I’m the sort of person that shouldn’t really like the gun registry. I’m a gunowner. I’m a hunter. I generally dislike the idea of the government having a ton of information about me unless there’s a good reason. I don’t like wasteful spending. In short, I’m a bit of a redneck.
For a long time I’ve been firmly against the gun registry. It cost a whole bunch of money ($2 billion apparently) and doesn’t really do that much; after all, most people using guns for crimes aren’t registering them, because…well…they’re criminals. It seems like there are only a few uses for a gun registry: compiling ownership statistics, making law enforcement more careful when entering residences with many registered firearms, and finding out where a stolen registered firearm was stolen from. Sure, it isn’t nothing, but it isn’t $2 billion worth of effectiveness either.
With the benefit of hindsight, I really doubt there are many people who would say this was worth $2 billion. But that isn’t the question anymore. In the language of economics, that $2 billion is what we call a sunk cost. In the language of normal humans, that $2 billion is what we call “you can’t change the past.” A rational policymaker doesn’t care about things that can’t be changed, only things that can. What matters to the future of the gun registry is what it costs right now, and right now that isn’t something that’s totally clear.
Recent news reports (CBC, National Post) have stated the cost at between about $1 and $4 million per year. The $1-3 million range appears to come from a recent RCMP audit (PDF), while the $4 million appears to come from statements by Toronto Police Chief William Blair and possibly the audit report as well. If we actually take a look at the RCMP audit, it does indeed make mention of a $1-3 million range.
“This serves to validate the rationale given in 2006 for moving the CFP [Canadian Firearms Program] to the RCMP, with a $10 million reduction in the overall budget. An exercise that was recently completed to separate out the costs of registration from its supportive link with licensing has demonstrated that portions of the program are actually operating at a much lower cost program than first presumed, even by the RCMP itself. For instance, the gun registration portion of the CFP has been determined, by independent sources, in terms of cost savings to the CFP, at a range of $1.195-$3.65 million for the initial year, and subsequent years will range from $1.57-$4.03 million depending on the classification certification that will still be required.”
Not the clearest paragraph ever written. It looks like it could either mean:
- of the $10 million saved for the entire CFP, $1-4 million is savings from the registration program, or
- registration costs $1-4 million per year
Elsewhere (p. 13) in the same audit report, we find a cost breakdown of the CFP program for 2008/2009. This lists total program spending at $86.5 million, a number which was incorrectly cited by the Montreal Gazette as the cost of registration alone. This is broken down into non-registration costs of $48.4 million, registration costs of $22.3 million, and contribution (provincial transfer) costs of $15.8 million. So the registry either costs $4 million or $22 million. I really have no idea which.
Here’s where my possible flip-flop comes in. Having experienced the registry as a gunowner, it’s not that onerous at all. You buy a new rifle, the vendor sends in all the forms, you get a certificate from the RCMP to throw in a drawer. That’s it. Gunowners don’t actually need to do anything. Even transferring a firearm between two people takes about 10 minutes on the phone with a very nice customer service rep. Neither of these cost anything. So as long as I can still own guns, I don’t care about registering them. What I do care about is cost.
Bottom line: if it’s $4 million, we might as well keep it. If it’s $22 million or more, maybe we should look at scrapping it and putting the savings into clear writing courses for the RCMP.
– Brent Barron