February 17, 2004

Canadian Gun Control

Well, I obviously disagree with the whole notion behind the Canadian Gun Registry, but that may just be because Margaret Atwood scared me with The Handmaid's Tale and the idea of registries in general. And I guess they don't have a second amendment up there.....

But whatever you think about gun control, 1000 times over budget is just outrageous:

Nearly $2 billion has either been spent on or committed to the federal program....

The gun registry was originally supposed to cost less than $2 million. In December 2002, Auditor General Sheila Fraser revealed that the program would run up bills of at least $1 billion by 2005.

But the calculations remained incomplete, so CBC News obtained documents through the Access to Information Act and crunched the numbers.

Somehow, the computer system to track the registered gun owners will cost more than $750 million instead of the $1 million expected.

Posted by richard at February 17, 2004 12:38 PM

What do they need to register all the guns for? Michael Moore says nobody gets shot in Canada.

But seriously, I think there's a distinction to be drawn here — at least at the level of stigma — between the registration of an item, as here, and the registration of the owner. From what I can gather from the article, this is a lot more like registering a car or boat — which we do in every state — than, say, the registration of Jews in Poland.

A difference, I suppose, is that the registration probably roughly correlates with the registrant's ideology on a controversial issue. That is, you could use car registration to compile a list of "drivers" or "car nuts," if you wanted to regulate or oppress them. Or, more to the point, you could go around Poland registering Torahs and thereby acquire a reasonably comprehensive list of Jews.

So in that sense I can see where you're coming from, particularly if gun-owners are a minority. But on the other hand, voter registration also results in big, possibly troubling lists of who might be construed to think a certain way. And you have to have it.

Registration raises issues in theory for the invasion of privacy it entails: you have to tell the government you have something. But a lot of it is crucial for commonly-held objectives: avoiding disputes over real property ownership, making sure people don't vote twice (or work as double-agents in party primaries). Here the Canadians have decided that guns are used in crimes, and it might be helpful to spend a gajillion dollars tracing the ownership of guns. They balanced the privacy implications against the public good and made a decision.

As for how a government can so woefully underestimate the cost of the project — that is beyond me.

Posted by: Brad A. at February 17, 2004 05:25 PM


We all agree Michael Moore is a buffoon who uses only the statstics that support his case. But your argument that they don't need a registry becasue no one gets shot is, of course, ass-backwards (but doesn't one's ass naturally face backwards?). The Canadians claim that they have fewer murders, at least in part, because of their firearm policies. That's their opinion, of course, not (necessarily) mine. This from the Canada Firearms Centre (boy does it irk me to have to type out "centre"):

"Fewer firearms are being used in crimes in Canada for example, the rate of firearm robberies has significantly declined by over 50% since 1991, including a 12% decline in 2001, the lowest rate since 1974. The Government of Canada firmly believes that the Firearms Program is making an essential contribution to our efforts to sustain this reduction."

Now, there are many other possible explanation for our 3.2 times higher murder rate: denser population, racial integration issues, more violence on TV, etc. But the decline in gun-rekated crime does coincide rather well with their firearms program.

And Brad, I'm a Jew and I don't own a torah. We'd probably get a more accurate account of Italians by registering Bocci balls than we would of Jews by registering torahs . . .

Posted by: Mike F. at February 17, 2004 06:29 PM

Brad: the difference is that guns are, theoretically, the last line in the defense of individual liberty. If the government did decide that a specific group needed to be persecuted, whether Jews or women to come back to (Canadian) Atwood, that persecution is easier if you can go round up the guns that they own (or "disappear" the ones who claim not to have any in contradiction to official records).

So, rather than a means to identify a particular group, it's a means to ensure that you've disarmed them once you've decided to persecute them.

This issue goes right to the heart of the idea of "resistance" and the role of the state and, like all rights based arguments, it's messy and difficult. Dealing with crime and cults and militias here would be easier with an up-to-date and accurate gun registry. As would the situation in Iraq right now. But Red Dawn wouldn't be the same if the Russians could have marched over to Patrick Swayze's house and demanded his thirty ought six that Form 11Q-99A indicated that he owned.

Posted by: richard at February 17, 2004 07:19 PM

Well, there are open questions about the effectiveness and wisdom of trying to regulate people with guns. I think Patrick Swayze could well have shot the Russian, but I don't remember exactly how the movie went.

The Second Amendment cultivates a "well-regulated militia" — and one gets the impression that the regulation must come from somewhere outside the militia itself. That is, you don't just issue artillery to people and trust them to use it with discretion.

Federal power has expanded past the point where the "last line of defense" argument is reasonable. If some other country runs roughshod over our armed forces to the extent that Clem from Fayetteville is our only hope, then it's time to turn out the lights. And further, there might have been a point where taking up arms against an oppressive federal (or state) power might have been an option. But good luck with that now.

Waco may have galvanized a lot of people — it may have given people a reason to "exercise their Second Amendment rights." But let's get serious: you can't treat the First and Second Amendments as perfect parallels. That is, you can say what you want against the various governments, but you can expect reprisals when you fire potshots at them.

