Mr. Speaker, it is strange that we should find ourselves ending the session with an issue that we have talked about here so much for so long, an issue that is very emotional.
There is a definite intensity among those opposed to long gun registration. I am not exactly sure why that is, but I have certainly met my share of people who are fascinated with guns and who think that they are pretty great even though they are not.
Guns are good at just one thing: killing. People use them to kill animals, among other things. Police officers, people who transport large sums of money and people whose lives may be in danger because they protect very valuable goods carry handguns not only to protect themselves, but also to injure or kill others.
Because this is a very emotional subject, people tend to go to extremes. I would not want to fall into that trap. Personally, I think that gun control is the best way to prevent crime. It is also a way to prevent the most dangerous crimes—those that can result in death or serious injury. I think that we can start with a number of premises with which we all agree. Firearms are dangerous. Only responsible people should be allowed to have them. To the extent possible, nobody wants bad guys to have guns, and nobody wants it to be easy for criminals to get them, but we know that is impossible. There will probably always be some criminals who can find a way around the controls we put in place.
We must not become discouraged because it is impossible to implement controls to ensure that criminals cannot get guns. We can still achieve results. We cannot abolish guns entirely, but we can reduce their numbers. That is why it makes sense to look elsewhere in the world to see if other countries and other legislators have gone through what we are going through.
I think that the majority of civilized countries whose homicide rates are similar to ours also have comparable incarceration rates. But there is one—our neighbour—that has an extremely high incarceration rate. It is six times higher than ours and three, four, five or even ten times higher than the incarceration rates of some Scandinavian countries. Does its high incarceration rate get results when it comes to homicides? Not at all. On the contrary, it has the highest homicide rate in the world. So putting more people in prison and leaving more guns in circulation is not the best way to go. We also tend to register dangerous objects that were not created for killing, but that can be a danger. We register vehicles, large and small. We even register snowmobiles and scooters.
I wondered why we register automobiles. Some think that it is so the government can collect fees. If the government really wanted to make money off drivers, the easiest and cheapest solution would be to increase the tax on gas. It is true that the government may use this as a source of funding. In Quebec, when people register vehicles, the government collects an insurance premium that compensates motor vehicle accident victims. However, I think we started registering vehicles because they can hurt people.
People who had injured someone and who had probably been negligent tended to leave the scene if the car could not be traced. Thus, it became mandatory to display licences on automobiles.
At present, we have a somewhat ridiculous situation where duck hunters object to registering their guns that kill, but they get into a boat that has a registration number. When they hunt in the winter, they travel by registered snowmobile, but they absolutely do not want to register their rifles. What is more dangerous, a snowmobile or a rifle? Do they own the boat or the rifle?
In addition, I sometimes believe that the Conservatives are not as mean as they would have us believe. They recognize that these guns are not used solely for sport, as long guns are. However, handguns—guns that can be used with only one hand—should continue to be registered. And they have been since 1934, which allows us to compare our experience with that of our neighbours to the south.
Everyone knows that weapons circulate very freely in the U.S. Yet, those who commit crimes with weapons are for the most part punished very severely. What is the result? The homicide rate in the United States is three times higher than in Canada.
People will say that it is criminals who kill and so forth. At some point, I would like to have the definition of a criminal. The Conservatives talk about them as though they are people who have chosen to lead a criminal life. But they are not the only ones who kill.
People kill for all sorts of reasons. They kill out of passion, revenge or jealousy. Very often individuals who do not really have a criminal past are found guilty of murder. Some have a criminal past and others do not. Easy access to weapons, the availability of weapons, is an important factor in the increase in the homicide rate. The best evidence is that your chance of being a murder victim is three times higher in the United States. Unfortunately, women are five times more likely to be victims of murder in the United States, probably because of marital strife.
When we look at it, these numbers are rather substantial. Incarceration rates are six times higher in the United States and homicide rates are three times higher. Ask any educated, well-informed American who is not a member of the National Rifle Association why their homicide rate is so much higher than ours and they will tell you that it is due to the fact that firearms are so easy to acquire in that country.
I did not bring the statistics with me today, because I did not have a great deal of warning. However, I have been a part of this debate for quite some time and I often hear things that, in my opinion, prove the opposite of what they claim.
For instance, regarding the very high homicide rates in the United States, the Conservatives pointed out that, in nicer neighbourhoods, in comparable neighbourhoods, such as the Seattle suburbs and the Vancouver suburbs, the homicide rate is more or less the same. I agree and I am not surprised, because people who have similar levels of education are likely to have a similar sense of responsibility. But if we look at the United States as a whole, if comparable neighbourhoods with similar education levels have the same homicide rate, that means that in other areas of the United States, the homicide rate must be extremely high. Firearms are easily accessible in those places, too.
