We license drivers but we also register automobiles to encourage drivers to conduct themselves responsibly in their cars, to assist police in enforcing the law and combating car theft. The same principles apply to firearms.
As of January 1 2003 and until the passage of Bill C-19 in April 2012, non-restricted firearms were required to be registered once to their legal owners. Fees associated with the procedure were waived. 7.1 million non-restricted firearms (rifles and shotguns) were registered to Canadian owners, see “Not just duck guns” for illustrations of non-restricted firearms. Bill C-19 further ordered the deletion of the data, but has been prevented to do so while the legislation is challenged in court.
Firearm registration allows firearms to be traced to their legal owners. As a consequence it increases accountability and discourages legal gun owners from giving or selling their guns to unlicensed individuals or storing them carelessly. If they do, they are more likely to be caught and held accountable. Too often, guns from Canadian gun owners end up in the wrong hands. While there are currently safe storage requirements defined by law, many gun owners do not store their guns in accordance with the law. For example, RCMP officer Constable Stronquill was shot and killed in Manitoba in 2001 with a rifle stolen from a car in Alberta. When guns are traced back to their original owners, it is essential that police determine the circumstances which led their misuse, and lay charges where appropriate. Owning firearms is a huge responsibility, and failure to comply with the law puts communities at risk.
Through the procedure of registering firearms, police are in a position to differentiate between legal and illegal firearms. Without information about who owns firearms legally and the firearms they own, police cannot charge individuals with illegal possession. Registry information has supported the investigation and prosecution of firearms offences, providing over 25,500 affidavits between 2003 and 2010 to support the prosecution of firearms-related crime. For example, two men were identified and convicted as accessories to the murder of four RCMP officers in Mayerthorpe, Alberta, in part because a registered gun was left at the scene of the crime.
In 2011, police officers across Canada consulted the gun registry 17,402 times a day, to take preventative action or enforce prohibition orders, among other things. While it is difficult to measure prevention, the police have cited a number of examples where they have used the registry to take preventative action. E.g., shortly after the Dawson College shooting, the registry allowed police to remove firearms from a potential copycat. Similarly, after a man had reportedly pointed a rifle at a co-worker and threatened to kill him, police searched the registry and confirmed that the suspect had a valid licence with nine long-guns registered, allowing police to recover all of them, along with a quantity of ammunition. In 2011, Public Safety Minister Toews claimed a total of4,612 registered firearms were removed from the possession of individuals whose licenses were revoked due to public safety concerns.
Registration also helps enforce prohibition orders by providing information about the firearms police should remove. Physicians, crisis workers and police have provided anecdotal evidence of specific cases where the registry was useful in removing firearms from potentially deadly situations. Without information about who owns guns and what guns they own, we cannot prevent dangerous people from getting access to firearms.
Ending the registration of rifles and shotguns means allowing an individual to buy as many guns as he/she wants, including powerful semi-automatics, without any records. This loophole creates a huge potential for straw purchases and for illegal trading and also gave little incentive for reporting firearm thefts.