Everyone in this country has an assured right to protect himself with violence if necessary. The question is whether the situation is so bad or threatening that people should be allowed to walk around with a device whereby you can push a button and kill someone — and whether that right is so crucial that people who wish to exercise it should not even have to tell the government that they're doing it.

The ass-backward-ness I've identified (or at least it's my theory) is not that people buy, use, and train with guns so that they can further the purpose of a well-regulated protective militia. They form militias because they like to buy, use, and train with guns, and someone told them that the Constitution protects this practice in the context of a militia.

That is, the Second Amendment channels people who like guns into anti-government stances. They have a recreational interest in an activity that is protected for limited purposes by a constitutional amendment. So when asked whether they need to be slithering around in the woods on Saturday afternoon with the thirty ought six, they invoke the limited purposes of the Second Amendment. Funny, though — if you have a recreational interest in lawn darts, you're SOL, because the Consumer Product Safety Commission thinks they're unsafe. Never mind that from a sniper's position I could take out a Russkie invader with a Jart at fifty yards.

How do you define the protected class of "arms," then? Is it everything that could possibly be used to hurt someone? That seems to be the tack the TSA is taking. So you have to mail your tweezers home from the airport, because you can leverage them to take over a plane. But you have to be allowed to carry a Tommy gun just in case you think it's necessary to overthrow the government.

I have to report what I earn to the government every year so that it can take a big chunk of it away. That might be offensive to the purest notions of my "right to property" and the subsidiary right to privacy about my economic status. It sucks, but it pays for the interstates. For my part, I don't think it's as great an intrusion to ask that people report their gun ownership toward the greater goal of deterring first-degree murder and solving crimes when they happen.

The theory of the Second Amendment might once have been sound. But modern realities compromise it. There are substantially fewer local enemies to engage, and the federal government provides a more than adequate defense from external enemies. And people generally accept regulation of arms access — even Terry Nichols accepted that public access to nukes should be restricted: you have to kill people in smaller explosions. No one can argue that the right to bear arms is absolute. Well, they can: they just can't get on a plane.

There might come a time in my life (God forbid) when I wish, for my safety, that I had a gun. But for my own safety right now, I wish other people didn't. I don't fear Indians, British invaders, Russians, or the ATF. I fear street criminals and professed "militiamen."

Posted by: Brad A. at February 17, 2004 08:57 PM

Mike: sorry for not responding to your points sooner. I get agitated about particular things that people say and start to respond – only later to remember that I'm supposed to be working.

Your post just didn't agitate me much, even though I'm opposed to (federal) gun control. Why? Because I think you, sensibly, brought up the important caveats that make me skeptical that Canadian gun control should be given credit for the difference in murder rate.

Racial tension, densely populated cities, continued immigration, our insane "War on Drugs", all lead to higher incidence of violent crimes.

In addition, the quote from the government that you cited is anything but uncontested. Take this quote:

Vancouver, BC - Restrictive firearm legislation has failed to reduce gun violence in Australia, Canada, or Great Britain. The policy of confiscating guns has been an expensive failure, according to a new paper The Failed Experiment: Gun Control and Public Safety in Canada, Australia, England and Wales, released today by The Fraser Institute. . . .
Disarming the public has not reduced criminal violence in any country examined in this study. In all these cases, disarming the public has been ineffective, expensive, and often counter productive. In all cases, the effort meant setting up expensive bureaucracies that produce no noticeable improvement to public safety or have made the situation worse.

Here's the press release and the study.

Also the Centers for Disease Control (usually a fairly anti-gun crowd) released another study which "found no conclusive evidence that gun control laws help to prevent violent crime, suicides and accidental injuries in the United States".

Would you like to live in a country with gun control, 1/3 fewer murders, but significantly more burglary? Evidence from England shows that that occurs when gun control laws are strengthened and criminals learn that they don't need to fear homeowners protecting themselves.

Anyway, I think the jury is somewhat out (so to speak) on gun control, but I lean towards the "only criminals will have guns" line of thinking.

I also am opposed to most forms of banning "bad" objects rather than banning bad behaviors done with those objects.

As with most matters, I support the right of different localities to experiment with different systems (within the bounds of the Constitution) and think, like Howard Dean, that New York City and Vermont (or Texas) should have different laws.

Posted by: richard at February 17, 2004 09:05 PM

Fair enough - and I claim in both post and email that I'm not convinced gun control works, either. The Canadian governemnt claims it does, but that's hardly an objective opinion.

As I also mentioned, Mr. Moore tends to pick and choose his statistics. After watching his highly entertaining Bowling for Columbine, I did my own digging for statstics. According to a UK Home Office report, the murder rate is indeed higher in the US than in most other developed countries. Violent crime (defined as crime against the person, robbery, and sexual offenses), however, was almost twice as high in Canada, Australia, and England than in the US. So, it's not all bad over here.

My fault for not posting my questions here. The main one was this: IF it were proved that it actually did work - that gun control could significantly reduce the murder rate without a significant increase in other crime - would you support it? Or would you rather have your last line of defense against the government? This is a hypothetical question, of course. We both agree it has hardly been proven . . .

Posted by: Mike F. at February 17, 2004 09:32 PM