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Monday » February 12 » 2007

Dawson killer's gun spikes in popularity

Glen McGregor
CanWest News Service; Ottawa Citizen

Saturday, February 10, 2007

OTTAWA - On the morning after the Dawson College shootings in Montreal, the country awoke to images of gunman Kimveer Gill photographed in sinister poses with the futuristic black rifle used in his rampage.

For many Canadians, it was the first they had seen or heard of the Beretta CX4 Storm, a sleek, 9-mm, semi-automatic carbine that had entered the Canadian market only two years earlier.

But for some who saw them, the pictures - disseminated on TV, in newspapers and across the Internet - were more than just a glimpse into a broken mind: they were a sales pitch.

Data obtained by the Ottawa Citizen from the federal gun registry shows that new registrations of the Beretta CX4 Storm nearly tripled after the Sept. 13 shootings.

In the month after the attack, 46 Storms were registered to individual owners across the country, compared with the 16 registered in the month before.

The sudden rise in registrations was no statistical blip. In the month following Sept. 13, 2005 - the year before the shooting - only nine Storms were registered by individuals.

In fact, in no month since the gun went on sale had so many Canadians acquired the gun.

The immediate reaction to Dawson, it appears, was a rush to buy the gun that the shooting suddenly made infamous.

One of those 46 guns was registered by someone in Laval, Que., the community in which 18-year-old Anastasia De Sousa lived before she was shot to death by Gill. (Gun owners' names and addresses are protected by privacy law and were not included in the registry data provided to the Ottawa Citizen, but the information includes the first two characters of the owner's postal code, allowing approximate location. The data can be searched at .)

The surge in Storm registrations seems a macabre reaction to the Dawson shooting, but one that shows just how sensitive firearm owners are to incidents that could affect the legal status of their guns.

They speculate that the spike in registrations was caused by potential buyers rushing to buy the rifle out of fear that sales would be banned in response to the Dawson incident.

Their fears might be justified. Just as Marc Lepine's mass-shooting spree at Ecole Polytechnique led to an overhaul of Canada's gun laws, the Dawson shooting has stirred a new round of debate and put the Beretta CX4 Storm and other semi-automatic rifles in the regulatory crosshairs.

That leaves the future legal status of the gun Gill used to murder De Sousa and injure 11 others uncertain.

The manufacturer of the Storm, Beretta USA, describes the carbine as a "sporting or personal defence firearm ideal for professional use by police forces." It looks militaristic, with its black polymer body, pistol grip and rugged accessories.

As ominous as it may appear, under current Canadian law, the Storm is classified only as a restricted weapon. It can be legally owned by anyone with a restricted-class licence.

But the law places certain conditions on its use. Restricted firearms cannot be used for hunting, and a permit must be issued to transport the weapon to a shooting range - the only place it can be legally fired.

Like all semi-automatic rifles, the Beretta Storm can fire multiple shots without manually reloading. But it is not a machine-gun or a fully automatic rifle; holding down the trigger will not shoot a stream of bullets. The trigger must be pulled and released for each shot.

But, because it automatically places a cartridge into the chamber, it is easier to fire more shots faster than with a bolt-action or level-action rifle that has to be cocked between shots.

It's a common misconception among non-gun owners that all semi-automatic rifles are illegal. In fact, the vast majority are considered legal for hunting and require only the basic Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) to buy.

Currently, there are more than 720,000 semi-automatic rifles registered in Canada, and only 25,000 of those are restricted or prohibited.

The Storm is classified as restricted only because of its barrel length, based on the theory that a shorter gun is easier to conceal and wield in close-quarters - qualities not required for hunting.

In 1991, new rules created in response to the Polytechnique massacre limited the size of magazines for semi-automatic rifles to five rounds. That means the gun must be reloaded with another magazine after firing five shots. Magazines for handguns were limited to 10 rounds.

But the Beretta Storm falls into a grey zone. Because it fires 9-mm pistol ammunition, it is compatible with the 10-round magazines made for a popular type of Beretta handgun.

De Sousa's mother, Louise, said the coroner told her Anastasia was shot nine times with the Beretta. That means Gill may have fired nine shots into her from a single, 10-round pistol magazine - without having to reload. (More details of the shooting will be known when police release their report, expected at the end of March.)

The unknowable factor in the Dawson College case is whether the casualty toll would have been lower or higher had Gill used a different weapon.

De Sousa's mother said she wants the "horrible" rifle banned outright. "If you're not in the army, why would you use it?" she said. "It can't even be used for hunting. Why should he have it?"

Ottawa Citizen
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