California's government -- which has demonstrated its obvious prowess as a
regulator of energy -- is searching for another vital product to regulate. The
California Legislature launched hearings this week on the licensing of guns.
California's would-be regulators might want to examine the experiences with gun
licensing in places like Canada and Hawaii before they enact any ambitious and
reckless new laws.
Canadians are a law-abiding lot. But as of Jan. 1, millions suddenly became
criminals, thanks to C-68, Canada's gun licensing law, which was passed back in
1995. The law ordered Canadians to obtain a license and register their guns
within five years.
Officially, the Canadian Department of Justice now claims that there are only
2.5 million gun owners, a 31% drop from their figure just a couple of years ago.
This means that millions of gun owners are now operating outside of Canadian
law, an assumption confirmed by press accounts that report internal Canadian
Justice Department documents identifying 5 to 7 million gun owners and by
academic and private surveys which indicate possibly more gun owners. The 2.5
million estimate, some academics argue, is surprisingly similar to the Canadian
Wildlife Service's estimate for the number of people hunting each year.
Getting the government to release information on the costs of licensing and
registration is like cracking the black ops budgets in the U.S. Defense
Department. The numbers are even refused to many members of Parliament.
"Inside sources" have told members of Parliament that, excluding
any costs borne by the federal police (the Royal Canadian Mounties) or in
Quebec, $ 265 million (Canadian dollars) will be spent by the federal Canadian
Firearms Centre this year. To put it another way, just this limited accounting
number corresponds to 5% of all police expenditures in Canada.
Just as with unfunded mandates in the U.S., the vast majority of gun
licensing costs in Canada are borne by the provinces and local governments. For
example, the attorney general's office of Alberta has complained that the law
"is an administrative mess and it is very costly, and it is using money
that would be better used really fighting crime."
Canada's licensing laws are notable for their extremely intrusive character:
Applicants must report if they've experienced a divorce, breakdown of a
significant relationship, job loss or bankruptcy in the past two years. Despite
the objections of Canada's Privacy Commissioner that files are filled with
"unsubstantiated hearsay and incorrect information," the government
questions people like ex-spouses, possibly bitter over divorces, to assess the
gun licensee's fitness for a license.
These are real problems. But the largest one pertains to the impact these
rules will have on violent crime. We look with interest to see how Canada's
crime rate changes this year. In the meantime, we can assume from America's
experience with similar gun restrictions that Canada is in for some bad news.
Consider what is happening in Hawaii. According to gun licensing theory, if a
gun is left at the scene of the crime, licensing and registration would allow a
gun to be traced back to its owner. But police have spent tens of thousands of
man-hours administering these laws in Hawaii (the one state with both rules),
and there has not been even a single case where police claim licensing and
registration have been instrumental in identifying the criminal.
The reasons for this are simple. First, criminals very rarely leave their
guns at the scene of the crime. Second, would-be criminals virtually never get
licenses or register their weapons.
Gun licensing advocates ask, might licensing at least have allowed even more
comprehensive background checks and thus kept criminals from getting guns in the
first place? Unfortunately for these gun control advocates, there is not a
single academic study that finds that background checks reduce violent crime.
Instead, licensing prevents people who are being stalked or threatened from
quickly obtaining a gun for protection. When added to California's 14-day
waiting period, the processing time for a license will delay access to a gun by
at least a month. While research shows that even short waiting periods increase
rape rates, waiting periods longer than 10 days increase all categories of
Canadians will undoubtedly take some solace in press accounts noting that
police won't "come knocking at the door any time soon." But as
distracted police spend tens of thousands of hours trying to enforce the
licensing, the doors of Canadians may be knocked down by g un-wielding criminals
who pay no mind to the regulatory fads of political correctness. Are
Californians paying attention?