a gun offender registry: everyone wants one but the costs and benefits are a mystery

Prince George County in the Washington DC is weighing a bill requiring a gun offender registry, and a vote is expected in early June. If it passes (and it is expected to do so), the county would allow/require police to monitor gun offenders. I think this is akin to the sex offender registries but for those convicted for gun-related violence.  Prince George County is not the first to pursue a gun registry. Gun registries are a trend in local governments across the nation.

Supposedly, gun-offender registry have had “an impact.” I am not surprised. But they surely come with a cost. The cost in this case is a decreased manpower of already-understaffed police force. No one wants to appear soft on crime, but no one wants to pay for it either. I was surprised that the NRA representative quoted in the article appeared to be the most sensible in his assessment of the tradeoffs:

Andrew Arulanandam, the National Rifle Association’s director of public affairs, said his group advocates vigorous enforcement of existing gun laws rather than the creation of new databases. Running a gun-offender registry, he said, requires taxpayers to foot the bill for computer equipment and IT professionals, and it could take officers off the streets and place them in administrative jobs.

Gun registries could be effective despite the costs. If those on the gun registries are “dangerous,” then monitoring those individuals more closely could be an effective use of police manpower, since it focuses police attention on those most likely to commit dangerous crimes. That could more than make up for the policing that is foregone due to the new responsibilities associated with the registry. But I need to see some research that honestly shows the level of impact that registries could have. The police chief in Prince George does indeed intend to use some of their existing 1400 police officers to monitor the gun registry.

[Deputy Police Chief Craig] Howard said police would initially assign a sergeant and four or five detectives to handle the gun registry, pulling them from other jobs in the department. He said the creation of the computer database could be handled by those who run the department’s sex-offender registry and do other IT work.

The 5-6 officers needed for the registry are less than 1% of the police force. But the current registry level is zero and the system is not in steady-state. The registry will likely grow in time as gun offenders are added, necessitating an increasing number of police officers to monitor the registry. I’m not sure that monitoring the registry in the future will be sustainable.

I am agnostic on gun registries. I am not agnostic about honesty regarding the true cost of gun registries and their impacts. Certainly, different municipalities and counties need to weigh the costs with the rewards and make a decision that they can live with. Previous attempts to curb crime—such as the Three Strikes Laws and minimum sentencing—have lowered crime at an enormous cost. The costs here are associated with an exploding prison population. I suspect that the same might be true for gun registries.

2 responses to “a gun offender registry: everyone wants one but the costs and benefits are a mystery

  • Lance Martinez

    Everyone wants a gun registry? Duh! What planet do you live on? Another registry? Have you considered asking the criminals who own their guns illegally if they will register their guns? What are you thinking? Did you know that US citizens own 3 x’s the guns than our military in total? While we own guns our government will never try to pull a Syrian massacre in this country because we would replace the government. That is exactly how our country came into being by having it’s own malitia to ward off the unfair practices of the English Crown. Ask the English if you don’t believe me!

  • Laura McLay

    @Lance, You should read the article I link here. The registry is for those who have been convicted of gun-related crimes, not gun owners. You asked “Have you considered asking the criminals who own their guns illegally if they will register their guns?” The answer to this is yes, the registry is for criminals!

    The “everybody wants one” phrase in the title meant to reflect the popularity of gun registries — they are quite a trend these days, but I am more skeptical. I want to be tough on crime BUT I honest with numbers.

    I tried to convey through my tone that I am not a fan of endless registries unless they have a shown benefit.

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