British Columbia

Priceless treasures at risk in gun amnesty, collectors say

Police in B.C. will begin collecting unauthorized and unwanted guns in June as part of a firearms amnesty program, but some collectors worry that pieces of history will be destroyed in the process.

Police in B.C. want illegal or unwanted firearms to be surrendered to them this June

A month-long gun-surrender amnesty drive starts Saturday in B.C. (CBC)

Police in B.C. will begin collecting unauthorized and unwanted guns in June as part of a firearms amnesty program, but some collectors worry that pieces of history will be destroyed in the process.

The B.C. government announced the month-long firearms amnesty program in February, and said the initiative would help remove guns from communities and reduce the risk that they would fall into the hands of criminals.

Ron Tyson, president of the Historical Arms Collectors Society of B.C., supports the principle of a gun amnesty surrender, but says most crimes aren't committed with century-old Winchesters.

"I think, with any firearm… they should get some knowledgeable advice on it before they turn it in," Tyson said.

Linda Haynes Baggaley and her family run Canada's oldest gun auction out of Red Deer, Alta.

She says Bud Haynes & Co. Auctioneers is already fielding questions out of B.C. ahead of next month's amnesty, such as whether an old Nazi pistol brought back from the Second World War might be worth something.

"A German Luger, in fact, can run anywhere from $600 to $1,500, to $2,000 depending on what it is," she said.

Losses through panic

Haynes Baggaley says many people turn in weapons they've either found or inherited because they're afraid of breaking the law.

"People don't realize there's an option to have them sold. Sometimes people panic because they receive a registered letter or they're just afraid of repercussions," she said.

"We've seen cases where we've told people they can sell it, but they still chose to destroy it because they have that fear of the police and of prosecution," she said.

Some police officers will tell families to have weapons appraised before they're destroyed as part of an amnesty, and in Alberta in 2006, police said they would donate historically significant guns to museums. That gun amnesty drive also brought in a complaint from a Calgary woman, who said a police officer wouldn't take her surrendered guns, and instead returned when he was off-duty to purchase them for himself.

In B.C.'s 2006 amnesty program, police collected: more than 96,500 rounds of ammunition; 3,213 handguns, rifles, and other firearms; an M-16 assault rifle; and a rocket launcher.

Police said anyone wishing to surrender ammunition or weapons, including imitation or replica guns, should not transport the items themselves, and should instead contact local police and arrange for officers to visit for a pick-up.

Police also say that the amnesty from prosecution relating to unlicensed or illegal weapons will not apply to any weapons that police find have been already used for a criminal purpose.

According to the RCMP, about 5.3 per cent of British Columbians have a firearms licence, which is slightly below the national average of 5.7 per cent.

With files from the CBC's Jason Proctor