Montreal

10 years after Dawson shooting, killer's weapon is more accessible than in 2006

The Beretta CX4 Storm, the rifle used in the Dawson shooting, has been slightly modified especially for the Canadian market, meaning it's no longer a restricted weapon: only a regular gun licence is needed to buy it.

Gun manufacturers adapt weapons to each country's laws, improving sales, firearms expert explains

Louise De Sousa, mother of Dawson shooting victim Anastasia De Sousa, Suzanne Laplante-Edward and Jim Edward, parents of Polytechnique victim Anne-Marie Edward, advocated for stricter gun controls in Ottawa. (Graham Hughes/Canadian Press)

The semi-automatic rifle used by Kimveer Gill to kill Anastasia De Sousa and wound 16 people 10 years ago at Dawson College is legal to buy and own in Canada.

In fact, the gun is more accessible than ever, despite the efforts of shooting victims and gun control advocates to restrict it.

Gill's main weapon in the Sept. 13, 2006, shooting was the Beretta CX4 Storm. At the time, it was a restricted weapon, which required a special licence to own, a permit to transport it to a shooting club and a requirement the permit-holder be a member of a shooting club – the only place it was allowed to be fired.

The restricted weapon is still for sale in Canada.

For the last four or five years, so is a slightly modified version of the gun now made for the Canadian market that is non-restricted: Only a regular licence is needed to buy it.

A version adapted to each market

For the gun to lose its restricted classification, Beretta increased the barrel length from 40 to 48 centimetres.

The Beretta CX4 Storm Carbine, used by Kimveer Gill in the 2006 Dawson massacre, is popular among hobbyists. (Carlos Chavez/The Associated Press)

By law, any gun with a barrel length below 47 centimetres is classified as restricted. The law was intended to prohibit shorter-barrelled, military-style weapons that are easier to transport and handle. 

However, this eight-centimetre change in the barrel length doesn't affect the power or accuracy of the rifle, according to Tony Bernardo, executive director of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association.

"The 'Canadian' Beretta Cx4 Storm Semi-Auto Carbine Rifle ... is increasingly the 'magic' answer to many new shooter's wishes.- GTAGunSafety.com

Alan Voth, an expert in firearms and ballistics, explains that arms manufacturers study the laws of each country and create a version adapted to each individual market, which improves sales.

Firearms buffs are unabashedly enthusiastic about the unrestricted Canadian version of the Beretta CX4.

One southern Ontario firm that specializes in firearms safety courses, GTAGunSafety.com, calls the rifle "the 'magic' answer to many new shooter's wishes."

"It is a reasonably priced modern semi-auto carbine that features a ten-round capacity, and is non-restricted, meaning it requires no range memberships, or authorized purpose for transporting, and can be purchased or transferred with nearly no encumbrances as it is not required to be registered," it explains.

Coroner in Dawson deaths called for prohibition

After fatally shooting 18-year-old De Sousa and wounding 16 people, Gill committed suicide on the spot with his Glock pistol.

The deaths led to two reports by Quebec coroner Jacques Ramsay in 2008, which suggested various ways to prevent a similar tragedy in the future.

Notably, Ramsay recommended prohibiting all semi-automatic weapons and also all those with bullpup-style magazines located behind the trigger.

Ramsay noted in his report that while the CX4 Storm used by Gill did not have a classic "bullpup" mechanism, "it's undeniably inspired by that conception," and it worked in the same way.

"Unfortunately, Kimveer Gill proved eloquently just how easy this weapon is to maneuvre and find its target," he wrote.

"It's a lighter rifle, easier to manoeuvre, but still very accurate and should not be accessible to civilians," Ramsay said at the unveiling of his report in 2008.

The report also recommended closing the loophole that allows arms manufacturers to change their weapons to make them legal, and therefore, more accessible.

Heidi Rathjen, a survivor of the 1989 Polytechnique massacre and spokeswoman for gun control group Poly se souvient, says she believes rifles like the CX4 Storm should not simply be sold.

Anastasia DeSousa, 18, was killed in the Dawson College shooting. (Canadian Press)

"These are guns designed to kill humans quickly and efficiently. They are designed for military contexts," she said.

"There is no justification for permitting these weapons, and when they fall in the hands of people with bad intentions, that's when it ends in tragedy."

The unrestricted version of the Beretta CX4 is shipped with a five-round magazine but accepts magazines with a higher legal capacity of ten rounds, according to GTAGunSafety.com.

Anything higher than that is illegal, but it is possible to modify them to accept high-capacity magazines.

Weapons 'demonized'

Guy Morin, vice president of a group against the creation of a firearms registry, says there's no problem with semi-automatic weapons in Canada. Deadly shootings are rare, he said, and murders are the work of criminals who obtain illegal weapons or mentally ill persons.

Bernardo, of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, says that semi-automatic weapons are demonized for no reason. They are no faster and don't carry more ammunition than simpler guns, he said.

Rather, they have a bad reputation because of their appearance, Bernardo argues. The CX4 Storm, for example, is a black rifle with a design he calls "racy."

Morin agrees, stressing that the weapon has a "mean look" without being different from other guns in its class.

Clarifications

  • An earlier version of this story stated that weapons like Gill's can have high-capacity magazines, suppressors and military accessories. It did not specify that supressors and magazines with a capacity of more than five or ten rounds are illegal in Canada.
    Sep 12, 2016 5:43 PM ET

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