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Federal Gun Registry: An Urgent Need for Independent, Non-partisan Research

NCJ Number
Canadian Journal of Criminology and Criminal Justice Volume: 45 Issue: 4 Dated: October 2003 Pages: 489-498
Thomas Gabor
Date Published
October 2003
10 pages
This article discusses the need for non-partisan research on Canada’s Federal gun registry.
The question is whether firearms should be the subject of a national effort to record the ownership and specifications of every gun owned in Canada. Complicating factors and impediments to universal registration are the volume of the various categories of firearms, and the inability to track these geographically mobile products. There is also a growing illicit trade in firearms, especially handguns. Also, maintaining a count of firearms and a record of their ownership is meeting with a fair amount of resistance by citizens. The huge cost overruns have exacerbated concerns about the registry by adding fuel to its opponents’ fire and angering the political opposition. The expansion of the Federal registry to include all firearms was a highly partisan initiative that is short on empirical evidence. Aside from the high cost, concerns about personal liberties, and the policy’s polarizing effects, opponents note that its potential public safety benefits are minimal. They argue that those intent on using guns in crime will circumvent the registry by buying firearms on the illicit market or by stealing them. Another impediment to public safety is that the establishment of a registry does not in itself reduce gun ownership levels. A high proportion of firearms fatalities do not involve career criminals and are not committed with weapons that have been illegally obtained. Non-partisan research should explore how much of the decline in firearm deaths was due to the new legislation; how much was due to demographic changes; what impact universal registration had on nonfatal firearms incidents; the true level of compliance of owners with licensing and registration; and the public safety benefits of both. Future decisions regarding the registry should include consideration of the lessons learned. These lessons include: (1) buy-in by the public is critical; (2) criminalizing behavior many support undermines the justice system; (3) high-risk individuals may be less likely to comply; and (4) the large inventory of firearms is unaffected. 29 references


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