Flogging the dead horse, again

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Retired Winnipeg inspector loves being right

Canadian gun lawby Jack S. Tinsley,
Winnipeg Police Service (ret)

It is with great interest that I have watched the reactions of the Canadian public last week to the recent media coverage of the Canadian long-gun registry and our minority Conservative government’s bill to repeal it. Hopefully, the facts will prevail and the myths and political rhetoric surrounding it will be seen for what they really are.The long-gun registry was created by the majority Liberal government in power at the time in the wake of the shooting tragedy at Polytechnique College in Montreal in December of 1989. Whether it was a genuine — but nevertheless ill-conceived — plan to prevent gun crime or an opportune time to win the favour of voters in the wake of another demented criminal’s act of insanity is open for discussion. I’d like to believe it was for the former reason. But I don’t. The long-gun registry was implemented for two reasons: to prevent gun crime and to save lives.

It has done neither in its decade of existence. It has only recorded the information of law-abiding citizens who have complied with the law, applied for firearms licences, registered their long guns, and notified the proper authority when they changed addresses or bought or sold a firearm.

The registry is a phone book — and the criminals in this country are, for the most part, unlisted. Also unlisted are the law-abiding citizens in Nunavut who have been exempted from complying with this law, and the many other law-abiding citizens who complied with the letter of the law at the time and sent in a letter of intent indicating that sometime in the future they might register their firearms.

Anyone see a problem here so far?

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In Ottawa, just last week, we were informed by high-ranking police officers and a member of the Canadian Police Association that “all” police officers in Canada are in favour of the registry, support its continuance, and that police use the registry thousands of times a day.

For the 70 per cent of Canadians who do not own a firearm it might seem to be reassuring that this registry is a great thing — if all that was believable.

For anyone paying attention, it is apparent that is just not the case. Hundreds of serving officers across the country have called their MP and others who might raise their voice — including myself — and correctly stated the facts. The registry does not prevent gun crime and it does not save lives. And for $2 billion it does little but track the information of law-abiding citizens or repeat the information of law-abiding citizens who registered restricted weapons before the registry came into law.

Numerous police union executive members and directors have clearly voiced their lack of support for the registry. Whole unions have gone on record with the CPA as being non-supportive of the registry. That is true, as is the fact that most police use of the registry is just gun counting in the aftermath of an incident it could not prevent.

In an article I wrote that was published in July 1999, I said that the long-gun registry would not address the issues of violent crime, it would not be complied with by large numbers of the public and that it would be expensive beyond reason. I wrote that if we as a country were serious about preventing violent crime, keeping violent offenders in jail for meaningful periods of incarceration — befitting the crimes they committed — was the best solution to insuring that they could not reoffend at will.

Ten years of the registry has made those claims ring true.

I love being right.

The old firearms acquisition certificate system that was in place previously was about as close as we might get to being efficiently proactive. It provided for a face-to-face interview with a lot of hard questions for each and every firearms licence applicant and their life partner or spouse.

No system is perfect but the old FAC procedure may have come as close as humanly possible.

Today’s firearms licence application process provides a lot less to insure unsafe persons are not licenced to obtain firearms.

The vast majority of criminals do not obtain firearms licences, do not register their highly disposable firearms and do not tell police when they move and acquire a new gun — or dump an old one.

The Liberals and their allies opposing Bill C-391 will not admit this and will not stand up tall and say, “OK. It didn’t work. We tried but now it’s time to get tough on violent repeat offenders and gun crime.”

It was their law and they stubbornly refuse to admit it was ineffective at best. They have attempted to block the appearance of witnesses that would say otherwise at the committee hearing on Bill C-391. House arrest, early automatic prison releases for the last one-third of sentences, release on recognizances for violent crimes and other initiatives that fly in the face of justice have got to go. They are just licences for criminals to reoffend. It is time — as Canadians — to do something that works. Flogging the dead horse of the long-gun registry does not.

It was with great sympathy that I heard the testimony of a surviving victim of the Polytechnique College shootings. But I knew nothing could change anything that happened to that brave woman back in 1989. And the long-gun registry did not prevent another senseless multiple victim shooting at Dawson College in 2006.

I could only ask myself “What about the next victims?”

That is something we can address — as this long-gun registry has not — and that will only be by making it clear that violent criminals cannot reoffend while they are in jail. It gets no safer than that.

Jack S. Tinsley is a retired Winnipeg police inspector.

This article was originally published in the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 19, 2010 A12.

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