Despite spending a whopping $2.7 billion on creating and running a long-gun registry, Canadians never reaped any benefits from the project. The legislation to end the program finally passed the Parliament on Wednesday. Even though the country started registering long guns in 1998, the registry never solved a single murder. Instead it has been an enormous waste of police officers’ time, diverting their efforts from patrolling Canadian streets and doing traditional policing activities.
Gun-control advocates have long claimed that registration is a safety issue, and their reasoning is straightforward: If a gun has been left at a crime scene and it was registered to the person who committed the crime, the registry will link the crime gun back to the criminal.
Nice logic, but reality never worked that way. Crime guns are very rarely left at the crime scene, and when they are left at the scene, they have not been registered — criminals are not stupid enough to leave behind a gun that’s registered to them. Even in the few cases where registered crime guns are left at the scene, it is usually because the criminal has been seriously injured or killed, so these crimes would have been solved even without registration.
The statistics speak for themselves. From 2003 to 2009, there were 4,257 homicides in Canada, 1,314 of which were committed with firearms. Data provided last fall by the Library of Parliament reveals that the weapon was identified in fewer than a third of the homicides with firearms, and that about three-quarters of the identified weapons were not registered. Of the weapons that were registered, about half were registered to someone other than the person accused of the homicide. In just 62 cases — that is, only 4.7 percent of all firearm homicides — was the gun registered to the accused. As most homicides in Canada are not committed with a gun, the 62 cases correspond to only about 1 percent of all homicides.
To repeat, during these seven years, there were only 62 cases — nine a year — where it was even conceivable that registration made a difference. But apparently, the registry was not important even in those cases. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chiefs of Police have not yet provided a single example in which tracing was of more than peripheral importance in solving a case.
The problem isn’t just with the long-gun registry. The data provided above cover all guns, including handguns. There is no evidence that, since the handgun registry was started in 1934, it has been important in solving a single homicide.
Looking at just long guns shows that since 1997, there have been three murders in which the gun was registered to the accused. The Canadian government doesn’t provide any information on whether those three accused individuals were convicted.
Nor is there any evidence that registration reduced homicides. Research published last year by McMaster University professor Caillin Langmann in the Journal of Interpersonal Violence confirmed what other academic studies have found: “This study failed to demonstrate a beneficial association between legislation and firearm homicide rates between 1974 and 2008.” There is not a single refereed academic study by criminologists or economists that has found a significant benefit from gun laws. A recent Angus Reid poll indicates that Canadians already understand this, with only 13 percent believing that the registry has been successful.