Battle over Chinese-made rifle pits gun enthusiasts against RCMP
by Gloria Galloway
The Globe & Mail
Several gun owners are refusing to surrender a semi-automatic rifle that was imported from China and bought legally before the RCMP retroactively declared it a prohibited weapon.
The police force says that the imposing-looking Norinco Type 97A can easily be converted to a fully automatic weapon and must be prohibited on that basis.
But 15 gun owners have refused to accept the $1,400 per firearm that Public Safety Minister Vic Toews has offered to anyone who voluntary relinquishes one of the rifles. The gun owners have gone to court in an effort to prevent their weapons from being confiscated.
“These 15 individuals will retain possession of their firearms until the disposition of their hearings,” the RCMP said in a briefing note earlier this year to Mr. Toews. “Potentially, it could take years before the matter is finally resolved and the firearms are surrendered or seized.”
Firearms retailers say the rifle has been prohibited largely because of its appearance.
Canada’s National Firearms Association says the RCMP is exceeding its mandate by reclassifying the Norinco Type 97A and the issue “threatens to seriously erode confidence in the Conservative government” on the part of firearms owners.
Firearms that have been allowed into the country are usually reclassified only by order of the federal cabinet, said Blair Hagen, a spokesman for the firearms association.
“It’s very unusual what the RCMP has done here,” Mr. Hagen said in a telephone interview. “As it appears, the reclassification was arbitrary.”
The RCMP, which is responsible for classifying firearms before they come into the country, suggests in the briefing note that outdated regulations are the reason that the Norinco Type 97A was incorrectly classified.
The outdated regulations “have created delays in service delivery to law enforcement potentially compromising public safety because additional time is required to research, document, and justify information being added” to the Firearms Reference Table, the electronic library of all known firearms, the briefing note said.
The note, which was obtained under Access to Information legislation by Ottawa researcher Ken Rubin, said that between 2006 and 2007, Vancouver-based Lever Arms Service Ltd. imported 60 of the rifles for sale to licensed businesses and gun owners.
“The RCMP subsequently determined 55 of these firearms were fully automatic and thus prohibited,” said the note. But the gun sellers and the firearms association say the guns are semi-automatic weapons and were sold on that basis.
When Lever and another company tried to import more of the guns, agents from the Canada Border Services Agency opened the crate and were alarmed by their appearance. They sent a sample of the shipment to the RCMP’s forensics laboratory, which was able [with the virtually bottomless resources of the RCMP -ed.] to convert the rifle to an automatic weapon.
That doesn’t surprise the gun owners, who say any rifle can be made to fire automatically with the right tools and a little know-how. “The Simonov SKS, which is an incredibly common semi-automatic rifle in Canada, can be converted to fully automatic with as little as a popsicle stick,” one of them said on Monday.
Despite the intimidating appearance of Norinco Type 97A, which looks very much like the military weapon it was originally designed to be, gun enthusiasts in this country use it for “target shooting, hunting coyotes, gophers and things like that,” the gun owner said.
The second shipment of the rifles, worth hundreds of thousands of dollars, is still sitting in limbo a Vancouver warehouse. The weapons can’t be sold in Canada and they can’t be shipped back to China because it is illegal to export automatic weapons to that country.