Published 08/27/2004, in The National Post

The folly of the gun registry

By Lorne Gunter

In the early morning hours of Saturday, Aug. 7, Winnipeg police officers heard a shot outside the downtown Orpheum nightclub, then -- according to the post-incident police report -- "observed a female armed with a handgun getting into a nearby 2003 Chrysler Sebring [and] initiated a pursuit which travelled through the downtown area reaching speeds of 100 km/hr."

When the suspect turned into oncoming traffic, officers broke off the chase, but not before they witnessed the driver tossing a loaded .38-calibre revolver out the window.

Police recovered the pistol and have since charged two women -- the 28-year-old Sebring driver and a 20-year-old passenger -- with weapons offences.

When briefing the media later, Winnipeg Police Constable Shelly Glover conceded: "We're certainly seeing more and more firearms in the street."

More firearms!? In the street? How can this be?

We are currently in the sixth full year of operation of the federal Liberals' universal gun registry, which Canadians were assured was going to choke off gun crime and encourage a "culture of safety."

Yet police officers are noticing that despite more than a billion dollars spent on making duck hunters from North Bay, Kamloops and Doaktown register their shotguns, gun threats are on the rise.

Toronto is in the midst of its second year of unprecedented gunplay on its streets. Most of this is drug-related, but as the police shooting of Tony Brookes outside Toronto's Union Station Tuesday reemphasized, the rise in gun violence is not limited to gangster-on-gangster shootings.

After beating his estranged wife in the nearby TD Centre, Brookes took a 20-year-old bank intern hostage outside the train station, one of the busiest sidewalks in the country, during rush hour.

Brookes was already under a court-ordered ban against firearms possession. To top it off, he had an illegal gun (a sawed-off shotgun), that cannot be possessed even if registered.

No registry in the world can keep the Tony Brookeses from getting guns; no social engineering can deter a distraught man on the edge bent on killing or being killed.

Nor are drug dealers and smugglers going to register the tools of their violent trade. If they're prepared to violate the Criminal Code's sanctions against selling illegal drugs, who could have possibly thought for a second they would agonize over whether or not to honour administrative edicts to register their automatic handguns?

And as the almost-casual gun incident in Winnipeg earlier this month shows, the registry cannot keep an increasing number of bar-hoppers and young people on the societal fringes from acquiring guns, either. There is undoubtedly some cachet in certain circles to owning a gun when the suits-and-ties are so hell-bent on keeping you from having one.

We know from Statistics Canada that since the gun registry began operations in 1998, family homicides with firearms are up nearly one-third and spousal homicides have risen by nearly one-quarter, despite former justice minister Allan Rock's 1995 promise to Parliament that "registration will assist us to deal with the scourge of domestic violence."

We also know, from the same source, that since the registry commenced, overall suicides, by all methods, are up over 20%. When I wrote this here nearly three months ago, several gun control fans responded that suicides by firearms had fallen. But so what? Is one kind of suicide more tragic than another? It is in no way a triumph for the registry that it has encouraged anguished people to end their lives with ropes, razor blades and pills rather than rifles.

The registry has saved no lives, prevented no crimes.

But let's play the Liberals' game for a moment and assume gun registration could be an effective tool against street crime, domestic violence and suicide. For any registry to achieve these ends, it would have to know 99% of the gun owners and know where 99% of the guns are.

For more than three years, Ottawa has insisted over 90% of gun owners have acquired federal licences and that well over 90% of guns have been registered. Yet as Saskatchewan Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz discovered this week, the government's own internal numbers indicate that at least one-quarter of owners remain unlicensed (the true figure is probably closer to half) and upwards of 1.5 million guns (including 300,000 handguns) cannot be accounted for.

Every month, new revelations expose the registry as an even greater farce and bigger waste. Yet the Liberals refuse to dismantle it or even alter it significantly because to do so would offend their voter base in Toronto and Montreal. Is it any wonder that, with each passing month, the registry generates more and more outrage among rural Westerners?

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