The Conservative government introduced a new bill on Oct. 25 that would put an end to the long-gun registry, something Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been trying to do since taking power in 2006.
The issue always causes controversy on and off Parliament Hill with hunters and other gun owners, police, crime and legal experts, politicians, victims' groups, rural and urban Canadians all weighing in with their different perspectives. Here are 10 questions and answers about the registry and the government's efforts to end it.
Q: What does this new bill on the gun registry do?
A: We keep hearing about scrapping the long-gun registry, but really what we're talking about is scrapping the requirement for people to register their rifles and shotguns – that's what Bill C-19 aims to do by making amendments to the Criminal Code and Firearms Act. Once passed, people will not have to register their non-restricted or non-prohibited firearms. It also provides for the destruction of existing records in the Canadian Firearms Registry for those firearms.
Q: What exactly is the registry?
A: It’s a centralized database overseen by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police that links firearms with their licensed owners. It contains information about all three types of guns that must be registered – non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. (All firearms must be registered.) To register a firearm, you have to have a licence to possess it.
Q: Does the bill make any changes to licensing requirements?
A: No. Canadian residents need a licence in order to possess and register a firearm or ammunition and that won't change. There are a couple of different kinds of licences because of various changes to laws and regulations over the years.
Q: What are long guns?
A: There are three types of guns under Canadian law: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited. Most common long guns – rifles and shotguns – are non-restricted but there are a few exceptions. A sawed-off shotgun, for example, is a prohibited firearm. A handgun is an example of a restricted firearm. Different regulations apply to different classifications of firearms.
Q: How many guns are we talking about?
A: As of September 2011, there were about 7.8 million registered guns. Of those, 7.1 million are non-restricted firearms.
Q: Why does the government want to get rid of the long-gun registry?
A: The government says it is wasteful and ineffective at reducing crime and targets law-abiding gun owners instead of criminals, who don't register their firearms.
Q: Who wants to keep it?
A: Police and victims' groups are big supporters of the registry. Police say the database helps them evaluate a potential safety threat when they pull a vehicle over or are called to a residence. They also say it helps support police investigations because the registry can help determine if a gun was stolen, illegally imported, acquired or manufactured. This year, the RCMP says police agencies accessed it on average more than 17,000 times a day.
Q: When will the registry cease to exist?
A: That depends how quickly the government, using its majority, can pass the bill. It was tabled on Oct. 25 and the next stage in the process will be calling the bill for a second reading and after a vote, it will go to the committee stage. How long it spends there depends on how many witnesses are heard. The opposition parties may try to amend the bill which could also tie up some time. After it passes third reading it will go to the Senate, where the Conservatives also hold a majority, and it will become law. The bill stipulates that the records should be destroyed as soon as possible.
Q: Why does the government want to destroy the records?
A: The government is doing this to ensure that no future non-Conservative government can recreate the registry. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has also made it clear that if any province wants to set up its own registry it would get no help from the federal government. The Conservatives are fundamentally opposed to the existence of the records, because they say they focus on law-abiding citizens instead of criminals, and they don't want them available for anyone to use in the future.
Q: How much does the registry cost?
A: The registry costs more than $1 billion to set up in 1995 and the cost was the source of much controversy. Public Safety Minister Vic Toews said on Oct. 25 that the government's best estimate is that it costs about $22 million a year to operate. That's for the entire registry, not just the long-gun portion, but he noted most of the guns in the registry are long guns. He said he didn't know how much money scrapping the requirement to register long guns would save the government. Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner says there are also "hidden costs" that are borne by provincial and municipal police agencies to enforce the registry.