An encounter with the Long Gun Registry

April 24, 2010

Martin and a few other grad students have been planning a spring goose hunt for some time now, so a couple of weeks ago he showed up at the farm with two class-mates, a box of clays and a hand-held launcher, determined to practice his marksmanship before the climactic day. The three of them came back to the house, crestfallen. They couldn’t hit anything with his single shot Cooey.

I dug my Remington pump out of a cupboard in response to his hang-dog look, and away they went. They quickly ran out of shells, but progress was good.

Time passed, more clays were broken over the walnut field, and then came the email: “May I please use your gun for the goose-hunting trip? I checked the regulations and I need to have the original of the registration form with it, so could you dig it up?”

This proved a problem. Over the last twenty-five years as computer records improved I became less and less concerned about keeping track of specific pieces of paper. Whereas in 1975 looking after a single copy of an essay from a student was of critical importance, by 2004 when I cleaned out my desk I routinely required a printout of an original on the school computer with a backup or two on the student’s disk. As well, over the course of the writing process I would have looked at anywhere from three to five versions of the work.

After reading, marking, and returning well over a million sheets of paper over three decades, I wasn’t about to be bothered by a specific piece of it any more, not when a simple computer search can produce a pristine copy to everyone’s satisfaction.

This mindset no doubt governed the purge of the large filing cabinet the day I moved it from my study in our last house to its current residence in the barn, empty of all but tools. I carefully saved income tax forms and personal correspondence. Everything else went for disposal.

A search through remaining documents produced no registration sheet for long guns. Fine, I’ll call and have them send me another copy. That’s the point of a gun registry, right?

The OPP guy gave me the number, so away I went on my own wild goose chase, not nearly as pleasant as Martin’s planned expedition.

I landed in the middle of one of those telephone menus. None of the many selections had anything to do with what I needed, which was simply to ask them to print a copy of the list of guns I have registered with them or send it along by email so that Martin could legally take my shotgun into Quebec.

I punched button #5, and waited until an operator answered. First I had to convince the woman that I was not a criminal looking around for a nice cache of guns to steal. I don’t know if she ever got past that impression.

Eventually after I had given her every piece of information she requested and discovered that I had offended her by not notifying the Registry within thirty days of a change of address (even though she had somehow obtained my unlisted cell-phone number), I realized that this operator had no intention of helping me at all. This was a one-way information tap, and the only direction for the flow was away from me, towards her.

She directed me to the registry’s website to download a file and make a written application for a copy of my registration, “Which is to be kept with the gun at all times.”

Fine, lady, but that wasn’t what they said in 1995 when I was one of the first to register a firearm online. Do I need to keep a copy of a book if I have donated it to the local library?

We ended the call with her assurance that there was no way on earth I would get a registration certificate replacement within a week. “I don’t do that. You have to send down-east to have them print certificates.”

“Where are you?”

“Orillia,” I think she said.

On the website nothing applied. From the looks of their forms, having guns already registered doesn’t mean a thing if you wish them to provide a replacement copy of the certificate. Looks as though you have to go through the whole registration process again. This does not make sense.

Based upon this experience I have to conclude that the current Long Gun Registry is a dead list, poorly conceived insofar as it does not serve the needs of those who contribute to it, and the bureaucracy that I have encountered actively resists citizen interaction with the list.

I explained to Martin that he was out of luck. A day later he proudly informed me that a prof sold him an almost new Remington 870 which had been used for a research project a few years ago involving the destructive testing of snow geese.

As for the Long Gun Registry, that is one sick puppy of an organization. Put a hunter in charge of that office for a month and things would be a lot different.

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