Firearms like those used in the massacre in Aurora, Col. are available in Maple Ridge and online, to anyone who can pass a firearms course and get a possession and acquisition licence.
While the AR-15 rifle used in the July 20 theatre killing that claimed 12 lives is a restricted weapon in Canada, it’s easily obtainable, providing the buyer passes the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course and his or her background checks out.
And if an AR-15 is not on hand, several other rifles have the same .223 calibre and semi-automatic features – such as the Mossberg Tactical rifle available at Wanstalls Hunting and Shooting on Lougheed Highway. It’s also a .223-calibre, semi-automatic model (similar to a .22, but with a larger bullet casing) that’s styled to look like an AR-15 and comes with a 25-round magazine for $289, although it’s a low-powered gun that uses less powerful shells, which means it can have a larger magazine.
For slightly more, there’s the Norinco M-14S Scout – a civilianized version of the older M-14 battle rifle used by U.S. troops. It’s an unrestricted rifle and goes for $439.
On the higher end, there’s a Swiss Arms Black Special, same calibre, for $3,599, or another Norinco, AR-15 style, that’s restricted and comes with a bayonet fixture for $699. Generally, restricted firearms are handguns, or rifles that have shorter barrel lengths or collapsible stocks that make them easier to carry.
If you want something that’s been proven in the field, the SVT-40 is a non-restricted “Soviet semi-automatic battle rifle,” widely used during and after the Second World War and sells for $299.
In order to buy a non-restricted weapon, which usually encompasses ordinary hunting rifles, the Canadian Firearms Safety Course must be passed, then a possession and acquisition licence acquired. The licence is just a general permit to own firearms and doesn’t apply to individual guns.
Buying a restricted weapon also requires taking the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course and means the firearms are subject to tougher transport rules. The whole process takes a few months, requires police background checks and involves Wanstalls doing its own verification of permits, for its over-the-counter and online sales.
The process of getting a firearms licence is separate from the former additional requirement to register a long gun, something no longer required because of the abolition of the gun registry this past spring.
In Canada, prohibited weapons usually refer to machine guns, which are banned outright.
Like dozens of other semi-automatics, the AR-15 “looks the part more than plays the part,” because the trigger must be pulled for each shot, compared to fully automatic machine guns, says Craig Jones, at Wanstalls.
For him, the debate about whether more gun laws are needed has outlived its usefulness and points out there’s less clamour in the U.S. to tighten gun rules after the latest in a string of mass shootings.
“I think it’s time to go the other way and look at what we can do to prevent it.”
He compares the issue to that of a drunk driver who caused an accident. Whether the vehicle was stolen or not, the results are the same.
Jones pointed out that the suspect in the Colorado shooting, James Eagan Holmes, 24, passed the background checks in the U.S. for acquiring a gun.
“How do you prevent that?”
According to media reports, the AR-15 had a 100-round magazine, but in Canada, magazine size is limited to five bullets for most semi-automatics and 10 bullets for most handguns.
For Jones, the issue of firearms control and dealing with unstable people, are almost unrelated.
How many useless gun laws do you pass, he asks.
Do you take guns away from everyone, including the military and police?
Instead, he’d like to see looser laws in Canada to allow people to carry handguns.
“It’s always the second gun, when somebody shows up and starts shooting somebody else … it doesn’t stop until a second gun gets on scene,” whether that’s being carried by a civilian or police.
He added in “crime-free Los Angeles,” people are not allowed to carry any handguns.
Jones said the AR-15, a civilianized, semi-automatic version of the fully automatic M-16 machine gun, is used for hunting in the U.S., something outlawed in Canada because of its restricted status.
It’s impossible to figure out why some rifles are restricted, with more limitations on their use, and some aren’t, or banned outright, he added.
“Your guess is as good as mine.”
It’s almost as if the government looked at photos of guns and decided, “something black and scary – prohibited.”
But the AR-15 is popular with hunters because of its accuracy and small recoil and because former soldiers know the gun because of their training on the M-16. The same thing happened with the .303 rifle following the Second World War, he pointed out.
In addition to a shotgun, two Glock handguns also were used in the attack. Two models of Glock .40-calibre handguns are available at Wanstalls.
Stores in the U.S. have reported an increase applications for background checks to acquire weapons, but Jones has noticed no change here. His store, which launched an online service a few years ago, is one of the largest online suppliers in Canada.
Ridge-Meadows RCMP Insp. Dave Fleugel said police are encountering more illegal weapons compared to a decade ago, with most of those smuggled into Canada.
“We are seeing and seizing, police in general, they’re dealing with more firearms and weapons than they have in the past.”
A decade ago it used to be rare for police to seize guns, “now it’s fairly common.”
He said police make it regular practice to apply to the courts to seize firearms any time a violent domestic dispute is investigated.
When it comes to the firearms in the hands of the mentally unstable, “The mentally ill client that we deal with, it’s not often that they have lawfully obtained firearms,” Fleugel said.
They’d usually be screened out in the firearms application process.