A man replaces a shotgun in the rack in a downtown Montreal outdoors store in this file photo. MPs gave second reading Wednesday to a bill that would abolish the registry for long guns. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

The federal long-gun registry moved a step closer to being abolished as MPs voted Wednesday in the House of Commons to scrap the controversial program.

With support from 18 Liberals and New Democrats, the private member's bill passed second reading 164-137 and now goes to committee.

If passed, Bill C-391 would scrap the decade-old registry and destroy existing data within the system on about seven million shotguns and rifles.


Prime Minister Stephen Harper rises along with Environment Minister Jim Prentice and Defence Minister Peter MacKay to vote in favour of the bill to abolish the long-gun registry in the House of Commons. ((Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press))

The legislation was proposed by Manitoba Tory backbencher Candice Hoeppner.

"I think it's important that the Liberals and NDP allowed a free vote and that many of their members supported the private member's bill," Hoeppner said.

"It's step one. There's still a lot of work to do, though."

Because the proposed law was introduced as a private member's bill, opposition MPs were permitted to break from party lines and support it.

That secured support from New Democrats and Liberals from northern and rural ridings, where opposition to the gun registry is strongest.

"I favour a gun-control system, but I do not favour a gun-control system that makes criminals out of farmers and hunters,"  said PEI Liberal MP Wayne Easter.

The Conservatives have long opposed the gun registry, brought in by the former Liberal government in response to the killing of 14 women at Montreal's L'École Polytéchnique in 1989.

However, there is unwavering support for the gun registry from such groups as the Coalition for Gun Control, the Canadian Chiefs of Police and the Canadian Police Association.

Wendy Cukier of the Coalition for Gun Control said firearm deaths. including suicides and murders of women, have declined during the time the registry has been in place. 

Cukier, who watched the vote from the public gallery in the Commons, called it "appalling."

"It wasn't even close," she said. "It's horrifying and a lot of Canadians are going to wake up tomorrow and find out about this for the first time."

The mother of one of the slain Montreal students made a public appeal to the MPs this week, imploring them to preserve the gun registry.

Conservatives argue the registry has been a billion-dollar boondoggle, although a 2006 study by the auditor general found that eliminating the long-gun portion of the registry would only save taxpayers about $3 million a year.

In an annual report from Canada's Firearms Commissioner prepared by the RCMP, police said they used the registry more than 2.5 million times in 2007.

But Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has not made the report public.

"Canadians don't need another report to know that the long-gun registry is very efficient at harassing law-abiding farmers and outdoors enthusiasts, while wasting billions of taxpayer dollars," Van Loan's office said in a release Wednesday.

With files from The Canadian Press