Montreal

Building 'ghost guns' is 'child's play' say experts after Montreal man appears to use one to kill 3

New U.S. laws might make parts harder to acquire and they're illegal in Canada, but there's little stopping someone from assembling their own.

There's little stopping someone in Canada from assembling their own

'Ghost guns' on display at the headquarters of the San Francisco Police Department in 2019. (AP Photo/Haven Daley)

If someone is sufficiently motivated to build a so-called "ghost gun" — some experts say there is little in the way to stop them.

The weapons, which are created from parts ordered online or made by 3D printers, are causing growing concerns among law enforcement and governments.

They have been used in some high-profile shootings in the United States. And according to Radio-Canada sources, police believe 26-year-old Montrealer Abdulla Shaikh had assembled the gun he was found with last Thursday.

Shaikh, who was living with mental health issues including schizophrenia, allegedly shot and killed three people at random over 24 hours.

Montreal police killed Shaikh Thursday morning while conducting a search operation at a motel in the Saint-Laurent borough.

An ambulance outside a motel.
Police shot Abdulla Shaikh the morning of Aug. 4 when they were searching a motel in the Saint-Laurent borough. Shaikh was suspected of killing three people within 24 hours. (Kolya Hubacek-Guilbault/Radio-Canada)

The gun would have been relatively easy for him to put together, says retired Montreal police officer André Gélinas.

"There are plenty of tutorials available on the internet. Making the parts requires expertise, but if you have them all in your possession, it's child's play," said Gélinas.

He says many components like the barrel, slide and magazine can be legally acquired online, sometimes in convenient kits — even without a firearms licence.

It is only once the gun is assembled that the legal threshold is crossed, as that would make the builder a firearm manufacturer and owner, which requires a licence and a registration certificate.

Gélinas says even the federal Liberal government's Bill C-21 which aims to halt the sale and import of handguns into Canada, among other measures, won't make acquiring and creating the components of a ghost gun illegal.

There is also nothing in the Firearms Act or associated regulations that prohibits a person from possessing a digital blueprint of a 3D firearm, the RCMP told CBC in a statement.

Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante says that's not good enough.

"We need to make sure that everywhere in the country it is safe, and that it's not easy to have access to illegal weapons, whether it's through your 3D printer, or by ordering online pieces," said Plante.

Prevention is the best solution

What may have some effect is a new law in the U.S., where some 5,000 ghost guns are seized by police each year, according to Irvin Waller, a criminology professor at the University of Ottawa.

The law makes some websites that sell parts or kits illegal, forcing them to shut down.

Waller says Canadian border services sometimes intercept the parts or kits as they cross the border as mail, but ultimately there's little authorities can do that would be more effective than reducing the demand for illegal firearms altogether.

Police officers are standing and talking in a parking lot
A Montreal police operation that ended with officers killing Abdulla Saikh at a motel, began Thursday morning. (Charles Contant/CBC)

"More of the same is not going to give us the really significant reductions that smarter investment, and upstream prevention … will give," said Waller.

Waller says research has shown that community outreach, economic development and education about violence, anger and toxic masculinity in the communities where handgun use is more prevalent yields better results than any changes in laws or enforcement.

In a statement to CBC, a spokesperson for Marco Mendicino, the federal minister of public safety, pointed out that in addition to Bill C-21, the government's efforts to curb gun violence include "investments in prevention and community programs to stop gun crime before it starts."

How to prevent a case like Shaikh's

Early reaction from Shaikh's family suggests they weren't aware he had acquired or assembled a firearm.

When coroner Géhane Kamel investigates the deaths of André Lemieux, Mohamed Belhaj and Alexis Lévis-Crevier — Shaikh's alleged victims — she may shed some light on whether anyone in contact with him had any inclination.

It remains to be seen what could have prevented him from acquiring it and using it apart from institutionalization, but Kamel may discover some red flags those around Shaikh and those caring for him may have missed or ignored.

Radio-Canada sources say he had spent significant time online in recent months, including on forums where radical subjects were discussed.

A review by Quebec's mental health board earlier this year says Shaikh was psychologically unstable at times, events that were exacerbated by an occasional refusal to take prescribed medication and consume cannabis instead.

The review, conducted after he was found not criminally responsible for charges related to several incidents at airports in 2018, concluded Shaikh did pose a danger to the public but that freedom with conditions was still preferable to institutionalization.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Leduc

Journalist

Alex Leduc is a digital and broadcast journalist with CBC Montreal. He has worked in North America and the Middle East covering news and sports.

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