Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Self-Control

Posted by JJ in Golden Tacks, Full-Timers (Saturday December 30, 2006 at 11:12 pm)

There are many reasons to oppose or support the gun registry, but one stands above all the rest: that constitutional fiat, good governance.

Those who portray much of political history as a transition from absolutism to freedom have a tendency to ignore this point, but a government can only ever act in accordance with the popular will. As easy as it is to understand that people will only take so much before rebelling, most folks continue to entertain the happy fables of absolute monarchy which made the rounds of the 17th century.

What history teaches is that a government which defies reality isn’t likely to last very long. And one which continually passes laws which it can’t enforce isn’t far removed from the boy who cried wolf, only more laughable.

This point was an essential part of James Madison’s 18th century condemnation of a Virginia proposal to fund religious education:

13. Because attempts to enforce by legal sanctions, acts obnoxious to go great a proportion of Citizens, tend to enervate the laws in general, and to slacken the bands of Society. If it be difficult to execute any law which is not generally deemed necessary or salutary, what must be the case, where it is deemed invalid and dangerous? And what may be the effect of so striking an example of impotency in the Government, on its general authority?

Whatever else might be said of the gun registry, this much is true. From the outset the government was confronted with the real possibility of mass civil disobedience:

. . .even the most fervent gun control supporter could not have anticipated the level of resistance to Bill C-68. . .six provinces and two territories backed a constitutional challenge to the firearms legislation. . .all four western provinces as well as Newfoundland opted out of administering the firearms program, meaning Ottawa had to directly incur the costs of doing so. Individual gun owners also proved obstinate, waiting until the last minute to apply for a licence or register their firearms and creating backlogs that were costly to unclog.

Confronted with uncooperative behaviour, the government began to bend:

In an attempt to placate critics, the Justice Department reduced registration fees and offered refunds, forcing the government to foot a bigger portion of the bill.

No wonder the program ran from a few millions into the billions of dollars, sparking a profoundly negative audit.

These are not the marks of mere disapproval. Some degree of controversy has been raised even over the registry’s completeness. The refusal of half the provinces to enforce federal law; the acknowledgement that registration would not take place without cutting or refunding the registration fees; the possibility that many millions of firearms possessed by otherwise law-abiding citizens have not been registered — these are the marks of rebellion; and only force or government acquiescence can quell that.

Whether, then, you believe in maintaining a registry or not, it should be clear that this registry is too ill-omened to live. If you’re keen to have guns registered, destroy the present registry and create a new one which does more to respect legal owners (read the last few letters). You eliminate what has become a twin symbol of mismanagement and authoritarianism and simultaneously make an effort to co-opt some current detractors. If you’re keen to eliminate the registry, there’s a more profound reason than being pro-gun ownership.

And that reason is the principle of parsimony in government: the ability to control anything else depends, first and foremost, on the ability to control oneself.

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