Madam Speaker, I will be splitting my time with the member for Scarborough East.
I am pleased to join the discussion on gun control. My view is that it is good public policy that has been handled badly from a financial point of view. I deplore that, as I tried to express to my colleague. The fact of the matter is that we do have a system which although it is incomplete, is up and running and is already producing and has been producing valuable results for some years. Those results will be even more valuable once the program is complete.
Like all good public policy, this policy was designed to address a very serious problem, one which is still with us. It can be quite simply expressed.
During the 25 years beginning in 1974, which is the most recent quarter century, 40,030 people died from gun injuries in Canada. During the same time, roughly 1,000 a year were injured. To give a sense of that, in 1997-98, 767 people were injured by guns in Canada.
If we add the injured and the dead together over the 25 years, it amounts to more 66,000 people, more than the population of the city of Peterborough which I very proudly represent with the county of Peterborough. That represents three dead and two injured today as we speak. I am assuming today is an average day. Three will die and two will be wounded from guns today. That applies seven days a week, 365 days a year.
That is the public policy. These were not people who were shot or wounded in variety store or bank holdups. This is a matter of domestic violence across the country. That is the problem which this particular legislation addresses.
To do it, under gun control, there is a two part system. There is the licensing of the gun owners and the registration of the guns. My colleague opposite, even though he is the chair of the public accounts committee and knows better, tried to suggest that all the cost involved in the program goes to the registration. That is not the case.
The opposition, it seems to me, all support the licensing of gun owners and $2 out of every $3 that we are talking about is in fact to do with the licensing and $1 out of every $3, and I agree it has been too high, in the first 10 years of the cost of the program, is projected to be for registration.
Let us think about the licensing which it seems to me the members support. Licensing is like licensing people to drive cars. It is a program that screens people who, because of mental instability, a criminal record or something of the sort should not own guns. It also trains people in the use of guns, the same way that we train people to drive cars. It is working. The opposition loves it and seems to think it is worth $2 out of the $3 being spent on the program.
Almost two million gun owners are now licensed. Between them they own well over five million guns. Under screening, 7,000 firearms licences have been revoked. That was over a period of five years only. That is 50 times more than were revoked through screening in the previous five years. Also as a result of licensing, 29,000 people are now prohibited from owning firearms as compared with only 15,000 just a few years ago. Licensing works.
To summarize, rigorously screening and licensing firearms owners reduces the risk for those who pose a threat to themselves and others. As I mentioned, already there is evidence that the system has been effective in preventing people who should not have them from having guns. Licensing of firearms owners also discourages casual gun ownership. Owning a firearm is a big responsibility and licensing is a reasonable requirement. While not penalizing responsible firearms owners, licensing encourages people to get rid of unwanted weapons and the like. That is one side of the program.
The analogy is between having a chain with a padlock and a key. With a chain and a padlock, one can close a farm gate without locking it. In this case the key to locking the farm gate is registration. There are two things. The licensing is ineffective without the registration and the registration is ineffective without the licensing.
In terms of the registration, let me give some sense of this because some colleagues keep saying that it is the gun registration program that they are against, not gun control.
Registration increases the accountability of firearms owners by linking the firearm to the owner. This encourages owners to abide by safe storage laws and compels owners to report firearms thefts where storage may not have been a contributing factor. Safe storage of firearms reduces firearms in the black market, break-ins and so on. It reduces unauthorized use of firearms, heat of the moment use of firearms and accidents, particularly involving children. Registration changes the behaviour of the owners.
Registration provides valuable ownership information for law enforcements, the police, for example, approaching a home for any circumstance. There have been many concrete examples of police officers finding registration to be valuable already. They use it because it is tied in with CPIC, 2,000 times a day, .7 second response time. They find it very valuable and they support it.
Now the police never rely entirely on information contained in the registry, partly because it is still incomplete; it is working but it is incomplete. It is helpful to know whether firearms may be present when they receive a call for domestic violence or something of that type.
Registration facilitates proof of possession of stolen and smuggled firearms and aids in prosecution of those matters. Previously, it was very difficult to prove possession of illegal rifles and shotguns. Before this legislation came in, if I was a licensed owner, driving down the 401 in my pickup and I had 100 shotguns in the back, the police could stop me and ask whose guns they were. If I said they were mine, they would ask if I was a licensed gun owner. If I said yes, the police would say, “Very good. Carry on with this pickup full of shotguns”.
Now if the police had caught me coming over the border to the 401, they would have thrown me in jail for life. However, as long as I was licensed, before this legislation came into effect, I could have piles of shotguns in the back of my pickup. Therefore registration is extremely valuable in tying the owner to the gun. Registration allows police officers to follow up on thefts and things like that and to track the guns back to the registered owner.
Registration is critical in enforcing licensing. Without registration, believe it or not, there would be nothing to prevent a licensed gun owner from selling an unregistered weapon to an unlicensed individual. I could own, as a licensed gun owner, 1,000 guns. I could give 30 of them to my neighbour who had been turned down for a licence and no one would ever know that those 30 guns belonged to me.
Illegal guns start off as legal guns. Registration helps to prevent the transition from legal to illegal ownership and helps to identify where the transition to illegal ownership occurs.
My general point is that we do have a good program, which has been too expensive I do admit. However it is one which is already clearly producing results.
If we look at the gun crime figures of all sorts in the last 25 or 30 years, we will discover that in Canada there has been a steady decline in most of them throughout that time. However there are only two periods in that time when there was a marked rapid reduction. One was in the middle and late 1970s, following the last major gun control legislation, which most people appeared to think was very good. The second was, extraordinarily enough because it is still incomplete, in the late 1990s and the first part of this century. In that time there has been a marked decline in virtually all gun crimes, in gun thefts, in gun injuries and in gun murders and gun deaths of all sorts.
Colleagues should listen carefully to this. For the first time in the last years of that decade, handgun murders exceeded long gun murders in Canada. This had never occurred before in history. This legislation is aimed at long guns. It is not aimed at taking guns away from legitimate owners. It is aimed--