Homemade guns built for less than $20 are 'up close and personal' weapons present in Saskatchewan

The homemade firearms can be built in an hour for under $20. Despite this the weapons are rare in Saskatchewan, as often there are already illicit means to find a gun.

'Everyone is accurate at 1 foot away': Zip guns are rare but dangerous

Two zip guns seized from a home in Regina. The pipe in the centre holds a bullet and fits into the pipe on the right. Smashing the two piece into one another fires a bullet. (Submitted )

When police officers arrived on the scene in downtown Saskatoon this September, they thought they were dealing with a man trying to break into cars.

They were, but what they didn't expect is that this man was armed and would cause chaos in downtown streets for hours to come.

In videos, Michael Arcand can be seen holding what looks to be a long piece of metal pipe. In reality it was a homemade gun, also known as a zip gun. A weapon like this can cost less than $20 and can be built in an hour using parts found at a hardware store.

Submitted video shows suspect, police during incident in downtown Saskatoon

5 years ago
Duration 1:32
A suspect running through downtown Saskatoon was sent to hospital after he was hit by shots fired by police, Wednesday night.

Arcand is facing seven charges. In addition to attempted murder and use of a firearm while committing an indictable offence, he is also facing charges directly related to operation, manufacturing and use of a zip gun.

Sgt. Ken Kane with the Saskatoon Police Services wasn't there that day but knows the officers that responded and understands what they had to deal with.

"These members don't know they were responding to someone with a firearm, and didn't know definitively that it was one until he actually shot at them," said Kane. "Unfortunately there is no easy way to mitigate that risk. You don't have a crystal ball."

You pull it out and really no matter how accurate it is everyone is accurate at one foot away from their intended target.- Sgt. Ken Kane

When a gun is identified the police change their tactics, said Kane. Distance is kept, a perimeter is established, tactical units can be activated — the amplified presence of danger is met with greater caution.

Kane said the officer, also a sergeant, who was shot at has been with the SPS for 21 years and serves as a leader on a tactical team. Despite being unharmed and his experience on the streets, being shot at can still leave any officer shaken.

"It's one of those things he'll carry, probably, for the rest of his life," said Kane.

​According to Kane, anyone using a zip gun could harm themselves when firing. In his experience, the people that tend to use the weapon are gang members and people involved in the drug trade.

'Out of the crosshairs of the government'

But Jooyung Lee, an associate professor at the University of Toronto, says there is no one size fits all description of a zip gun user.
Jooyoung Lee is a professor of sociology and expert in gun violence at the University of Toronto. (CBC)

Lee's focuses on gun violence and the effect it has on young men; specifically young black men in south central Los Angeles.

The attraction of the zip gun is that it is more challenging to trace by authorities. 

"People who are making homemade zip guns tend to be people who want to stay out of the crosshairs of the government and who want to circumvent the gun control laws that are already on the books," said Lee.

The information to actually build a zip gun is everywhere online, said Lee. Videos, articles even a wikiHow are easily found by a simple Google search.

Winnipeg police seized three homemade "bang stick"-style firearms from a home in August. (Winnipeg Police Service)

'Up close and personal' weapon

Pieces of pipe are often used as a makeshift chamber where a cartridge is inserted or housed. From there either another pipe with a screw — acting as a hammer — an elastic band, or a spring loaded mechanism can be attached to the gun.

To fire it the user has to activate the primer in the cartridge by either smashing the back of the the cartridge, or by striking it with the improvised firing mechanism.

The weapon can more-or-less perform the same function as a legitimately made gun, though it is harder to fire at a target accurately given the components of the weapon.

But in his experience Sgt. Kane says that doesn't matter.

"It's the old gut buster," said Kane. "It's up close and personal. You pull it out and really no matter how accurate it is everyone is accurate at one foot away from their intended target."

For police in Saskatoon, zip guns are not a common occurrence.

From Jan. 1,  2017 to Oct. 24, 2017, the SPS have seized four zip guns. By comparison, in the same time frame 72 sawed-off shotguns have been seized.

In Regina there have been 10 zip guns seized from January to August of this year.

As for how many of these weapons are present, Lee says there is no way to know for sure, but echoes that they are rare.