The recent shootings at a Montreal school have reignited the controversy over the firearm registry and has prompted the current Conservative government to review its earlier pledge to scrap the registry. This paper is a timely effort to evaluate the effectiveness of the 1995 firearm legislation that created the firearm registry. In 1995, the government assumed that, by controlling the availability of firearms, the registry would reduce total criminal violence, not just gun violence, suicide and domestic abuse. I argue here that this legislation is fundamentally flawed because it relies upon public health research to justify its moralistic approach to firearms. Public health advocates have exaggerated the danger of firearm ownership through pseudoscientific research methods. The federal government's moralistic approach to public safety is compared with a more practical and consultative provincial program that is more successful. The firearm registry involves licensing firearm owners as well as registering firearms. Even though the registry was created by the 1995 legislation, it was not implemented until 1998. Since that time there has been a significant reduction in the number of firearm owners, the number of crimes involving firearms, and the number of firearms-related deaths. Nevertheless, public safety cannot be said to have improved, because total criminal violence and total suicide rates remain stubbornly stable, despite the drop in firearms-related violence. Since the registry, with its dual function of licensing owners and registering longarms, was first implemented in 1998, the total homicide rate has actually increased by 9%, while the overall violent crime rate declined by 4%. Perhaps the most striking change is that gang-related homicides have increased substantially -- almost doubling between 1998 and 2005. Despite the drop in firearm-related suicides, the overall suicide rate declined by just 3% since the registry began. Unfortunately, an increase in suicides involving hanging has nearly cancelled out the drop in firearm suicides. No persuasive link has been found between the firearm registry and any of these changes. Provincial hunter-safety programs, in contrast, are more consultative, and available evidence suggests that such programs have been effective.
In conclusion, no convincing empirical evidence can be found that the firearm program has improved public safety. Violent crime and suicide rates remain virtually unchanged despite the nearly unlimited annual budgets during the first seven years of the firearms registry. Notwithstanding an estimated $2 billion cost to date, the firearms registry remains notably incomplete and has an error rate that remains embarrassingly high. As a result of its many failures, particularly its failure to reduce gang violence or stop senseless killings like at Dawson College and Mayerthorpe, the firearms registry has failed to win the trust of either the public or the police.