For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

First, we misrepresent what you say. Then, we tell you why you're wrong.

Not too long ago, some of my Liberal friends shared an article purporting to explain the myths and facts about the long gun registry. They are in support of the long gun registry, so this was right up their alley.

The problem, however, is that it's complete BS.

The biggest  issue is that the "myths" are largely not what gun registry opponents are actually saying.  The other is that the "facts" don't even necessarily negate the "myths."

This starts right with Myth #1.

The claim: gun registry opponents complain about the (insert large amount of choice) cost of the registry per year, but it only cost $4.1 million dollars to operate in 2009, therefore they are wrong.

First off, the "myth" is over simplified.  The objection is to the cost overruns, and to the fact that we're paying for something that doesn't accomplish it's goal of making us all safer and prevent another Montreal Massacre.  Second, the "fact" of the actual cost per year is questionable.

Originally, implementing the registry was supposed to only cast taxpayers $2 million.  After that, it was supposed to pay for itself through registration fees.  More specifically, in 1995, we were told it would cost $119 million to implement, with an expected $117 million collected in fees, thereby leaving $2 million for the taxpayers to cover.  An audit in 2002 showed that it would instead cost $1 BILLION, with an expected income of only $140 million from fees. That actual cost since the registry came into being has apparently exceeded $2 billion.

Which is why the long gun registry is referred to as the Billion Dollar Boondoggle.

As for the annual operating costs, I don't know where they get their number of $4.1 million, because the reported cost is at $44.6 million.  (For a breakdown of all the costs, visit here)

Now, I don't know about you, but whether it's $4.1 million or $44.6 million, that's a lot of money coming out of taxpayer pockets every year for something that isn't accomplishing what it was designed to do.

As for registration fees, that takes us to Myth/Fact #2.  The "myth" is that it cost too much to register, while the "fact" says that it's free.

Not quite  It costs $60 (non-restricted) or $80 (restricted), renewable every 5 years. Which is interesting when you consider the registry was supposed to pay for itself through fees.

On to Myth/Fact #3, with the "myth" saying that there's too much red tape to register, while the "fact" states it's actually easy, because you can register by mail or online "in minutes."

How the "fact" negates the "myth" escapes me.  When my BIL, an avid hunter with several different guns, including a musket loader he built himself, tried to register his guns online back when it first became a requirement, it was a complete failure.  He finally tried to mail in his registration, and that didn't work out, either.  I know he was eventually able to register them all, but I don't think he was able to do it by deadline.  It also cost him something like $150 in total.  He's not the only one who's had troubles, and that's just the ones who successfully registered.  I've heard of others who attempted to register, only to be told their registration was never received and being threatened with criminal charges for it (funny... the police still managed to know they had guns).  Still others registered their rifles, only to have them seized shortly after for one reason or another.  They got them back eventually, as they were seized without cause, but not without a whole lot of hoop jumping (you know... like red tape) and being treated like criminals.

Being able to do something by mail or online doesn't make the red tape any less, nor the process any less of a hassle.

"Myth" #4 is the claim that the gun registry is not secure, while their "fact"claims it has never been breached, while making an ad hom attack on an Conservative MP.  Now, I have no idea what sort of numbers they're talking about that the "mythsayers" are claiming about security breaches.  This is what I do know.  John Hicks, a computer consultant and webmaster, claims to have hacked into the system in only 13 minutes; though that claim is denied.  In fact, every single link I've tried to follow to verify that story is now dead.  Others claim to have hacked the system, but those links are coming up dead, too.  Curious, indeed!  There is also reason to believe that the registry was used by criminals to target gun collectors - I recall one news story where a collector came back from vacation and discovered his home had been robbed, with only his gun safe broken into - something that took significant time and effort, considering the type of safe he had - and his guns stolen.  Strangely, I can't find that story again.  You can also get registration information with a FOI request

No computer system - especially a government one - is fully secure.  My husband writes software for government use, and has done so for several different departments.  More specifically, he takes software they already have and makes it do the things they want as the department needs change and grow.  One thing they all have in common is that they're a mess. Some have been modified so often for so long, it'd actually be better off to scrap the whole thing and start from scratch - not something that will ever be done.  Anyone that claims they haven't been or can't be breached, is either lying or deluding themselves, plain and simple.

Myth #5.  Criminals use handguns, while only hunters and farmers use long guns.

Nope.  No one against the registry is saying that criminals ONLY use handguns and that ONLY law-abiding citizens use long guns.  This "myth" is a complete misrepresentation. Worse still is the curious twist in the "fact" disputing it.   For this one, let me quote what they actually say:

FACT: Criminals also use shotguns and rifles. Of the 16 police officer shooting deaths in Canada between 1998 and 2009, 14 were killed by a long gun. Long guns are as lethal as handguns and have been used in domestic violence and in suicides. Most firearm-related deaths are caused by rifles or shotguns with suicides the leading cause of death by firearms in Canada.

 Note the shift?

First, there's the blatantly obvious statement that criminals also use long guns.  Duh! No one claimed they didn't.  Hand guns are, however, the weapon of choice for criminals.  They're easier to hide, for starters.  Also, while long gun homicides have been steadily decreasing, hand gun homicides have been increasing.

