The Long Gun Registry Battle
Scrapping the Long Gun Registry has been a debatable topic for quite some time now in Canada. Canada’s Firearms Act was amended in 1995, requiring all owners of hunting rifles and shotguns to obtain a license and register each firearm. By January 1, 2003, all guns were to be registered. The guns that were classified as “non-restricted” were added to a central database. The registry had previously listed only restricted and prohibited firearms. It was managed by the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP), located in Miramichi, New Brunswick. This database would become known to the general public as the Long Gun Registry.
There are 7.8 million firearms in the books. Of these, 7.1 million are non-restricted, which include rifles and shotguns, as well as some military style firearms, such as the Ruger Mini-14, which was used in the Montreal Massacre on December 6, 1989, killing 14 female students, and in the recent shootings in Norway, where 77 people died. The fact that the guns used in the Montreal Massacre and in the Norway shootings falls into non-restricted classification worries many. Heidi Rathjen, a witness of the Montreal Massacre, says “If you take [the gun registry] away, the Conservatives will have blood on their hands.”
While some say the registry is helpful and saves lives, others argue that it is inefficient, is overspent, and that ending the registry will make no difference. People see it as a waste of taxpayers’ dollars and argue that the registry in fact attacks individual rights and freedoms of law-abiding citizens, criminalizing rightful gun owners. Only those that abide by the law, including hunters and gun collectors, would ever willingly register their guns, not the criminals who would be required to pay the $60 fee and would have to renew every five years. In reality, this registry only ever provided police with sheets of data of legally registered long guns rather than the illegal firearms in the country. Furthermore, they argue that the gun registry has no empirical evidence that it prevents crime and hasn’t turned out to be the useful tool that it was set out to be. The issue needs to be looked at objectively. Guns do not cause crimes, it is people that commit crimes using guns. This issue is not about registering guns, but instead is far more complex, where people’s behavior is at the heart of the solution, not gun registration. Scrapping the registry does not automatically mean there will be an increase in violence and gun use in the country, but one could only predict there would be, far less a greater number of guns. The registry has cost the country over 1 billion dollars, which was originally estimated to cost 2 million dollars.
Stephen Milton, a shop owner in King City, Ontario, that sells rifles and shotguns explains, “We don’t have a gun problem. We have a criminal problem, we have a gang problem, we have problems with people who have no regard for the law whatsoever, and the very people the government wants to control [with the Long Gun Registry] are the people who do have regard for the law.” A month ago, it was a matter of if the seven million guns currently registered would be scrapped. Today, it will happen. This means that the records of non-restricted firearms that are currently documented on the registry, would be erased, meaning law enforcement and the government would have no permanent, central, traceable record of the number of non-restricted firearms in the country. Essentially, gun laws in Canada would revert to a time before 1977. The Harper government’s controversial bill to end the Long Gun Registry passed the House of Commons recently, making the end of a long political battle. The bill passed easily by a margin of 159 to 130 votes, as the Conservatives used their majority in the House to secure passage of the bill. This worries the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police who believes that the registration is a good investment as it reduces the chances that dangerous people will get guns. The association says that they currently check the registry thousands of times a day. They argue that the registry provides an investigative tool, promotes further responsibility and accountability by firearm owners, balances individual privileges and the broader right of society to be safe, prevents stockpiling, and reduces crime.
It appears with scrapping the registry, Canada’s certification process will actually now be less stringent than it is in the United States. Unfortunately, as time passes, we will begin to understand what the consequences and effects are. It is only to be expected that Canada will now struggle to keep track of firearms. The Conservative government has created a fragile nation and many want the “old Canada” back.
While the bill has passed the House of Commons, the next stage is passing the Senate. The bill will without a doubt be passed into law, seeing as the Conservatives also have a majority in the Senate. It must be understood that there are people who strongly held views on the other side. Quebec Public Security Minister Robert Dutil blasted the Harper government for making the elimination of the registry a festive affair. Dutil, along with many Canadians, found this to be deplorable. To go so far as to celebrate is not very adequate for something that people have demonstrated real sensitivity to.
My piece stands to reflect both sides of the highly contentious Long Gun Registry. From the early planning stages of this Political/Social piece, I had a vision working with a toilet, using its characteristics and form to bring forth this social as much as a political issue, as well. Like the Long Gun Registry battle, a toilet is not something that can be ignored. In fact, a toilet is something we are widely familiar with and use on a daily basis. Whether one will agree or not, the registry impacted our daily lives, especially when the idea of scrapping it came to light. As many have felt, the registry has been a waste of money. This idea is reflected in the flushing of a toilet, allowing money to go “down the drain”, never to see it again. Like contents in a toilet, the registry was seen as “wasteful”. To bring about the idea of “money being flushed down the drain”, I have turned the back tank of the toilet into a “piggy bank”, adding a slot large enough for bills and coins. Theoretically, this piece would allow an individual to use it as a personal bank, hiding their saved funds. I feel that as soon as a piece becomes functional and the viewer can physically interact with it, he/she is more likely to understand the overarching message of the piece and fully appreciate its value.
A result of scrapping the registry will no doubt be an increase in gun ownership. However, guns would now be hidden and concealed. To depict this idea, I constructed the clay guns coming out from the toilet bowl, illustrating guns multiplying in number, and perhaps leading to increased crime. Further, to “conceal” them, I have structured the toilet lid half way up, which also illustrates the tension in this battle, as the guns appear to be pushing hard to make their way out. The guns are placed in a disorderly fashion, depicting the messiness of the issue among the sprawled toilet paper. The toilet paper adds commentary to the piece, specially those pieces that are covered in the Firearms Act. Silk screening portions of this act onto clay allow the message to be communicated easier. It addressed whether the registry is worth saving, allowing tears and cracks to form, further touching on the unsure outcomes that would generate when the registry is scrapped. In addition, these broken up portions reflect the “time” aspect to this longtime debate. I decided to keep normal aspects of the toilet, such as the handle to flush and general body to give the piece a good contrast to what I had aimed to accomplish through this metaphoric piece. The almost life size nature generates a greater impact and hits on more of the “realness” to the issue.