Given what we know about his life, it’s unlikely — but not impossible — that Hussain, 29, went through the process to own his semiautomatic handgun legally, Toronto lawyer Jordan Donich says.
“It doesn’t look like a guy who legally purchased a weapon, at this point in time, from the information we have. Could he have? Absolutely.”
“If someone wants to get a gun for malicious purposes, they generally aren’t going to apply for it legally. It’s easier to get it illegally.”
WATCH: How did a man with mental health issues get a gun?
Two people died in the mass shooting, and another 13 others were injured.
Hussain would have faced a number of obstacles:
Hussain’s parents have said he ” … had severe mental health challenges, struggling with psychosis and depression his entire life. The interventions of professionals were unsuccessful. Medications and therapy were unable to treat him.”
Hussain would certainly have had to mention this on a gun licence application, if he had filled it out honestly, and attached a full explanation.
(There is a possibility that any applicant could check no on a question that can’t be checked against the record, like involvement with the court system or a divorce could be, and get away with it.)
Someone applying to own a handgun who checked ‘yes’ on the mental health question is likely to be “automatically denied,” Donich says.
“They will always err on the side of caution and restrict, rather than allow, someone a chance who may be questionable on the application.”
Hussain would also have to have provided character references. While the RCMP’s Firearms Centre in Mirimachi, N.B doesn’t call all character references, it does prioritize new applicants and people who want restricted-level licences that would let them own handguns.
We also know that Hussain worked in retail, and while nothing can be ruled out, owning a handgun legally is expensive.
The full two-day safety course to own a restricted firearm, such as a pistol, costs over $300. Having taken the course, the applicant must file a licence application with the RCMP, which costs another $80.
To buy a handgun, the applicant must join a range, or show that they are a collector with detailed knowledge of their pistols. Full membership at one Toronto-area club costs $675 a year, though a limited membership is cheaper.
Only then can the would-be handgun owner start spending money at a gun store. Very inexpensive handguns start at over $300, and the buyer will also need ammunition and a lockable container “not easily broken into” to keep the pistol in, plus a trigger lock.
Hussain’s family didn’t know he had a gun, a source with knowledge of the situation told Global News Monday.
In an apartment shared with his parents, a bulky locked container would be hard to hide or explain.
“People have to keep it in a locked safe, bolted to the floor, with a key, in a concealed area of the home. It can’t be in a flimsy cover, it can’t be in a wooden cover; it has to be securely stored,” Donich says. “People get charged with careless storage all the time.”
As well, police can show up and ask to see that handguns are properly locked up.
As a gun owner, “You lose some of that expectation of privacy. That’s a cost of owning a gun.”
Legal gun ownership is extremely rare in Hussain’s Thorncliffe Park neighbourhood of Toronto. Over 17,000 people live in the postal area, but in 2012 the number of people there with any kind of gun licence was so small the RCMP redacted it from an access-to-information request for privacy reasons.
This leaves the more likely explanation: a handgun bought off the street, which was either stolen or bought from a legal Canadian owner or smuggled from the United States.
The ratio between the two sources of illegal guns has varied over the years. Toronto police now say that it’s around 50:50. They point to a supply line from legal owners to criminals – in one case, police say, a legal owner made over $100,000 selling dozens of guns to criminals.
Data obtained by Global News from the RCMP under access-to-information laws show that semi-automatic handguns, like the kind used in the Danforth shootings, are more attractive to thieves than any other kind: