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On guns and numbers

August 20, 2010

Sometimes stories don’t make it into the papers. For good reasons.

Photo by Akash_Kurdekar (flickr cc)

Earlier this week, I worked on a story about the gun registry. We received an interesting news release touting an Edmonton police officer whose informal survey showed that 92 per cent of police officers don’t support the registry, running counter to virtually all official policing organizations in the country.

My interview with the officer was enjoyable: a super friendly cop with lots of policing experience (11 years patrolling + 11 years in criminal investigations) and an opinion on gun registration. He acknowledged other perspectives and offered no conspiracy theories. The only problem was his survey — it more closely resembled an online poll than it did representative data. While working on the story mid-afternoon, I was unable to get a voice adequately countering his perspective. We ultimately decided not to run the story, though I thought it might deserve a place here.

********

Late last spring, Edmonton police Const. Randy Kuntz decided to test a hunch.

Kuntz, a former patrolling officer who now works in criminal investigations at Edmonton’s southwest division, wondered about how many police officers supported gun registration.

Photo by Colchu (flickr cc)

Kuntz only expected 200 replied, but gathered 2,631 responses from every province and territory in Canada over a fourteen-month period. Roughly 92 per cent – 2,410 – of respondents responded negatively.

Kuntz admits the results are less than rigorous, but says the results match his policing experience.

“It’s about as unscientific as one can get,” said Kuntz. “But pretty soon it started looking like a lot of guys don’t agree with the system, which is contradictory to what the association of chiefs of police are saying.”

The survey results come in the midst of a political debate over the effectiveness of the long-gun registry. On Wednesday, RCMP Chief Supt. Marty Cheliak, a vocal supporter of the registry, was replaced and placed on leave from the national police force. The move to replace Cheliak has drawn widespread criticism, coming just a few weeks before Parliament is set to debate a Conservative private member’s bill to scrap it.

Cheliak was actually slated to appear in Edmonton on Monday at the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police Conference as one of three presenters on a national firearms strategy. While the session will still take place, Cheliak won’t be there.

The embattled long-gun registry has received overwhelming support from the policing community, including the chiefs of police, the  Canadian Police Association, and the Canadian Association of Police Boards. A joint statement by the organizations released in May notes the database costs only $4.1 million to operate and helps police in investigations and court proceedings. The registry was accessed over four million times last year.

For Kuntz, the timing of the survey results is not so much about the politics but about the effectiveness of the registry on the pavement. Kuntz’s beef is that the registry doesn’t account for the actual location of weapons. A registered gun owner, he says, can legally lend his weapon to anyone with a valid license for the firearm.

Kuntz has only accessed the registry once in his entire career, when someone wanted to donate a gun, and worries about young officers might might gain a false sense of security from the database.

“As far of the actual use it gets, it’s kind of useless,” said Kuntz. “It’s kind of like the TV channel around Christmas where they show burning logs in the fire.”

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