The registry under the gun
By Karin Marley, CBC.ca Reality Check Team | January 18, 2006 | More Reality Check
There is no question that the federal firearms control program, set up in 1995 through Bill C-68, has been a financial black hole. When the program was originally introduced, the Liberal government promised it would recover nearly all of its $119 million costs through registration and licensing fees, with net spending of only $2 million. But the auditor-general's explosive 2002 report stated that costs were already at $688 million and still climbing rapidly. In 2005, the government reported the cost of the program at just over $1 billion. But documents obtained by Radio-Canada in 2004 said the actual cost was closer to $2 billion, counting such things as a $750 million computer system, as well as legal fees due to court challenges.
Savings through scrapping
The Conservatives have now vowed to scrap the registry, using the savings to fill 1,000 RCMP positions as well as hire other front-line personnel and assist victims of crime. But how big would the savings actually be? The $2 billion figure is deceptive it is for a whole decade, and that money is long gone. The cost of running the Canada Firearms Centre, which runs registration and licensing, has dropped significantly from a $200 million high in 2000/01, down to $92.8 million in 2004//05. Over $11 million of that money came directly from registration and licensing fees. The federal government spends a further $20 million or so a year on programs indirectly associated with the registry, such as funding the RCMP' s National Weapons Enforcement Support Team ($5.9 million) and accommodating more prisoners due to a higher arrest rate ($7.8 million). This brings the total to around $113 million for 2004-05. Future costs have been set at around $103 million a year, with revenues climbing to $23 million by 2006-07 as five-year gun licences begin to expire. This leaves the net savings from scrapping the registry at about $80 million annually.
More than just registration
But referring to Bill C-68 as the long-gun registry legislation is also misleading. Repealing this law would also mean eliminating the licensing requirements it contains, which include an extensive background check and safety course for anyone acquiring a gun, as well as a spouse's or former spouse's signature on the application to reduce the chance of domestic violence. Currently, registering guns accounts for about a third of the Firearms Centre's costs, with the rest going to licensing. The government has capped registration spending at $25 million for future years, leaving around $57 million to be spent on licensing, with $23 million of that recovered in fees. But since most of the guns in Canada are now accounted for, and the registration is a one-time-only requirement, this portion of the costs should decline to about $10-15 million a year, according to the Coalition for Gun Control. Licences, on the other hand, need to be renewed every five years, meaning that they will make up the vast majority of the Firearms Centre's costs in the future.
The Conservatives have vowed to set up their own certification system to replace the licensing program scrapped with Bill C-68. They will also require a background check and safety course for gun buyers. The Conservatives will also keep registration for handguns, though not rifles and shotguns. Will the Conservatives' certification plan cost less than the $57 million being spent by the Liberals? That remains to be seen.
But what about those 1,000 new RCMP officers the Conservatives say they will hire with the money saved from the gun registry? With a starting salary of $40,523, employing 1,000 new RCMP officers will cost $40.5 million a year once they are out in the field, with costs rising to $65.6 million as the officers reach a higher pay scale within three years. That's considerably more than the current cost of registering guns. The Conservative plan may well be a better strategy for reducing gun crimes, but scrapping "the $2 billion gun registry" will not produce the windfall of cash the Conservatives seem to be counting on.