Gun registry tip of the iceberg for community debate

First published: April 28, 2008

Toronto Mayor David Miller launched a major campaign to have handguns banned in Canada last week. And while the news of gun violence in Ontario focuses on major urban centres, particularly Metro Toronto, Cobourg and Port Hope are home to a shocking number of handguns and other restricted weapons.

An analysis of the Federal Gun Registry from 2004 to 2006 provides a disturbing insight into the number of guns within the two towns. In Port Hope, 5,651 guns of all types were registered, compared to 1,926 guns in Cobourg. This includes business and individuals, non-restricted and restricted weapons – that means rifles and shotguns, along with handguns, assault rifles and historic weapons, among others.

When looking at handguns, the story is disconcerting, particularly in Port Hope where 1, 553 handguns were registered in 2006. Of those, 665 handguns were registered alone, up 62 per cent from two years earlier in 2004, when only 411 handguns were registered.

Cobourg paints a different picture. There were 707 handguns registered over the three years between 2004 and 2006. There was a decrease to 208 handguns registered in 2006 compared to 217 in 2004.

But what is even more disturbing is the registration of restricted semi-automatic rifles. These are meant to be weapons that are never used and only purchased to be part of a collection. Yet, it is stunning to realize what kinds of weapons people collect, for example, the CX4 Storm.

According to Beretta, the company that makes this rifle, the CX4 Storm is particularly ergonomic in style, making it ideal for sporting or personal defence. The clip can hold between 10 to 20 rounds depending on the caliber of bullet used. It has a blowback type system where the action upon firing will automatically pick up the next round and feed it into the firing chamber as long as there is ammunition in the magazine. Simply put, this feature exists to get away more rounds more quickly. While this is a common feature, this weapon is more devastating because it can hold so many rounds.

This was also the same gun used during the Dawson College shooting, which occurred on Sept.13, 2006. One young woman, Anastasia Rebecca De Sousa, died and 19 others were injured.

Between 2004 and 2006 in Port Hope, 81 CX4 guns were registered, 13 of those to individuals with the remainder were registered by businesses. There were two registered over the same period in Cobourg.

All this information is made public because of the work of Ottawa Citizen journalist, Glen McGregor. Through his tenacity, he obtained more than 7 million firearms records from across Canada in the gun registry. His analysis and subsequent stories give a unsettling picture. In the case of the CX4 Storm, McGregor found sales tripled days after the Sept. 13 shooting. Never before or since have so many of this model been sold in Canada.

Thankfully, the Citizen made the database available to the public over the Internet. There is no identifying information accept the first two digits of a postal code. For this column, K9 was used for Cobourg and L1 for Port Hope. Canada Post postal code maps show these are used exclusively for each town.

Sadly, the gun registry is not public. In fact, there are no statistics provided to Canadians about the number of guns registered or information related to how many guns are in a community. The Canada Firearms Centre, which is the responsible agency in charge of the registry, provides many reports on legislation and information about registering.

It also fails to provide police with any useful information. Local forces have no idea how many guns are registered in their regions in order to monitor the rise in handguns or other restricted weapons, like the CX4 Storm.

There will be those who vigorously argue responsible gun owners are not the problem. The statistics are meaningless because collectors who own restricted weapons stores these guns properly and use the utmost caution.

And, maybe it is true. But, the deeper question for the community is the greater safety. Handguns must be banned, not just in Toronto, but also across Ontario and the country. Rifles and shotguns serve the purposes of those who hunt for sport. The laws cover this aspect sufficiently. Beyond this, there is no reasonable, logical argument.

The federal government needs to make figures available to the public. No ones privacy should be invaded, but the totals must be released annually. While this may be a debate most politicians shy away from because it is so emotionally charged and potentially divisive, we cannot hide from it.

The romantic notion of small town life in Northumberland is given a different perspective in the context of these figures. It says something about the gun culture of these two towns. Further analysis may reveal more about the county. But, it is wrong to keep our collective heads in the sand when it comes to guns, particularly handguns.

A debate must begin and politicians at all levels of government must be held accountable. Armed with gun registry statistics, all voice in the community, for and against, can make themselves heard. No matter how vehemently collectors will argue, there is no need for handguns or weapons similar to the CX4 Storm in our community.

Miller took a bold step with his petition. And, while we may not see the violent level of crime as in Toronto, like an iceberg, there is much below the surface in Port Hope and Cobourg. It cannot remain there, nor should it.

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