Dr. Barbara Kane has been a psychiatrist in Prince George, British Columbia for nineteen years. She is one of only eight mental health professionals in town, which is home to 75,000 residents. In an earlier entry, I featured a letter by Dr. Kane that was published in the Guelph Mercury newspaper. This week, she was kind enough to sit down with me to share her views on Canada’s Firearms Act and the registry requirements contained within it.
Dr. Kane became interested in firearms legislation prior to the passage and implementation of Canada’s Firearms Act, when she experienced firsthand just how difficult it was to remove firearms from the hands of individuals either dangerous to themselves or to others.
During our interview, Dr. Kane stated that often times in the field of mental health, situations escalate swiftly, and quick actions are necessary in order to control the circumstances. Thus, in a 1993 article published by the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Kane made the argument that physicians should have more of a voice in whether or not their patients are stable enough to own firearms.
Dr. Kane made this argument because she found that prior to the registry, when she contacted law enforcement officials with concerns about the safety of one of her patients (or that of their friends and family as a result of the patient), they were unsure of what actions to take and had no way of telling whether the person of concern owned any firearms.
Since the implementation of the registry, however, when a concerned physician contacts law enforcement, they can easily determine whether an unstable individual has a firearm registered to them, and can act quickly to take it away, if necessary. In Dr. Kane’s opinion, the registry has been very useful in aiding mental health professionals and the police in removing firearms from the hands of dangerous individuals.
Of course critics of the registry will point out that it only contains records of legally registered firearms and not those that may have been obtained illegally. This is true; however, working to save as many lives as possible is better than working to save none at all.
In addition, the registry is important in helping law enforcement trace the origins of firearms that may have been acquired illegally, according to Dr. Kane. During our interview, she spoke of a patient who shot himself using an illegally acquired firearm. After shooting himself, the patient decided he did not want to die, but was unable to be saved. This incident occurred before the registry was in place. As a result, the gun could not be traced. With the registry, law enforcement would have been more easily able to trace the origins of the firearm. Without it, however, and lacking information from the victim, they were unable to determine from whom he had acquired it. With the registry, more accountability exists.
Dr. Kane does think that more frequent screenings should be required of firearms users. This is because mental illness can surface at many different stages of life, and Dr. Kane believes that someone perfectly stable at the time they receive their firearms license may not be mentally stable three, four, or five years later. With more frequent screenings, the registry would not have to be utilized as often in order to remove firearms from the possession of dangerous individuals, as the licensing process would work to do it instead.
My interview with Dr. Kane provided me with a new perspective on the importance of the registry contained in Canada’s Firearms Act. Not only has it worked to harmonize gun control and domestic violence laws in the country, but it has also helped mental health professionals, working in conjunction with law enforcement, to save lives and prevent tragedy.
Unfortunately, stories of the registry successfully saving lives never make headline news, and therefore the gun lobby continues to claim that it is a waste. I wonder if they would continue to call it useless if it were to save the life of one of their children, spouses, or friends. I think I can pretty well imagine the answer to my own question, as I have been told many times that saving one life is just not worth the money that the Canadian government has invested.