Registed Nurses' Association of Ontario

Newsroom

Open Letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper: Save Lives, Keep the Gun Registry!

2010-09-09

The Right Honourable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

 September 8, 2010

 Dear Prime Minister,

Ontario's registered nurses are leaders in their communities from one corner of the province to the other. They practise in hospitals, long-term care homes, community-based clinics, home care and with those who live on our streets. Nurses teach in our colleges and universities, provide primary care on remote First Nations' communities, and continue to be the backbone of their communities long after they retire. They reflect the rich diversity of Ontario. For nurses, the gun registry is not a north/south or rural/urban issue. It's a health issue. The gun registry is proven to save lives. That's why nurses from one corner of the province to the other say to you "Save Lives, Keep the Gun Registry!"

Even sceptics now acknowledge that the gun registry is working. New research overwhelmingly supports maintaining the registry. It helps our police officers and is a vital tool for public safety, especially when officers are called to respond to domestic violence situations - knowing there is a gun in the home before entering can help police save lives. In its evaluation of the gun registry, the RCMP concluded that the registry is "an appropriate approach to promoting the public safety and security of Canadians" and that there is an ongoing need to regulate the use of the 6.6 million nonrestricted firearms (long guns) and 0.5 million restricted firearms (mostly handguns) in Canada.(1)

As a "useful tool for law enforcement", the registry is credited by the RCMP as providing:

    -  Officer safety: It ensures police are better equipped to respond to,
       for example, a situation of domestic violence, assess potential safety
       risks and confirm the possible presence of firearms.

    -  Investigative support: (tracing firearms, Affidavits to support
       prosecutions) If stolen, knowing the source of the firearm provides
       police with a valuable starting point for their investigation.

    -  Improved public safety: (seizure of firearms in situations of domestic
       or mental health breakdown).(2)

The RCMP study also concluded that the registry has saved lives and reduced firearm-related harm. A notable decrease in firearm deaths, 12 per cent in Canada between 2001 and 2004 is attributed to the gun registry. Spousal homicide rates have declined significantly, particularly with respect to long guns.(3) Suicides, mostly inflicted by long guns, were the principal causes of death (about 79 per cent) in 2001, and these declined to 76 per cent in 2004. Homicides rose by three per cent over the same period, from 19 to 22 per cent. Long guns had been used in 72 per cent of the firearm deaths in 2001, decreasing to 69 per cent of deaths by 2004. Handguns were used in 25 per cent of the deaths in 2001, and this increased to 26 per cent in 2004. Handgun use is more reflective of larger urban centres, but outside of larger urban centres and in cities and towns of less than 100,000 population the firearm of choice is mostly the long gun. In fact, of the 16 police officer shooting deaths since 1998, 14 involved use of a long gun.(4) It is certainly not only handguns that kill people.

In a survey of users, the RCMP reports that 81 per cent of trained police officers agreed that the registry has proven beneficial in their investigations.(5) Every day, police across Canada access the registry an average of 11,076 times.(6)

Contrary to the general impression shared by many Canadians that the registry is an expensive multibillion dollar boondoggle, the RCMP evaluation found that the registry is now operating in a "cost effective and efficient manner".(7) Following significant problems and cost overruns in its implementation,(8) the registry was transferred to the RCMP in 2006 with remarkable positive results. Currently, the gun registry is running at an annual cost of about four million dollars(9) - a relatively modest sum for a government program.

The RNAO joins an impressive array of police, health and community groups that see the gun registry as essential to health and community safety. They include: the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police (CACP); Canadian Police Association (CPA); Canadian Association of Police Boards (CAPB); Canadian Public Health Association; Canadian Federation of Nurses Unions; Canadian Association of Emergency Physicians; Canadian Paediatric Society; Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists; Trauma Association of Canada, YWCA of Canada; and the Canadian Labour Congress.(10) A joint statement from the CACP, CPA and CAPB reinforced the strength of police support for the registry: 

        "We believe that the national firearms registry is a valuable system
        that helps police services across Canada in ensuring community
        safety…At $4 million per year to operate, the long gun portion of the
        registry is cost-effective, with benefits to all provinces and
        territories. It is in everyone's interest to maintain this registry."
        (11)

So why does the gun registry continue to divide Canadians in the face of such overwhelming evidence that it saves lives? No doubt it has become a political "wedge" in politically highly-charged times. What the RCMP study tells us is that it is time for all our leaders to take a step back and reevaluate the gun registry through the lens of best evidence and what is necessary for health and safety, not what might give temporary political advantage.

