“Government documents reveal that ending the long-gun registry would save the government only about $2 million a year — far below the “billion dollar” price tag the Conservatives long put on the registry.
The $2-million cost saving is identified in a Public Safety communications plan prepared in anticipation of questions that would arise over the passage last April of Bill C-19, which ended the registry.
“The removal of the long-gun registry will save in the neighbourhood of an additional $2 million a year,” the document says.
It adds: “There will be even more savings as efficiencies in administration and overhead are realized in the coming years.”
The federal Conservatives have been loath to publicly identify the actual savings. Last June 19 — months after he had his own department’s answer in hand regarding registry costs — Public Safety Minister Vic Toews told the Commons public safety committee he wouldn’t “even attempt to guess” the costs but went on to cite cumulative totals: “estimates from $1 billion to the CBC’s estimate of $2 billion.””
“I don’t know who’s right on that, but certainly it’s north of $1 billion,” said Toews. “People have said to me, well, by just simply getting rid of it, aren’t you wasting an asset that’s worth $2 billion? In fact, just because you pay $2 billion for something doesn’t mean it’s worth a dime. This is truly the case with the long-gun registry. It is so out of date. It is so full of errors.”
The documents, obtained under access to information laws by the Coalition for Gun Control and provided to the Star, indicate the RCMP had also identified $2 million in response to questions from the Star in October 2011, but the figure was never provided to the Star or other media outlets.
On Wednesday, when the Star sought clarifications from the government and the RCMP, the federal public safety minister’s office would still not confirm the $2-million savings figure.
“Our Conservative government has ended the wasteful and ineffective long-gun registry, which the CBC estimated to cost taxpayers $2 billion,” said Julie Carmichael, Toews’ communications director, in an emailed reply. “Ending the wasteful and ineffective long gun registry will save taxpayers millions of dollars each and every year.”
The RCMP did not provide comment in time for this story.
The documents also outline what gun control advocates say is a crucial gap in safety if long guns are sold or transferred under the Conservatives’ new rules.
The law requires no records whatsoever be kept on nonrestricted long guns. According to emails from the RCMP to public safety officials, the RCMP would no longer record the names or otherwise follow up on licence queries — if indeed they are made to the Canadian Firearms Centre. That leaves it to vendors and buyers to police themselves.
RCMP emails indicate that if a vendor calls the RCMP about a would-be buyer, the RCMP will confirm whether his licence is valid or expired. But if notice of a revoked licence pops up, the RCMP will only tell the vendor to instruct the would-be buyer to contact a provincial chief firearms officer “to discuss this transfer.”
The relatively small cost-savings in the overall firearms program, which was estimated in 2010/11 to cost about $76.5 million to operate, comes as a no surprise to Wendy Cukier of the Coalition for Gun Control.
Cukier said the Conservative government always engaged in “a lot of very deliberate misrepresentation about the cost” of registering long guns. “A lot of Canadians assumed there would be these huge savings in getting rid of it.”
Now she is even more dismayed to learn the integrity of the licensing system has been undermined by the new rules. For a seller, “confirming a license is voluntary, not an obligation,” she said, “and even if a seller asks the question ‘Is a license valid,’ it’s entirely at their discretion whether they give the gun because there’s actually no way anymore to follow up if sellers are selling guns illegally.”
Not only is law enforcement deprived of information about a potentially fraudulent gun buyer, there’s no longer any way of tracking whether the sale goes through.
“What’s to stop the seller from selling the gun?” asked Cukier. “There’s no record kept.”
Francine Dulong, whose mother Jocelyne Couture-Nowak was killed in the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech, is appalled that at a time when the U.S. is looking at mandatory background checks on would-be gun owners, she believes Canada is weakening its system of licensing.
Dulong, a 29-year-old musical theatre teacher and performer, told the Star from B.C. that the RCMP is hamstrung by the new rules: “If it’s a fraudulent license or has been revoked, they just tell you to tell the buyer of your firearm to report to the firearms office. They’re asking people to turn themselves in.”
“I think that’s a little bit crazy,” she said. “I don’t understand how this is preventing illegal gun crime in Canada.”