Licensing and Registration

Myth: Other countries register guns to fight crime

Fact: In these countries, non-registration rates (people keeping guns without registering them) are high, ranging from 22% as many unregistered as registered (Australia) to 1,500% as many unregistered (Greece). 1

Fact: Most of these laws were enacted in the post World War I period to prevent civil uprisings as had occurred in Russia. A report of “Committee on the Control of Firearms,” written by British Home Office officials in 1918, was the basis for registration in the U.K., Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. 2

Fact: Although restrictions were few in the United States and the number of legally held handguns exceeded those on the Canadian side by a factor of ten, rates of homicide were virtually identical. 3

Fact: Even so, registration does not prevent gun crimes.  In a one week period, a licensed gun owner killed 12 people in England 4 and a Chinese security guard killed three judges in a court building 5 despite complete licensing and registration

Myth: Gun registration works

Fact: Internationally, there is no correlation between registration rates, percent of unregistered weapons, and homicide rates. 6

Fact: Not in California. California has had handgun registration since 1909 7 and it has not had any impact on violent crime rate. 8

Fact: Not in New Zealand. They repealed their gun registration law in the 1980s after police acknowledged its worthlessness. 9

Fact: Not in Australia. One report states, “It seems just to be an elaborate system of arithmetic with no tangible aim. Probably, and with the best of intentions, it may have been thought, that if it were known what firearms each individual in Victoria owned, some form of control may be exercised, and those who were guilty of criminal misuse could be readily identified. This is a fallacy, and has been proven not to be the case.” 10 In addition, cost to Australian taxpayers exceeded $200 million annually. 11

Fact: Not in Canada. More than 20,000 Canadian gun-owners have publicly refused to register their firearms.  Many others (as many as 300,000 12) are silently ignoring the law.

  • The provincial governments of Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba have dumped both the administration and the enforcement of all federal gun-control laws right back into Ottawa’s lap, throwing the Canadian government into a paper civil war.
  • And all at a cost more than 1,646% the original projected cost 13 (the original cost was estimated at 5% of all police expenditures in Canada 14).  “The gun registry as it sits right now is causing law abiding citizens to register their guns but it does nothing to take one illegal gun off the street or to increase any type of penalty for anybody that violates any part of the legislation,” according to Al Koenig, President, Calgary Police Association. 15  “We have an ongoing gun crisis, including firearms-related homicides lately in Toronto, and a law registering firearms has neither deterred these crimes nor helped us solve any of them,” according to Toronto police Chief Julian Fantino. 16
  • The system was so bad that six Canadian provinces (British Columbia, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, Nova Scotia, and Ontario) are refusing to prosecute firearm owners who fail to register. 17
  • A bill to abolish the registry has been tabled (introduced) in the Canadian Parliament, which if passed, would eliminate the registry completely. 18
  • A Saskatchewan MP who endorsed the long gun registry when first proposed has introduced legislation to abolish it stating that, “[the registry] has not saved one life in Canada, and it has been a financial sinkhole … absolutely useless in helping locate the 255,000 people who have been prohibited from owning firearms by the courts.” 19
  • In April, 2012, the Canadian long gun registry was terminated.

Fact: Not in Germany. The Federal Republic of Germany began comprehensive gun registration in 1972. The government estimated that between 17,000,000 and 20,000,000 guns were to be registered, but only 3,200,000 surfaced, leaving 80% unaccounted for. 20

Fact: Not in Boston, Cleveland, or California. These cities and state require registration of “assault weapons.” The compliance rate in Boston and Cleveland is about 1%. 21

Fact: Criminals don’t register their guns, nor are they legally required to do so. 22

Myth: Gun registration will help police find suspects

Fact: Registration is required in Hawaii, Chicago and Washington DC. Yet there has not been a single case where registration was instrumental in identifying someone who committed a crime. 23 Criminals very rarely leave their guns at the scene of the crime. Would-be criminals also virtually never get licenses or register their weapons.

Fact: It may cause police to shoot citizens unnecessarily. “My research into more than a dozen raids that turned out badly is that … the presence of a firearm wires officers into a much higher tendency to shoot. [T]he presence of a legally possessed firearm bought to protect the home may get totally innocent people killed by the police who casually use SWAT for drug search warrants especially if they register.” 24

Myth: Registration does not lead to confiscation

Fact: It did in Canada. The handgun registration law of 1934 was the source used to identify and confiscate (without compensation) over half of the registered handguns in 2001. 25

Fact: It did in Germany. The 1928 Law on Firearms and Ammunition (before the Nazis came into power) required all firearms to be registered. When Hitler came into power, the existing lists were used for confiscating weapons.

Fact: It did in Australia. In 1996, the Australian government confiscated over 660,000 previously legal weapons from their citizens.

Fact: It did in California. The 1989 Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act required registration.  Due to shifting definitions of “assault weapons,” many legal firearms are now being confiscated by the California government.

Fact: It did in New York City. In 1967, New York City passed an ordinance requiring a citizen to obtain a permit to own a rifle or shotgun, which would then be registered.  In 1991, the city passed a ban on the private possession of some semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and “registered” owners were told that those firearms had to be surrendered, rendered inoperable, or taken out of the city.

Fact: It did in Bermuda, Cuba, Greece, Ireland, Jamaica, and Soviet Georgia as well.

