Thursday, August 26, 2010

CBC News - Canada - Long-gun registry efficient: RCMP report

This story -- Long-gun registry efficient: RCMP report -- on CBC online continues to describe the sage of the "long-barrel gun registry." I have some views on this because I think the whole consideration of this issue has become so politicized that it is approaching the point of not making sense. I could be right or wrong. Indeed, I often am wrong and this blog is a think place and not a place of scholarship. So, if you disagree with me, let me know.

First, the gun registry is about gun control. One can like or dislike gun control but let us correctly situate consideration of this issue. Gun control is about social safety. It is not about stopping hunters. That is another debate. For the record, I don't own any guns. Members of my family do. Members of my family have hunted, gone target shooting, and close friends of mine are avid hunters. Indeed, I look forward to one friend's annual hunting expeditions because it brings him by Sackville where I live and gives us a chance to get caught up. My point is this: gun control is not about hating firearms. One might hate firearms. Fair enough. I'm not in love with them. But gun control is about something else. It is about making society safer and about ensuring that the police have more information before they into a potentially violent situation.

Second, gun control does not always work. Those who oppose gun control use this as an argument against it. I think this is just plane dumb. Not everything works all the time. Do we stop doing something because it does not work? Do I stop cooking supper because one burner on my stove didn't work? Or, do I move because my overuse of electrical appliances tripped a breaker? The fact that something is not perfect does not mean that it is not useful or that it is not better then what came before it. A gun registry gives, for instance, police more information; it does not give them perfect information. Should we deprive the police of potentially important information because that information is not foolproof?

Third, too much of the debate about gun control in Canada uses a discourse brought in from the US. I shudder every time I hear some opponent of gun control using an American tag line "guns don't kill people" or "put the criminals in jail not the innocent." The US, as I've pointed out a number of times, is a different country. What applies there does not apply here and vice versa. We have different issues with regard to crime, a different police structure, and a different culture. Let us have a Canadian discussion of this issue and not one that just adopts an American perspective without thinking about it.

Fourth, have you noticed that the discourse of gun control has changed in Canada. In fact, most people no longer talk about gun control, even its opponents. Instead, they talk about things like eliminating the "long barrel gun registry." I have no evidence of this but I suspect that this shift in discourse is intentional. I suspect that because gun control is supported by the Canadian population, those who oppose gun control gave up using that discourse and tried to find something less innocuous. Eliminating a "long-barrel" "gun registry" just sounds different from cutting back on gun control.

Fifth, Canada is not unusual in having gun control. Most countries do and the countries to which we most frequently compare ourselves -- with the exception of the US -- have it. In other words, gun control is not some radical idea of flaming lefties. It is a moderate position adopted by most OECD countries and supported by ordinary middle class people both in Canada and in those countries. The US is the outlier.

Sixth, the police like control and gun registry. CBC radio did their best the other night to make this issue look like a matter of controversy among the police. I was, in fact, shocked by the horrible job of their reporting on it. The reporter -- whose name eludes me -- passed over official support from the police chiefs association and the RCMP (see story linked above) and the government's own officials in order to move to the opponents of gun control. They could find two people: one -- that is right one -- police chief and one person identified as a constable who had conducted an "informal on-line poll" of other police officers. The effect of the story was to say that rank and file police officers don't agree with their chiefs. Now, think about this. An "informal" "online poll" done by a known opponent of gun control as treated by Canada's national broadcaster -- or, at least this particular reporter -- as a serious piece of evidence. How many people participated in the poll? What controls were used? What were the questions asked? Were they leading questions? What sampling technique was used?

You can guess the answers to these questions. This is the type of data that would earn an introductory level student an F in one of my courses (or, any course I know of) and the reporting on it might earn something lower then an F! And, yet, the reporter spent most of his time talking about this one chief and this one constable and his poll as if it were solid evidence. No other evidence was mentioned in the report at all.

Which leads me to my final point. Data is important. If we are going to have a serious discussion of this issue we can't have Americanesque tag lines and ideology parading as authoritative. The RCMP thinks that the registry is efficient and effective. So ... the folks in charge of law enforcement like this particular law. One might think a law and order government -- if they were truly committed to law and order -- would be supportive of its police officers, wouldn't one?
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