The booming business in magazines that legally triple rifle capacity

Magazines that can legally triple the ammunition capacity of a semi-automatic rifle are in high demand, a Global News investigation found.
Magazines that can legally triple the ammunition capacity of a semi-automatic rifle are in high demand, a Global News investigation found. GLOBAL NEWS

Demand for magazines that let you legally triple a semi-automatic rifle’s capacity is so great, Canadian suppliers can’t keep up.

Several hundred gun owners are on a Vancouver company’s back-order list for .50 Beowulf magazines. A New Brunswick start-up is dedicated to manufacturing them, Global News has learned.

The heavy Beowulf rifle, designed for five outsized .50-calibre bullets, is rare in Canada. But a loophole lets owners of semi-automatic rifles, who would otherwise be limited to a five-round magazine, legally load 15 smaller rounds into a magazine stamped as designed for a Beowulf rifle.

In March of 2011, an RCMP interpretation of firearms laws ruled that magazine limits apply only to the gun a magazine’s designed for, not to the gun it might be used in. This has created a number of exceptions to the original five-round limit enacted by Brian Mulroney’s government in the early 1990s in the wake of the Ecole Polytechnique mass killing in Montreal.

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As a result of the RCMP ruling, five-, ten- or fifteen-round magazines may or may not be legal for semi-automatic rifles in Canada depending on what’s stamped on the side.

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

And demand for magazines that push the original limit outstrips supply.

A spokesperson for Vancouver-based Armtac, which lists the magazines for $45 and has them on back order, called online reports of a long waiting list “correct,” but said the exact number was “internal information.”

“I have no idea” why the high demand, Chris Kam said. “People like .50 Beowulf, and the magazine is made for that gun.”

Armtac lists a conversion kit that would let a gun owner create a Beowulf from an AR-15 rifle for $1,400, but it’s out of stock.

As for tripling the magazine’s capacity by using a lighter calibre, “I can’t comment on that,” Kam said. “The mags were designed and marketed for the .50 Beowulf upper. [The manufacturer] says the mechanism is designed for .50 Beowulf, and is not to be used for .223.”
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Armtac’s Web site reinforces the warning, saying the magazine “is designed for the use .50 Beowulf ammunition only and not any calibre.”

On the other side of the country Press Check Ventures, based near the Maine border in Weston, N.B., is selling Canadian-made Beowulf-type magazines online for about $50 each.

The company did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

In private online sales, the magazines go for as much as $250.

Global’s copy of the firearms registry, obtained last year before the long gun registry data was deleted, showed no Beowulf rifles registered in Canada at that time.

As far as Global News can tell, no Beowulf rifles are offered for sale in Canada. In late June, one was being offered in a private sale for $3,500.

30-round magazine legally possible, federal justice  department confirms

How manufacturers describe their rifle magazines is crucial in determining what it is “designed for” and therefore how Ottawa regards it, says Ottawa-based firearms lawyer Solomon Friedman.

For example: In principle, because Canadian law doesn’t limit magazine capacity for rifles with hand-operated actions, that would make it possible to legally fire a 30-round magazine from a semi-automatic rifle. The only reason it hasn’t happened yet is that the makers have promoted the hand-operated rifles as accepting magazines designed for the AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.

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“That’s a case where you can see the importance of language used in marketing materials to firearm classification,” Friedman said. “Now, if someone were to make a completely new design, with its own proprietary magazine, that also happened to fit the AR-15, that might be a different story.”

In an e-mail, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Justice confirmed Friedman’s position.

“Provided that the magazine was never designed to be used in a semi-automatic rifle, yes it would be legal,” Carole Saindon wrote. “The determination of whether a cartridge magazine would fall within the definition of a ‘prohibited device’ … is determined by the firearm that the cartridge magazine was designed for, and not by the type of firearm that it is ultimately used in.

“Magazines that are designed to be used in both semi-automatic firearms and other firearms that do not function in a semi-automatic manner, are considered to be ‘dual use’ magazines and are captured by the cartridge limitations.”

For Friedman and gun-rights activists, this is an argument for abandoning magazine limits altogether because they don’t work. But gun-control advocates see it differently.

“The simplest way to deal with that is to close the loophole and say, ‘No, you can’t.’ We don’t need the RCMP trying to interpret something that wasn’t contemplated by Parliament in the first place,” said NDP public safety critic Randall Garrison.

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“If the government doesn’t update the [law], that’s what makes it possible for someone to circumvent it. It’s not the system that’s faulty.”

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