The problem isn’t just that the $2.7 billion spent on registration over 17 years has produced no arrests, it is that the money could have been used to put more police on the street or pay for more health care or cut taxes. An extra $160 million a year pays for a lot of police or doctors or teachers.
Take police. Assuming each officer is paid $70,000 per year, $2.7 billion would pay for almost 2,300 officers annually. Academic research by one of us (Lott) indicates that adding that many street officers would reduce violent crimes in Canada by about 1,800. Registration isn’t getting Canadians any of this.
And the costs of running the registry aren’t just the $2.7 billion, since that excludes enforcement costs and individual compliance costs. The first step that police in Canada take in investigating a violent crime is to see if their suspects are licensed gun owners. But when Canada has 6.4 million registered gun owners, and police accuse only nine people of homicide each year whose registered guns were found at the scene of a crime, the return seems as close to zero as possible. It is also claimed that registration protects police officers’ safety, but homicide against Canadian police officers is actually up 20 percent since the long-gun registry started, compared with the rate during the previous decade. And more important, not a single police officer has been identified as being killed by someone with a registered gun.
Gun-control proponents have worried that scrapping the long-gun registry after so much has been invested in it would be a waste — “a $2 billion bonfire,” in the words of Gatineau member of Parliament Françoise Boivin. Unfortunately, that money is already wasted, and the registry costs kept growing. It costs about $100 million a year to operate. Instead of burning up more money, Canada can spend it on things that will actually do some good.
— John R. Lott Jr. is the author of More Guns, Less Crime (University of Chicago Press, third edition, 2010) and Gary Mauser is professor emeritus at Simon Fraser University.