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Pennsylvania Democrats Want To Register Your Guns

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

Democrats want to register your guns. It isn’t just something that universal background checks will eventually lead to. There is a push even in a “gun friendly” state such as Pennsylvania, where only antiques and guns owned by law enforcement would be exempt. Democrats in the state legislature and Governor Tom Wolf strongly support the bill.


Yet, despite what gun control advocates and Democrats claim, the proposal will take money away from law enforcement policies that work and leave Pennsylvanians less safe.

“The bill would require Pennsylvanians seeking to do anything with a gun, whether that be own, possess, sell or transfer, to apply for gun registration through State Police,” said Rep. Cruz, the bill’s lead sponsor. “This [Pennsylvania State Police] database will aid all law enforcement officials with investigations and with tracking missing or stolen firearms." 

Pennsylvania state police have keep records on all transfers of handguns (both private and through dealers) since 1931 and thus has already had a registration system for them. Records on handgun purchases through dealers go back to 1901. The new regulations would add in the private transfer of long guns as well as a $10 fee per gun per year as well as fingerprinting and citizenship verification.

Gun control advocates have long claimed that a comprehensive registry would be an effective safety tool. Their reasoning is straightforward: If a gun has been left at a crime scene, the registry will link the crime gun back to the criminal.

Nice logic, but reality has never worked that way. Crime guns are very rarely left at the crime scene. The few that are have been unregistered — criminals are not stupid enough to leave behind a gun that’s registered to them. When a gun is left at the scene, it is usually because the criminal has been seriously injured or killed. These crimes would have been solved even without registration.


Registration hasn't worked in Pennsylvania or other places. During a 2001 lawsuit, the Pennsylvania state police could not identify a specific crime that had been solved that the registration system from 1901 to 2001, though they did claim that it had “assisted” in a total of four cases but they could provide no details.

During a 2013 deposition, the Washington, D.C., police chief said that she could not “recall any specific instance where registration records were used to determine who committed a crime.”

When I testified before the Hawaii State Senate in 2000, the Honolulu chief of police also stated that he couldn’t find any crimes that had been solved due to registration and licensing. The chief also said that his officers devoted about 50,000 hours each year to registering and licensing guns. This time is being taken away from traditional, time-tested law enforcement activities.

Canada and other parts of the U.S. haven't had any better luck. From 2003 to 2009, 1,314 out of 4,257 Canadian homicides were committed with firearms. Data provided last fall by the Library of Parliament reveal that the murder weapon was identified in fewer than a third of the homicides with firearms. Of the identified weapons, about three-quarters were not registered. Among registered weapons, about half were registered to someone other than the person accused of the homicide. In just 62 cases — only 4.7 percent of all firearm homicides — was the gun found to be registered to the accused. As most homicides in Canada are not committed with a gun, these 62 cases correspond to only about 1 percent of all homicides.


So, on average during that seven-year period, there were only nine cases annually in which it was even conceivable that registration made a difference. But apparently registration didn't make a difference even in those cases. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Chiefs of Police couldn’t provide a single example in which tracing was of more than peripheral importance to solving a case.

The Library of Parliament data extend to all guns, including handguns. Canada’s handgun registry commenced in 1934, and there is still no evidence that it has really helped to solve a single homicide.

According to the long gun registry, there have been three murders since 1997 in which the gun was registered to the accused. The Canadian government doesn’t provide any information on whether the three accused individuals were convicted.

After 15 years and wasting $3 billion dollars, Canada finally terminated its long gun registration program.

Of course, many are concerned that registration lists will eventually be used to confiscate people’s guns. Given that such lists have been used to force people to turn in guns in California, Connecticut, New York, and Chicago, these fears aren’t entirely unjustified.

Rather than expanding gun registration, Pennsylvania should get rid of the existing program and spend scarce resources on programs that actually reduce crime. Everyone should all be concerned that this bill will keep even more officers from important duties.


What Pennsylvania makes clear is that Republican control of the state legislature is the only thing that stands in the way of regulations making gun ownership much more difficult. In any states, when Democrats win complete control, even ones that have been traditionally friendly to self-defense, there will be a strong push for gun control.

John Lott is the President of the Crime Prevention Research Center and a former chief economist at the US Sentencing Commission. 

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