Then they talk about police officer deaths.  While such deaths are distinguishable precisely because they're police deaths, note that there are only 16 of them in 11 years.  They say nothing about non-police deaths involving guns.  They don't address the actual use of guns by criminals when they're not actively engaging the police.  In other words, they don't actually refute the "myth," even misstated as it is.  Rather, they move on to domestic violence and suicides, implying that the long gun registry would somehow prevent these.

How about some real facts? Hanging is the most common method of suicide in Canada.  Pesticides are also a commonly used for suicide, as is asphyxiation, poisoning, blunt force trauma (ie: jumping off a building), exsanguination, drowning, self-immolation, electrocution and starvation.  Oh, and lets not forget suicide by cop.  Suicide by firearm certainly happens.  I've known a couple of people who used guns to kill themselves.  You know what?  If they hadn't had access to guns, they would have killed themselves anyways.

As for domestic violence, weapons are not typically used.  When weapons are used, they are most likely to be knives (or something else that cuts).  Also explosives, fire and  poison.  According to this, firearms weren't used at all in the reporting period. (weapons use begins on page 13)  Use of firearms in domestic violence remains extremely rare.

Except, of course, the "myth" isn't about suicide or domestic violence.  In fact, those have nothing to do with the "myth" at all.  It's a strawman argument.  It is not the registry's purpose to prevent suicides or domestic violence.

The next three "myths" are variations of the same topic; police.  There's #6, claiming that police don't support the registry, #7 that they don't use the registry, and  #8, that the CPIC database automatically queries the registry.

Myth #6 is another misrepresentation: some police support it, some don't.  While the chiefs recently issued a statement in support of it, a survey found that the majority of police officers are actually against it.  As for the usage, visit here to see not only the number of queries, but how they were made (note the totals of firearms licenses, certificate and serial numbers vs. individual names).  With "fact" number 8, they don't even bother to address the "myth" (that the system automatically queries the registry).  They just throw out numbers about how often the database is searched and claim it's proof that police are using it.

Let's try reality.  The RCMP began tracking these numbers in 2003.  Since then, the computer systems - and the automation - changed, leading to increases of queries.  The result?  As of June, 2010, 96.3% of all queries were automatically generated (a simple license plate query will search the gun registry), while only 3.7% were the result of license, certificates and serial number searches all together.

It should also be noted that these searches aren't just from the police, but also from sales.  Every time someone buys a gun, that sale generates 3 hits; one each for the buyer, the seller and the firearm itself.

Myth #9, at least, seems accurate; it's the claim that the registry doesn't save lives.  Their "fact" first goes off on apples and oranges comparisons to seatbelt laws and helmet laws.  Last I heard, we didn't have to register our seatbelts or our helmets.  Nor do we register our knives, which would be a more accurate comparison, since knives are actually used to kill people more often then guns.  They then talk about how the numbers of firearm murders and suicides (again with the suicides...) have gone down, implying they've gone down because of the registry, though I'll give them a bit of a bonus for giving education and storage regulations some credit.  What they neglected to mention, however, is that gun related homicides are 1) very low in Canada to start with and 2) have been decreasing since the 1970's.  They also neglect to mention that homicides using firearms have decreased in other countries for the last two decades, including countries that don't have firearm registries.  Correlation does not equal causation.

Finally, we have Myth #10 - the claim that the registry does nothing to prevent violence against women.

They don't even try to counter this one with their "fact."  They just say "Women's safety experts and frontline women's shelters across the country agree. The registry helps reduce violence against women. Can they all be wrong?"

It's a completely rhetorical question.  Of course they can all be wrong.  The fact that they're "women's safety experts" (whatever that is) or "frontline women's shelters" (can shelters have an opinion?) suggests me that they have a vested interest in keeping the registry, no matter what.  I would certainly question impartiality; it's become a very emotional issue.

The long gun registry came into being directly as a result of the Montreal Massacre.  Many of the people involved, as well as many registry supporters, view it not so much as a safety issue, but as a women's issue.  There is some strange belief that, had there been a gun registry 20 + years ago, 14 women would not have been killed that day.  How, I have no idea.  If some wacko wants to use a gun to kill people, they're not going to think "oh, gee... I registered this gun.  I'd better not kill anyone."   If someone is crazy enough to plan out something as atrocious as a massacre, no registry is going to stop them.  The fact that there have been murders done using registered weapons shows the registry can't stop anyone from using a registered weapon to kill someone.  At best, it has helped police to identify a dead shooter.  It hasn't made it any harder for criminals to get guns, nor does it stop criminals from using them. 

The purpose of the long gun registry was to ensure something like the Montreal Massacre would never happen again; to somehow make us safer from criminals.  It does nothing of the sort.  A registry can't do anything like that.  All it can do is keep track of legal gun owners and their legally owned guns.

Surely there are more efficient ways to use the millions of dollar spent on the registry every year?

(note:  it is now past 2:30 am as I finish this, and my editor has long since gone to bed.   That and I've got a cat sleeping across my arms, making it rather hard to type. My apologies for any typos, spelling mistakes or confusing turns of phrase.)

No comments:

Post a Comment

Drop me a line...