Myth: Licensing will keep bad people from obtaining or using guns

Fact: Not in Canada. Canadian homicide rates were virtually unchanged before and after gun registration requirements were implemented (151 per 100,000 people in 1998 and 149 per 100,000 in 2002). 26

Fact: In New York State alone, approximately 100,000 persons are convicted of unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle each year, and this is probably a small proportion of the actual number of people who drive without a valid license. 27 Licensing requirements don’t stop ineligible people from driving, and they do not stop ineligible people from acquiring guns.

Fact: As long as the unlicensed purchaser is never caught with the handgun, the unlawful sale will go unnoticed. The risk of detection is negligible. If the unlicensed handgun owner is arrested, he could claim that he did not need a license because he had owned this handgun before licensing went into effect. 28

Fact: Currently, federal prosecutors do not eagerly accept felon-in-possession cases for prosecution unless the felon is a hardened criminal who represents a threat to the public. 29

Fact: According to the Supreme Court, criminals do not have to obtain licenses or register their weapons, as that would be an act of self-incrimination. 30

Fact: Prohibition (which started as a ‘moderation’ movement) didn’t keep people from drinking. Instead it turned millions of otherwise honest and sober citizens into criminals, overnight.

Fact: Most police do not see the benefit. “It is my belief that [licensing and registration] significantly misses the mark because it diverts our attention from what should be our common goal: holding the true criminals accountable for the crimes they commit and getting them off the street.” 31

Fact: In 2005, agencies reported 1,400 arrests of persons denied a firearm or permit; but the U.S. Department of Justice accepted only 135 of those denial cases for prosecution. 32 Given the poor performance of the Federal government in prosecuting felons identified by an instant background check trying to buy firearms, there is little to support firearm licensing as a crime prevention measure.

Myth: Guns from the U.S. create crime in other countries

Fact: Canada, which shares the longest and most open border with the U.S., doesn’t think so, saying that guns from the U.S. are a “small part” of the problem. 33


Notes:

  1. Small Arms Survey, 2003
  2. Response to Philip Alpers’ submission to the California State Assembly Select Committee on Gun Violence, Steven W. Kendrick, January 2000
  3. American Journal of Epidemiology, Brandon Centrewall, Volume 134, Page 1245-65. Though the rate of homicides as a whole were different, when demographics between the two cities were equalized, the homicide rates matched.
  4. Gun control and ownership laws in the UK, BBC, June 3, 2010
  5. Man shoots dead three judges in China court, Bangkok Post, June 1, 2010
  6. Small Arms Survey, 2003 for registration rates, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, for homicide statistics
  7. In conversation between the author of Gun Facts and a representative of California Department of Justice.
  8. FBI, Uniform Crime Reports, via the Data Online data analysis tool on the website of the Bureau of Justice Statistics.
  9. Background to the Introduction of Firearms User Licensing Instead of Rifle and Shotgun Registration Under the Arms Act 1983 (Wellington, New Zealand: n.p., 1983)
  10. Registration Firearms System, Chief Inspector Newgreen, CRB File 39-1-1385/84
  11. The Failed Experiment: Gun Control and Public Safety in Canada, Australia, England and Wales, Gary Mauser, The Fraser Institute, 2003
  12. Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Evidence number 55, June 5, 2003
  13. Ottawa Under Pressure Over Gun Registry Fiasco, David Ljunggren, Reuters, December 4, 2002
  14. When ‘Gun Control’ costs lives, John Lott, Firing Line, September 2001
  15. Calgary Herald, September 1, 2000
  16. Opponents increase pressure to halt Canada’s gun control program, Associated Press, Jan 3, 2002
  17. Victoria won’t enforce firearms act, Vancouver Sun, June 06, 2003
  18. An Act to amend the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act, Received first reading June 19, 2006
  19. $2 billion worth of police will save more lives than one gun registry, Garry BreitkreuzNational Post, February 27, 2009
  20. Why Gun Registration will Fail, Ted Drane, Australian Shooters Journal, May 1997
  21. The Samurai, the Mountie, and the Cowboy: Should America Adopt the Gun Controls of Other Democracies, David B. Kopel, 231, n.210 (1992)
  22. Haynes vs. U.S. 390 U.S. 85, 1968
  23. Gun Licensing Leads to Increased Crime, Lost Lives, John Lott, L.A. Times, Aug 23, 2000
  24. Joseph McNamara, former San Jose, California police chief, fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution quoted in California Gun Law Paves the Way for Confiscation, Reason, January 2014
  25. Civil Disobedience In Canada: It Just Happened To Be Guns, Dr. Paul Gallant, and Dr. Joanne Eisen,  Idaho Observer, August 2000
  26. Statistics Canada, Oct 1, 2003
  27. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, 1998
  28. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, Northwestern University School of Law, 1998
  29. Old Chief v. United States: Stipulating Away Prosecutorial Accountability, Daniel C. Richman,  83 Va. L. Rev. 939, 982-85 (1997)
  30. Haynes vs. U.S. 390 U.S. 85, 1968
  31. When ‘Gun Control’ costs lives, Bob Brooks, Firing Line, September 2001
  32. Background Checks for Firearm Transfers 2005,U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, November 2006
  33. Globe and Mail, Paul Culver, August 15, 2005