If, as is frequently claimed, conservative fears of a federal gun registry are paranoid and spurious, then the stand that Oklahoma senator Tom Coburn is taking in the Senate will presumably be welcomed by all sides. On this week’s Fox News Sunday, Coburn bluntly affirmed that any background-check bill emanating from the Senate “absolutely will not” contain any provision for “record-keeping of legitimate, law-abiding gun owners.” The inclusion of such a scheme, he declared, would “kill this bill” — and any others to boot. As well it should: As things stand, the Firearm Owners Protection Act mandates the federal government to destroy within 24 hours any information that it gathers during background checks; all who are jealous of their liberty must ensure that this remains law.
Contrary to the claims of some on the right, President Obama has not advocated any form of gun registration. But, despite how it sometimes appears, President Obama is not the entire U.S. government, and while he may have kept quiet on the matter, others have not been so wise. Illinois representative Bobby Rush has thrice introduced the “Blair Holt’s Firearm Licensing and Record of Sale Act” — first in 2007, again in 2009, and, most recently, as soon as the 113th Congress convened in January of this year. Rush’s bill would require all gun owners to possess a federal firearm license and allow the attorney general to create and oversee a national gun registry.
Another bill, introduced in January of this year by Representative Rush Holt, would “provide for the mandatory licensing and registration of handguns.” And Senator Dianne Feinstein, who authored the 1994 “assault weapons” ban, included registration of grandfathered weapons in her recent “assault weapons” bill and has a history of proposing national gun registration. A host of other bills include provisions, both large and small, by which the federal government might keep tabs on Americans’ gun ownership.
An American gun registry has been an aim of gun-control advocacy groups for almost 40 years — and not always as a stand-alone measure. Reinforcing the worst “slippery slope” fears held by Second Amendment advocates, the chairman of the Brady Campaign explained the role of gun registries in 1976:
The first problem is to slow down the increasing number of handguns being produced and sold in this country. The second problem is to get handguns registered. And the final problem is to make the possession of all handguns and all handgun ammunition — except for the military, policemen, licensed security guards, licensed sporting clubs, and licensed gun collectors — totally illegal.
The threat to liberty inherent in gun registries should be painfully self-evident, especially when combined with the horrifying history of such programs elsewhere. The sheer fruitlessness of such systems, however, is not so apparent, and the uninitiated could be forgiven for wondering, “What’s the fuss?” Luckily, a few other countries — countries regarded by the gun-control lobby as being more enlightened than the United States and happily lacking in the pernicious influence of the National Rifle Association — have tried and abandoned gun registries, providing an example that Americans would do well not to follow.
Canada’s experiment with a long-gun registry, ostensibly contrived to prevent “violence against women” — it’s always for “women” or “the children,” isn’t it? — achieved little more than to demonstrate what the less naïve among us already knew: that criminals do not abide by the law. As Mauser has noted, data from Statistics Canada show not just that only 4 percent of long guns used in Canadian homicides were registered, but also that the claim that such registration will help the police to “monitor potentially dangerous gun owners” is upside down. Instead, statistics reveal that Canadians who own legally registered guns are less dangerous to their fellow citizens than those who either do not own guns at all or own unregistered guns. Unsurprisingly, while the long-gun registry was in force, in not a single case did the police employ it in order to identify a murderer.
When, as the culmination of a piecemeal process that began in 1995, the registry was created in 2003, Canada’s parliament promised that its cost would not exceed $2 million. By 2012, the registry had cost taxpayers $2.7 billion — a 134,900 percent increase on projections. (In the U.S., a registry costing the same amount per person would run $67 billion over the same time.) For this considerable outlay, the government reaped a homicide rate that dropped more slowly than that of the United States, a country in which gun laws have been slowly liberalized; a collection of disillusioned police forces, whose budgets were being eaten up by the growing costs of gun registration; and an angry citizenry whose indignation, Gary Mauser observes, was serious enough to create a peculiar coalition of the Reform, Progressive, Conservative, and New Democratic parties and to wipe out the Liberal party in the West. The registry was abolished in 2012.