There is no doubt that the gun registry is not the end of the matter. We must also do a better job of removing handguns from our urban communities and stopping the flow of illegal and unregistered firearms over the border.(12) But the registry is an excellent start. Nurses say rather than tearing apart something that works, let's build on its success and have a national discussion on how we can improve safety for all Canadians.

Mr. Prime Minister, Ontario's registered nurses strongly urge you to follow the advice of the RCMP, police chiefs and police officers across the country and maintain the gun registry. We look forward to working with the government to ensure all Canadians can feel safe in their homes, on their streets and in their workplaces.

With kind regards, 

    David McNeil, RN, BScN, MHA, CHE President, RNAO                     
    Doris Grinspun, RN, MSN, PhD, O.ONT. Executive Director, RNAO

    Copy to

    David Sweet MP
    Patrick Brown MP
    Phil McColeman MP
    Larry Miller MP
    Mike Wallace MP
    Gary Goodyear MP
    Gordon O'Connor MP
    Dave Van Kesteren MP
    David Tilson MP
    Bev Oda MP
    Joe Preston MP
    Jeff Watson MP
    Pierre Lemieux MP
    Diane Finley MP
    Barry Devolin MP
    Lisa Raitt MP
    Ben Lobb MP
    Greg Rickford MP
    Harold Albrecht MP
    Peter Braid MP
    Stephen Woodworth MP
    Bev Shipley MP
    Scott Reid MP
    Gord Brown MP
    Ed Holder MP
    Bob Dechert MP
    Pierre Poilievre MP
    Lois Brown MP
    Robert Nicholson MP
    Dean Allison MP
    Rick Norlock MP
    Paul Calandra MP
    Terence Young MP
    Colin Carrie MP
    Royal Galipeau MP
    John Baird MP
    Dave MacKenzie MP
    Tony Clement MP
    Gary Schellenberger MP
    Dean Del Mastro MP
    Daryl Kramp MP
    Cheryl Gallant MP
    Patricia Davidson MP
    Bruce Stanton MP
    Richard Dykstra MP
    Guy Lauzon MP
    Peter Kent MP
    Michael Chong MP
    Jim Flaherty MP
    Peter Van Loan MP


    -------------------------
    (1) RCMP. (February 2010). RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: Program
    Evaluation. Author. 17.
    (2) Ibid. 17-18.
    (3) RCMP. (February 2010). RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: Program
    Evaluation. Author. 21.
    (4) Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police
    Association, Canadian Association of Police Boards. (2010). Top 10 Myths
    about the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). Author. Retrieved September 7,
    2010, from http://www.truthsand myths.ca/top-10-myths.html.
    (5) RCMP. (February 2010). RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: Program
    Evaluation. Author.28.
    (6) Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police
    Association, Canadian Association of Police Boards. (2010). Top 10 Myths
    about the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). Author. Retrieved September 7,
    2010, from http://www.truthsand myths.ca/top-10-myths.html.
    (7) RCMP. (February 2010). RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: Program
    Evaluation. Author. 53.
    (8) Ibid. 54.
    (9) Ibid. 54.
    (10) Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police, Canadian Police
    Association, Canadian Association of Police Boards. (2010). Top 10 Myths
    about the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). Author. Retrieved September 7,
    2010, from http://www.truthsand myths.ca/top-10-myths.html.
    (11) Ibid.
    (12) RCMP. (February 2010). RCMP Canadian Firearms Program: Program
    Evaluation. Author. 69.

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