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ATIP-A-2004-0016 Access to Information Printout

The Access to Information printout is a very interesting document. Garry Breitkreuz, Member of Parliament, asked for:

Copies of reports showing from December 1, 1998, to present:

  1. The total number of individuals that have registered firearms;
  2. the total number of individuals that still have to register their firearms;
  3. the total number of individuals that have re-registered firearms;
  4. the total number of individuals that still have to re-register or dispose of their firearms;
  5. the total number f firearms registered including a breakdown of non-restricted, restricted and prohibited;
  6. the total number of firearms that still have to be registered;
  7. the total number of firearms re-registered;
  8. the total number of firearms still to be re-registered;
  9. the total number of Applications to register and Re-register in processing and backlogged;
  10. the total number of firearms registered to museums, to public agencies and in dealer inventories; and
  11. the total number of firearms brought into Canada by foreign visitors and the total number of firearms taken out of Canada when the visitors left Canada.


All of the above questions were answered on one side of one sheet of 8-1/2″ x 11″ paper, with this statement: “This completes our processing of your request. If you have questions concerning the above, do not hesitate to contact Josee Roy at (613)946-1570.”The single sheet of paper is actually quite revealing.

The “Number of firearm licence holders” is shown as 1,968,163 as of 03 Jan 2004.

The “Number of licence holders with registered guns” is shown as 1,561,329 as of 20 Jul 2004.

The “Number of licence holders still to register” is shown as 406,834.

1,968,163 – 1,56I,329 = 406,834. Their calculation indicates a belief that the numbers of “firearm licence holders” remained steady at 1,968,163 from “03 Jan 2004” to “20 Jul 2004” — which seems unlikely.

“Total number of firearms re-registered” (handguns, mostly) is shown as 523,004.

“Total number of firearms still to be re-registered” is shown as 619,627.

Adding 523,004 and 619,627 comes to a total of 1,142,631 — fairly close to the oft-repeated estimate of 1,250,000 firearms registered on the old “green paper” system. However, as of 09 Jan 2001, they were estimating that only 600,000 of those 1,250,000 would be re-registered. The rest were non-existent ‘ghost guns’ and ‘gone guns’.

A ‘ghost gun’ is created when the registry issues a registration certificate to a buyer, but does not delete the registration certificate for the same firearm from the seller’s file. The Registry does this with monotonous regularity, for a number of technical reasons that the NFA can and will explain to anyone who asks.

There is no known way to tell a ‘ghost gun’ from a real gun by looking at registration certificates or at Registry data base information.

A registration certificate seems to say that ‘this firearm’ is owned by ‘this person’ and is located at “this place.’

A ‘gone gun’ is created when a firearm owner moves, emigrates, or dies without telling the Registry that he has done so. If ‘this person’ is no longer at ‘this place,’ the registration certificate no longer points to the firearm. That firearm could be anywhere — in Canada, out of Canada, in existence, or destroyed. The registration certificate has become essentially meaningless.

About 1,250,000 firearms were registered, but, according to the Registry’s 09 Jan 2001 estimate, 650,000 (52 per cent) of them had become ‘ghost guns’ or ‘gone guns’ by 31 Dec 2002, when all green-paper registration certificates expired. That meant, according to the estimates, that only 600,000 would be presented for re-registration. In fact, only 523,004 have actually been presented for re-registration since it became mandatory on 31 Dec 2002.

This current information, sent out as a response to an ATI request, is interesting. The documents indicate that the total number of firearms to be re-registered is 1,250,000 — apparently an attempt to indicate that the green paper registration system was accurate, and was not riddled with ‘ghost guns’ and ‘gone guns.’

The “total number of firearms re-registered” (523,004) and “total number of firearms still to be re-registered” (619,627) figures indicate that the “600,000 to be re-registered” figure of 09 Jan 2001 was fairly accurate, and that the current “619,627 to be re-registered” figure is very, very wrong. It is apparently merely a last attempt to claim that the Registry’s “1,250,000” figure, spread about for so long as the “number of registered firearms in Canada,” had been seriously in error for decades.

The rate at which overdue applications to re-register are coming in indicates that there will not be many more coming.

Because the accuracy of the Registry’s figures and data base contents have never been checked, annual ‘ghost gun’ and ‘gone gun’ errors have been accumulating since 1934. It is hardly surprising that over half of the firearms shown to be registered by the green paper system (which came into use in the late 1950s) did not, in fact, exist.

These two errors — ‘ghost guns’ and ‘gone guns’ exist in every firearms registration system’s data base. They accumulate, because there is no known way to detect them, or to eliminate them from the data base. As a result, every known system of firearms registration accumulates these errors, year by year, and the data base becomes more and more inaccurate every year — because they are in it.

These types of errors cannot be detected by looking at the records in the data base. A ‘ghost gun’ record, a ‘gone gun’ record, and a real gun record are identical in form, and all appear to be equally accurate.

The only known way to check for ‘ghost guns’ and ‘gone guns’ is to send someone to the address shown on the record and ask to see the person and the firearm. Unfortunately, that is prohibitively expensive, so Canada has never done it and probably never will.

The problem first came to light in 1945. In 1939, new legislation required the re-registration in every fifth year, beginning in 1940. The 1945 re-registration caused consternation, because 20 per cent of all registered firearms had disappeared, and were not brought in for re-registration. The same thing was about to happen again in 1950, but the government reacted in time. It made registration permanent, and ended the requirement to re-register at intervals. The problem did not go away, but it became invisible until the green registration certificates were forced to expire, by the 1995 legislation, on 31 Dec 2002. Re-registration became necessary, and this time over 50 per cent of the firearms in the Registry’s data base proved to have disappeared.

Chasing the disappeared firearms to find out where they went would be prohibitively expensive, and would occupy far too much of available police resources. It is unlikely that Canada will pursue this option.

The Canadian government has just come out with another 73 pages of firearms control Regulations with force of law (pages 1878 to 1952, Canada Gazette Part II, 15 Dec 2004). They include changes to 17 Orders in Council.