Based on the U.S. experience, everyone thinks there should be gun control. T what barrel length should be start controlling guns and at what length should we stop? People involved in crime want to use guns, but then some of the people who have a fascination with guns—something I have never really understood—are not criminals. Nonetheless, generally speaking, criminals have a fascination with guns for a criminal purpose. This includes all kinds of criminals, crooks for example. Criminals who have a fascination with guns want to perpetrate violence. The easier it is to get guns, the sooner they will start to use them. Those are the general conclusions we draw from the difference between us and the Americans.
I have always wondered why people would buy a rifle and saw off the barrel. The reason is simple: they want to hide it. It is easier to carry a rifle that is inconspicuous when one wants to rob a bank. That is why they saw off the barrel. By doing so, they are cutting off the difference in price between a handgun and a rifle.
Criminals were sawing off shotguns—so much so that a specific offence was created for this—because they were having a hard time getting revolvers. Revolvers and handguns were registered. Accordingly, the sale of these weapons was better controlled. It cost more to get them on the black market. And since hunting rifles were not controlled, a person could buy one, saw off the barrel and have a weapon that could be concealed until it was needed in a bank robbery. I fear we may end up back in that situation.
Then people bring up another statistic, which was actually used this afternoon to prove two opposing notions. Fewer than 2% of firearms related homicides in Canada are committed with registered firearms, which proves that the system does not work. That sounds strange to me, because I would tend to believe that it proves that the system does work. It proves that people who register their weapons are responsible. The primary purpose of the gun control program is to ensure that only responsible people have access to firearms and to encourage them to keep these items safely locked up, as they have been taught to do, and never to give in to the temptation to sell them to someone who does not have the right to buy them.
In the context of the gun control system, registration may not eliminate homicide altogether, but it is a vital tool to lower the homicide rate significantly.
There are cases where registration is essential to facilitating the application of the law, such as when a judge issues an order to surrender firearms. It is important for police officers to know which firearms to seize, which is easier when they are registered. The Montreal police brotherhood, which came to one of our press conferences, told us about a striking case. A woman was afraid of her husband, who had a lot of guns. She knew that he had guns, but she did not know how many. The marriage was going badly, and there was some danger of violence erupting, so they went to a judge. The judge issued an order to seize the firearms. As I recall, there were over 280 of them. The police did not leave until they had found all 280 registered weapons. As you can see, registration was vital in that case.
There are other cases where registration is useful.
These judges' orders are issued in cases where spousal abuse may be a concern and where someone has suicidal tendencies. The judge may issue an order. That is why all suicide prevention organizations are asking that the gun registry be maintained. If an order can be obtained, the authorities know what weapon to look for because the weapon is registered.
Of the 480 or so murders committed last year, two were committed with registered weapons by Kimveer Gill, in the Dawson College tragedy. Some claimed that the firearm registration system did not work because the weapon used was registered. The Dawson College tragedy could perhaps have been prevented. Just after this incident, another tragedy was averted and it received a great deal of publicity. It was obvious from his website that this individual should never have owned weapons. That was not known at first.
Some individuals found a site in Hudson and believing him to be dangerous, reported the author. The police looked into the matter and realized that the individual had registered firearms in his possession. The police went to court, obtained an order and retrieved the weapons. That is why I am proposing a reporting site.
In the case of Kimveer Gill, had this reporting site been operational and if, by chance, someone had seen Gill's site, the police could have determined if he had registered weapons. Thus the police could have retrieved the weapons and a tragedy would have been prevented. The registration of weapons can be useful.
This can produce results. It seems to me that the American experience, when compared to that of Canada and other countries, clearly shows that the fewer weapons are in circulation, the fewer homicides take place. The safest country in the world is Japan, where there is absolute gun control. Only police officers and registered hunters have the right to purchase firearms. The homicide rate is even lower than that of Canada.
This debate shows that there is some emotion attached to firearms, and that disturbs me. The rational attitude is obvious. People do not want the government to register things, but my goodness, so many things are registered. Cars, boats, bicycles, dogs and cats are all registered. What is so wrong about registering something that can kill?
Firearm registration is important because we do not want firearms to easily find their way into the hands of irresponsible people. Currently, when a person sells or gives a registered firearm to someone else, they must go to the registry office. We take care of our firearms and ensure that they are always under control.
I know that some people want to keep the provision that prohibits selling a firearm to someone without a permit. However, this is not verified. It can also happen through carelessness.
So this leaves the door open to organized crime. If a group member has a permit, he can purchase unregistered firearms and then supply his group. I will remind the House that there are no savings. What was expensive was the computer system.
We are keeping this computer system since the Conservatives want to keep it for handguns. A computer system that would register 30%, 40% or probably even 100% more transactions would be pretty much the same computer system. There are no savings, obviously. There was an amnesty, but no savings. This is why I think we should keep the gun registry.