Residents turn over 51 rifles and handguns during amnesty

Some of the firearms turned in by residents during a gun amnesty in April sit tagged in a row and awaiting destruction at Sarnia Police headquarters. Sarnia Police Photo

Cathy Dobson

Fifty-one guns were turned in during a month-long amnesty in Sarnia, a large haul compared to the 69 collected in London, a city five times as large.

Sarnia’s amnesty in April coincided with others offered by the OPP and some municipal police services.

It required residents to identify themselves and police would retrieve the guns for identification and disposal.

The OPP say they collected 689 guns including 113 prohibited firearms.

“An amnesty period will be repeated in Sarnia at some point,” says Const. Giovanni Sottosanti of Sarnia Police Services.

“It is a lot of work and requires permission from the Ontario government,” he said.

But it effectively took dozens of guns and 100 pounds of ammunition out of circulation.

About 12 of the 51 guns turned into police came from a single family that wanted to dispose of firearms belonging to a deceased member, Sottosanti said.

In total, 17 shotguns were handed over to city police, as well as 15 rifles, 12 handguns, six air rifles and one percussion cap muzzleloader firearm that likely dated to 1889 or earlier.

“It was in bad shape and had no serial number,” he said. Antique guns that come into police possession through an amnesty are generally not donated to museums or preserved, he said.

The RCMP has a collection of guns in order to document the kinds of firearms in Canada but otherwise all guns are destroyed, Sottosanti said.

A large number collected in Sarnia were rifles made by British manufacturer Lee-Enfield for use during the Second World War. They were the British Army’s standard rifle from 1895 to 1957 and many were “dumped” in the market afterward.

Others were made in Cobourg Ont. by the H.W. Cooey Machine & Arms Company.

Sottosanti said 32 of the 51 guns were non-restricted, along with 11 prohibited and one restricted weapon.

Restricted guns, including some handguns and assault rifles, can be bought and sold in Canada with the appropriate Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).

“Generally, you need to be a collector or you could be a competitive shooter to have a restricted gun,” said Sottosanti.

“But it’s hard to get the proper paperwork for one and the applicant will have his record checked as well as his mental health.”

One of the prohibited firearms was a handgun reported stolen in 2005. Police were able to contact the original owner and an investigation is underway, Sottosanti said.

Sarnia police will destroy all 51 of the firearms once checks show they weren’t used to commit a crime.

Police use amnesty periods to get as many guns off the streets as possible. It’s a helpful tool, especially after the Conservatives canceled the long-gun registry in 2012, Sottosanti said.

“The registry served a great purpose but, because of the expense and politics around it, I understand why it had to go.”

Now amnesty periods are used to get illegal guns out of circulation.

“People argue criminals and thieves are not going to hand in any guns during an amnesty month,” said Sottosanti.

“But the fact is these guns are now off the streets and there are 51 fewer guns that could be stolen in Sarnia.”

He reminded residents an amnesty period is not necessary for them to contact police if they want to hand over unwanted firearms at any time.

“Sometimes a family will acquire firearms through an estate or someone will decide they no longer want to hunt. In those cases, police will come and pick up the guns and destroy them,” he said.

No one, he stressed, should attempt to bring a gun to the police station.

The OPP have released the final tally collected by participating municipal police services like Sarnia.

In total, 1,503 guns were voluntarily surrendered in non-OPP jurisdictions during April’s amnesty.