Getting guns right, for what it’s worth

A man is arrested by police after a gunman shot and killed one person and injured another during the Parti Quebecois victory rally in Montreal on Wednesday, September 5, 2012. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Montreal La Presse - Olivier Pontbriand

There is a natural law operating in Canadian media whereby the more knowledge you have of firearms, the more hilarious you find the press and TV reports that follow any prominent incident with guns. Sun News, for example, was quick to tell us after Tuesday night’s attack on the Parti Québécois victory party in Montreal that suspect Richard Henry Bain had been caught with “an automatic weapon.” Global News doubled down, arming Bain with a nonexistent “machine-gun.”

The Montreal Gazette thus deserves special credit for establishing the truth, and describing it in a fairly straightforward way: the weapon used by Bain was a Czech-made semiautomatic rifle, the CZ 858, specifically designed to be legal for sale and possession in Canada. It bears a superficial resemblance to the outlawed AK-47, making it popular with military hobbyists and wannabes who do tactical “sport” shooting at gun ranges. But, as the Gazette established, it is no different in principle from any semiautomatic hunting rifle. It conforms to Canadian law if it’s used with the required five-round magazine, and hundreds of Canadians own one.

Although online gun aficionadoes raised the possibility that Bain’s gun was a CZ 858 even as CBC and Radio-Canada still had their cameras rolling on the scene, the teevee news could be forgiven for mistaking the weapon for an AK-47. (General familiarity with small arms might actually make this error more likely, not less. Reporters with foreign experience are more likely to have seen an AK carried in the wild, and perhaps even fired in anger, than they are to have seen some nerd showing off a Czech simulacrum at a range in Prince Albert.) But it’s less easy to account for the statement made Wednesday by a Montreal police spokesman, who waved off questions about the gun by saying “It’s a prohibited or restricted weapon” and adding “A gun like that doesn’t go in the register.” The gun not only could go in the register; turns out it was in the register. Which is small comfort.