Hamilton buyer offered twice the price for a gun — why suspicious seller said 'not a chance'

An offer to pay double for a used handgun being sold online in Hamilton highlights issues with tracking crime guns in Canada.

Associate prof at U of T says lack of data on crime guns in Canada is a 'big problem'

An attempt to illegally purchase this handgun online is an example of how easily legal firearms can become crime guns in Canada, according to Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto who specializes in gun violence. (GunPost.ca)

Red flags went up when a Hamilton-area gun owner trying to sell a used handgun online was offered more than double the asking price by an anonymous buyer.

The GunPost.ca ad for the 9-mm Sig Sauer P320 X-Series includes some information about the firearm: It's considered restricted, has only fired about 300 rounds and comes with two 10-round magazines. The price is listed as $825.

But No1jewels, the owner of the handgun, said last week she received a text message offering up to $1,800 for it.

When she asked why so much was being offered, the potential buyer replied to No1jewels, saying he or she didn't have the proper licence.

"Sorry not a chance," she texted back.

Shaken by the experience, No1jewels said she told Hamilton police and the RCMP what happened, but was left feeling as though they weren't taking seriously what she saw as an attempt to illegally buy a handgun.

Loopholes in gun laws

The potential purchase exposes loopholes in Canadian gun control laws, according to an expert, who said the country doesn't do enough to track where its crime guns are coming from. Officials also say more firearms used in illegal activities start out as legally purchased guns in Canada.

I see this case as a critique on the system, that it isn't working optimally to deter this.- Jooyoung Lee,  University of Toronto 

In a phone interview with CBC News, which has agreed not to use No1jewels's name because of fears she could be targeted by people trying to steal firearms, the gun owner said that inflated offer immediately set off alarm bells.

The online ad for the 9-mm handgun clearly states the asking price of $825, but that didn't stop one potential buyer from offering double if the seller agreed to ignore the fact they didn't have the proper licence. (GunPost.Ca)

In Canada, only people who have completed the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course and gone through background and reference checks can get a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) with restricted privileges. To sell a restricted handgun, the firearm must be verified and the sale must be approved by a territorial chief firearms officer.

Double the asking price

After an initial offer of $1,500, No1jewels told the buyer a person must have a restricted PAL to buy the gun, and asked why almost double the asking price was offered.

The potential buyer responded: "That's the problem. I have a restricted and unrestricted pal from 2008 ... it expired in 2013 and i don't wan [sic] to have to go through the process of reapplying going through the course system again ... it's fairly lengthy."

After the potential buyer said he or she resided in east Hamilton and used to shoot at a Glanbrook/Brantford shooting range, the person ups the offer to $1,650.

In text messages to No1jewels, the potential buyer explains their restricted PAL is expired and offers double the asking price for the handgun. (No1jewels)

When No1jewels refused to bargain, the buyer suggested $1,800, but the seller still said no.

The texting ended amicably, but No1jewels said she was left with a bad feeling.

"This guy is trying to buy guns illegally," she said.

"I'm not sure if he's just trying to a get a gun and get back out on the range like he used to, or is he calling 20 people to find some characters who aren't on the up and up, or maybe need the cash and take the serial number off to sell it."

More crime guns from Canada

That concern is shared by Jooyoung Lee, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Toronto and expert on guns and gun violence.

The associate professor said this attempt to illegally buy a handgun online reveals a "big problem" when it comes to crime guns in Canada — nobody knows where they're coming from.

For years, the working theory was that the majority of illegal guns here came from the United States. But during a guns and gangs summit in Ottawa earlier this year, Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said more guns used in crimes were coming from within the country.

"With so many crime guns coming from legitimate domestic sources, we need effective firearm measures that prioritize public safety while ensuring fair treatment for law-abiding firearm owners," he tweeted at the time.

Similarly, after the July deadly shooting spree on the Danforth that left two dead and 13 others injured, Toronto police told The Canadian Press that the number of guns obtained legally in Canada and then sold to people who use them for criminal purposes has increased dramatically in recent years.

The problem is that Canada does not keep good data on guns — there's no national repository for the origin on crime guns, and national statistics aren't tracked by the Canadian Firearms Program, according to the RCMP.

"In Canada, there isn't much, if any, empirical data attesting to how often this happens," said Lee. "We know that this is happening. We just don't have good evidence about how frequently it's happening."

The professor said conversations about gun control laws often carry the belief that they somehow stop the flow of firearms to people who want to use them for bad purposes. This case, he says, shows how many loopholes exist in the law.

System isn't working

If someone wanting to illegally buy a handgun spends enough time online, Lee said, there's the potential of finding someone willing to look the other way for some fast cash.

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"Maybe the next person this person contacts or even the 10th person might not be discerning," he said. "All of a sudden, someone who specifically wants to overpay for a firearm has a Sig Sauer on the street without going through the controls that are in place.

"I see this case as a critique on the system that it isn't working optimally to deter this."

Police take illegal sales 'extremely seriously'

For No1jewels, the situation became even more stressful. After ending the text conversation, she called up the RCMP to report the attempt to illegally buy the gun, but said she was told to contact local police about it.

A visit to the Hamilton police station in Stoney Creek didn't go any better.

No1jewels said the officer at the front desk read the messages, handed the phone back and asked "'What do you want me to do about it? No crime has been committed.'"

Somebody needs to care at this level, not when it hits the street and somebody shoots a little girl or something.- No1jewels

Frustrated, the gun owner said she swore and stormed out of the station.

Police confirmed someone did come in on Aug. 23 to report an "alleged gun sale," but that the person left before giving a name or filing a report.

"We take this issue extremely seriously," wrote Const. Lorraine Edwards in an email. "We would encourage anyone with information or concerns regarding the illegal sale of firearms to contact Hamilton police or the appropriate law enforcement agency."

No1jewels said the entire experience left her worried about police inaction that could have deadly consequences.

"Somebody needs to care at this level, not when it hits the street and somebody shoots a little girl or something."

with files from Evan Dyer