on the murderous exploits of drug and biker gangs and organized crime. In 1999, there were 165 murders by gun, 183 in 2000, 171 in 2001 and, of course, 149 last year.

The effect of gang and drug wars on these totals can been seen in the statistics from Quebec. In 2000, there were 38 gang-related homicides in that province, which at the time was witnessing a turf war between the Hell's Angels and their rivals the Rock Machine. Last year there were just six gang killings in Quebec.

In a country such as ours, with thankfully very few murders of any sort, a drop of 32 gang killings in just one province in just two years can have a significant and visible effect on overall homicide statistics. Nationwide, gang "hits" fell from 72 in 2000 to 45 in 2002. Since most gang killers use guns, gun-murder rates will drop noticeably as a result.

The rate of gun murders to overall murders can also shift in either of two ways: by gun murders falling or overall murders rising while gun murders remain constant. The latter is largely the case in these most recent numbers.

There were 558 total murders in 1998, the year in which there were 151 gun murders. Last year, when there were 149 gun murders, there were 582 total homicides. In other words, the "gun-death rate" is not down because there are fewer gun deaths since the registry opened; it's down because there are more non-gun murders being committed.

Perhaps you remain unpersuaded by such number-crunching. Perhaps you think any reduction in gun murders is worth keeping the registry going.

Why? Is there something especially heinous about a gun murder versus a murder by another weapon?

If the people who murder merely switch to other weapons, but keep on murdering, the registry has not helped reduce murder in Canada. Yet modern gun control advocates have so mythologized gun violence, they seem to see it as somehow worse than violence with other weapons, as if it doesn't matter that violence and murder have stayed the same or increased, gun crime has fallen, and that makes the registry worthwhile.

I used to mark English composition papers at the University of Alberta and I remember reading in one that gun control was "necessary now more than in previous centuries because being killed by a bullet is more fatal than being killed by a sword."

That sort of loopy logic, though, is all too prevalent.

And to their credit, neither Wayne Easter, the federal solicitor general and the minister responsible for the registry, nor Wendy Cukier, chair of the Coalition for Gun Control, have fallen into this trap -- this time. Both told reporters Tuesday that while they were encouraged by the latest gun-murder stats, it was too early to credit the registry for the drop.

I doubt, though, that there will ever be a drop in gun murders that can be pegged to the registry, not only because the system does not work, but simply because we must be approaching about the lowest possible number of gun murders in a country this size.

Statistics Canada revealed Tuesday that the proportion of gun murders to total murders "has generally been decreasing since 1974," just as total homicides "have generally decreased since the mid-1970s." The decline predates gun control in Canada. The first controls, at least on shotguns and rifles, were implemented in 1977, three years after the trend to fewer murders began.

Moreover, handguns now are used to commit two-thirds of Canada's firearms homicides, up from one-third in the past decade or so. But handguns have had to be registered since 1934, proving conclusively that registering guns cannot and will not prevent murders or violence. If it could, handgun murders should be the rarest form, not the most common.

We also know, though, that two-thirds of those arrested for murder in Canada have previous criminal records.

That fact, coupled with the rapid rise in handguns as the firearm of choice in gun murders, indicates that murderers are not law-abiding people in the first place. They will not register their guns, no matter what the law. And, they are going to murder one way or another: If they can't go to the local sporting goods shop and buy a shotgun to kill someone, they'll buy a black market pistol smuggled in from the U.S.

Harassing upstanding sport shooters with a colossally wasteful gun registry will never make Canada safer. Hunters, gun collectors and target shooters are not the problem, and never were.


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