Scrapping the Long Gun Registry is a Feminist Issue

by | November 8, 2011
filed under Can-Con, Politics

This article was originally posted at Persephone Magazine. Reposted with permission of Persephone and the author, Millie. Millie is a perpetual grad student, an internationally recognized curmudgeon, and an occasional hugger of trees. She also makes a mean batch of couscous.

Last week, the Conservatives tabled legislation to not only scrap the long gun registry, but also to destroy all the data it currently holds, and again used closure* to shut down debate on it. The registry has reduced gun deaths overall by about 45% since it was introduced, but the Conservatives say it’s too expensive and infringes on the rights of hunters and rural citizens.

Here’s how we got the long gun registry in the first place. On December 6th, 1989, a misogynistic man walked into a classroom at École Polytechnique, an engineering college associated with Université de Montréal, armed with a legally obtained semi-automatic rifle, told the men to leave, declared he was “fighting feminism,” and shot the nine women left in the room (six of whom died). He went on to kill eight more women, and injure seven more women and four men, before turning the gun on himself. December 6th is now National Day of Remembrance and Action on Violence Against Women, and after considerable public outcry (especially in Québec), the long gun registry was enacted in 1995. Just writing that paragraph makes my gut clench in anger.

To legally obtain a long gun in Canada, the potential owner must apply for a permit, and the gun itself must be registered. Police services across the country have access to this registry, so that guns involved in crimes can be traced, and also so police officers can check if, when responding to a call at a residence, they expect that the owner has a gun, and take appropriate precautions. Permits must be renewed every five years, currently. Handguns have been regulated since the 1930s, and are not covered by this legislation.

The effect that the long gun registry has had on gun ownership, gun crime, and gun deaths is stark. The CBC, bastion of excellent information that it is, helpfully compiled this list of statistics about the state of guns in Canada. While the whole list is worth a read, I want to focus specifically on a part at the bottom of the first section:

Since the long gun registry came in in 1995, gun deaths have decreased by 45%. This is across all demographics, all ages, all genders. That’s a huge improvement — the rate of death by long gun has been almost halved, just by having the guns registered. But the reduction of the rate of spousal homicide (which, overwhelming, is femicide — about 80% of spousal deaths are men killing women) is a whopping 74%. Three quarters of women’s deaths by gun at the hands of their spouse can be reduced just by adding a few hoops for the gun owner.

And that’s just deaths: I couldn’t find any current statistics on gun injuries inflicted by spouses (again, overwhelmingly likely to be men injuring women), but I’d wager that if gun deaths are decreased by that much with the registry, then gun injuries inflicted by a spouse are likely also drastically reduced.

So this is a registry that helps keep women and police officers safer. It’s reduced gun deaths, injuries, and suicide rates (which are almost 5 times higher in households that have guns). It’s proven effective and is widely used — the registry is accessed about 17,000 times a day. All this is fact, not opinion.

Think about all those numbers in the CBC article for a few minutes, and let them sink in and percolate.

So why are the Conservatives so hell-bent on scrapping the registry? This is the second bill they’ve tabled to scrap the registry, and the previous bill (under a minority Conservative government) was narrowly defeated. They don’t publicly dispute its effectiveness, which is smart because that’s easily refuted. But they contend that it’s too expensive for the benefit, and it penalizes law-abiding hunters and rural citizens (and rural constituencies often elect Conservative MPs). It’s true that the registry is not cheap — it cost billions to set up (it was not well coordinated), and it costs several million dollars a year to maintain. I have no truck whatsoever with the “it makes hunters feel like criminals” argument, and minimal truck with the privacy argument.

We register our cars — does that make vast swaths of the citizens feel like criminals? No, of course not. It helps police track criminals and law breakers, from speeders all the way up to murderers fleeing a crime scene. It helps ensure that people who have cars are capable of handling them safely, by referencing car registrations against driver’s licence data. How are safeguards like those created by the registry, which are not extraordinary, somehow superceded by some people’s feelings? Feelings do not kill or maim — guns do. This registry is a tangible way in which we can reduce the number of people (and strikingly, women) who are killed by guns.

I understand that rural citizens may have a different perspective than a city-dweller like me, and I’m not insensitive to that. This isn’t about penalizing hunters — it’s not like long guns are being prohibited. But saying that someone, who does not live in a vacuum but in a community, however small, must be able to buy a tool designed to kill or injure without telling anyone that they own it, is irresponsible and reprehensible. The vast majority of gun owners in this nation are responsible and don’t shoot people, but this registry helps ensure that it stays that way, and helps track down those few people who do.

The second part of this bill, which is a new twist to the debate, is the stipulation that the data currently in the registry be destroyed. This is clearly a response to the Québec provincial government, which is strongly and unanimously in favour of keeping the registry and has said that if the federal registry is scrapped, that they would make a provincial registry. But since the cost to compile all the data is so high, by destroying the data the Conservatives are preventing any province or future government from setting the registry back up again. This, like so many other slights and unnecessarily harsh legislation they’ve enacted or tried to enact, reads to me as pure spite.

That spite is another swipe at women’s security and rights by this government. The long gun registry was enacted as a result of a horrific crime against women, and the reduction in deaths have been most dramatic in instances of domestic violence. This government has a long record of repealing equal pay laws for federal employees, closing most of the Status of Women offices across the country, and shutting funding to many social programs that primarily serve women. This is a clear pattern, and this legislation is a large stone in the wall they’re building keeping women safe and equitable citizens.

And I, like many other Canadians both urban and rural, am furious about it.

*For those of you keeping score at home, that’s seven times they’ve invoked closure or cut short debate since this House first sat in June, which is just ludicrous. Five of those were within just 38 days. This is not what democracy looks like.

Photo by joelogon under CC-attribution license.

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