MONTREAL — The Quebec government is crediting its new gun registry law for a major spike in the number of long guns voluntarily handed over to police for destruction.
Between April 1, 2018 and March 31, 2019, 5,250 long-guns were voluntarily given to authorities to be destroyed, according to provincial police spokeswoman Joyce Kemp.
The previous year, 2,406 long guns — such as rifles and shotguns — were surrendered. That’s an 118 per cent increase. The government estimated in 2015 there were 1.6 million long guns in Quebec.
Canadian law classifies guns in three categories: prohibited guns, such as automatics, and restricted guns, such as handguns, must be registered with the RCMP. Long guns — rifles and shotguns that are mainly used for hunting and sport shooting — no longer need to be registered in Canada, except in Quebec.
Jean-Francois Del Torchio, a spokesman for Public Security Minister Genevieve Guilbault, said Friday the jump is likely tied to the provincial gun registry bill. The law was passed in 2016 by the previous Liberal government but went fully into effect Jan. 29, 2019, the deadline to register long guns.
Long-gun owners must register their weapons, either online or by mail. There is no charge, but those who fail to comply could face penalties up to $5,000.
Del Torchio said people who owned rifles but stopped hunting likely handed them in instead of going through the registration process. Others, he added, may have been given a gun as a gift or through an inheritance and didn’t want to have to sign them up.
“People who are passionate about hunting are going to continue to hunt and keep their weapons,” Del Torchio said in an interview.
Kemp said police don’t record the motivations of people who hand in their guns, but she too acknowledged the influence of the long-gun registry.
“We can explain the difference for 2018-19 by the law coming into effect,” Kemp said in an interview.
But while more Quebecers are getting rid of their hunting weapons as compared to previous years, roughly a third of the long guns estimated to be in Quebec have been registered since the law went into effect.
Louise Quintin, spokeswoman for Quebec’s Public Security Department, said in an email Friday that as of May 15, 516,270 long-guns had been registered since the law went into effect.
Gun owners have called for boycotts of the law and many rural town councils across the province have adopted resolutions denouncing the registry or calling for it to be scraped entirely.
Earlier in the week, the Quebec government tabled a bill that would remove certain obligations for gun owners required to register their weapons.
The bill says gun owners no longer have to provide their weapon’s registration number upon request by a peace officer or submit the barrel length when registering a weapon. They would also no longer have to notify the registry if they have their firearm away from its usual storage location.
Stephanie Vadnais, with the Quebec federation of hunters and fishermen, said her group will attend the legislative hearings into the bill to try for even more concessions.
She said in an interview Friday the gun registry law is irritating and bureaucratic — but that’s not the main reason hunters and fishers are against it.
Canada’s gun registry was a disaster, she said, and offered little concrete evidence it made anyone safer. The federal Liberals introduced the Canada-wide long-gun registry in 1995, saying it would cost roughly $110-million.
The figure multiplied and ended up costing taxpayers many times that before the Conservatives abolished it in 2012. Guilbault has said the cost of the Quebec registry remains as forecast — about $20 million to implement and $5 million annually to administer — but Vadnais isn’t convinced.
“We are selling a high-cost illusion of security,” she said.
Number of long-guns handed over voluntarily to police across Quebec, each year between April 1 and March 31:
Source: Quebec provincial police