RCMP ruling may widen rifle magazine loophole

An RCMP decision on whether to approve an Alberta man’s exotic pistol could widen a loophole doubling the legal magazine capacity for semi-automatic rifles.

Last year Edward Osborne, a Calgary gun collector and competitive target shooter, imported a Czech-made VZ58 pistol, a shortened version of the popular CZ858 rifle, from the United States.

“I like it because it’s very unique,” he said in an interview. “I like the VZ58 platform in general, and this is one that I’d never seen before.”

He spent about $1,400 to buy the gun. But when it arrived and he tried to register it, it turned out that model wasn’t in RCMP databases. For Osborne to own it legally, RCMP technicians need to examine and classify it.

The gun’s now locked in an RCMP lab, waiting for a decision. The RCMP could classify it as a restricted firearm, which means it would be treated like a traditional handgun, or as a prohibited firearm, which would make its possession illegal.

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But there’s more at stake than an administrative decision about an obscure subcategory of pistol.

If it’s classed as a legal handgun, the VZ58 pistol is allowed a 10-round magazine. And those magazines can in turn legally be used in any rifles that accept them – including semi-automatic CZ858 rifles, which are now restricted to five-round magazines.

READ: RCMP says magazine loophole was intended; law’s author disagrees

Last year, before the long-gun registry was deleted, just under 7,500 CZ858 rifles were privately owned in Canada, about 60% of them in B.C. and Alberta.

READ: Packing heat: How gun law loopholes tripled Canada’s rifle magazine limits

(Semi-automatic rifles are in theory limited to five-round magazines under gun control laws dating from the aftermath of the Montreal Massacre. But a 2011 RCMP bulletin said existing law allows 10-round pistol magazines to be used in rifles if that works mechanically, which in many cases it does.)

Zahal, an Israeli company based near Ben-Gurion airport outside Tel Aviv, has started to offer a 10-round magazine stamped “Vz58 – Pistol Magazine – 10 Round Capacity” which, from the way in which it’s marked and advertised, appears produced specifically for the Canadian market. (It’s stamped and marketed as a magazine designed for the VZ58 pistol, without reference to any other firearm.)

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Osborne’s website about his pistol is co-branded with Zahal, and he does some work for the company.

“When they have product questions that they’re not fluent enough in English for, or somebody who is nearby who thinks that something is out of spec that they want to take a look at, they can mail it to me because I’m a local address for them. I will also do marketing material for them.”

Osborne said Zahal’s decision to offer a 10-round magazine stamped for the VZ58 pistol started with a request he made:

“I asked them if they could get a magazine for me when I bought the gun, and they said they could.”

Zahal did not respond to a request for comment.

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Retired Ontario Provincial Police Staff Sergeant Doug Carlson, who  ran northwestern Ontario’s gun control system for six years before his retirement, says it would be “ridiculous” for the RCMP to classify the VZ58 a legal handgun.

To be classified as a handgun in Canada, a firearm must be “designed, altered or intended to be aimed and fired by the action of one hand.”

“Having carried various handguns for over 35 years as a police officer, when one considers just the length itself it would be ridiculous to believe this model was created to be fired by one hand,” he said.

“When one considers it uses rifle ammunition, it makes no sense whatsoever. I use the same calibre in a rifle to hunt moose each year and cannot imagine using one hand to fire the weapon.”

Osborne says he had no issues firing the gun one-handed, saying it was like firing a heavy-calibre traditional handgun.

For the loophole to apply, the handgun must be “commonly available”. Since only one VZ58 pistol is known to be privately owned in the whole country, and Osborne had to go to some trouble to import it, it would seem not to meet that standard. However, the RCMP interprets “commonly available” as covering “firearms that are mass produced and, therefore, are not rare, one of a kind, or limited in availability,” Sgt. Greg Cox explained in an e-mail.

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The government has no plan to revisit magazine regulations, a spokesperson for Public Safety Minister Steven Blaney confirmed.

“I don’t think that law-abiding gun owners – shooters and hunters – want to stretch the law, but there are some who do, and will, and will use a minor loophole to go beyond the law,” said Liberal public safety critic Wayne Easter. “Why would you ever need any more than five [rounds in a magazine]?”

“We have magazine limits for a reason, and that has to do with public safety,” said NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison.

“We should be making sure those rules work, and not allow additional loopholes which allow larger magazines. That loophole could be plugged by the government, if they wished to take action.”

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