Shooting fish in a barrel
Street guns are often stolen from collectors by thieves with easy access to gun clubs and ammunition logs. And that 770 kilogram safe? A joke to determined burglars
Jan. 14, 2006. 08:23 AM
JOHN DUNCANSON AND DALE BRAZAO
CONSECON, Ont.—Lionel Weese, a gun collector and tow truck driver, was at home resting his weary feet when the distress call came.
On the phone was a young man claiming his car had broken down on a dark, rural road.
Never one to leave anyone stranded, Weese set out to help the stranger, leaving only his tiny dog to guard the arsenal of handguns and rifles he has been collecting since he was 16 years old. His wife was out at her regular Thursday night bingo.
When he found no stranded motorist, Weese began to suspect a hoax. Then came the panicked cellphone call from a friend telling him his house had been burgled.
Weese rushed home to find thieves had kicked in the side door, ripped open his gun safe, and made off with his prized collection of 23 handguns, including five powerful .45-calibre pistols. The Dec. 8 break-in took less than 20 minutes.
Weese believes one of the culprits may have been in his house in the past and knew the layout.
Police say it isn't difficult to determine where gun collectors live. The addresses of private gun clubs are public, and anyone purchasing ammunition must log their name and address in store ledgers that are often left open on the counter. People can also be followed home from gun shows and shooting ranges.
And correspondence from the chief firearms officer for Ontario to gun owners is stamped on the front in bold letters from the "CHIEF FIREARMS OFFICE" alerting anyone who sees the mail that the recipient may be a gun collector.
Data from the Canadian gun registry show the vast majority of Ontario's legitimate gun owners live outside Toronto.
The market for illegal handguns in Canada has exploded in recent years — especially in Toronto — where police fear Weese's weapons are likely to end up.
Holding court in his cluttered garage office adorned with posters that leave no doubt where he stands on gun rights, the heavyset local shooting legend worries about where his beloved weapons will turn up.
"I really want the .45s off the street," says the 56-year-old Weese whose impressive collection included a 1921 Chicago police riot gun from the Al Capone era. But the possibility that the .45s are out there in the hands of gangs gives him sleepless nights.
"It's the biggest hitting thing you're gonna find," says Weese, noting that in the hands of criminals, even police with their .40-calibre semi-automatic Glocks would be out-gunned.
"Let's put it this way, you get hit with a .45, you ain't getting up again."
The well-planned heist, which he suspects was carried out by a drug gang, netted thieves 23 handguns and two long guns worth about $18,000 in total. But they left behind 30 other shotguns and rifles Weese had stored upstairs. "They just wanted the handguns," he says.
Guns and gun policy have become a hot election issue after Prime Minister Paul Martin's call for a ban on handguns.
Weese calls the plan ridiculous. "Paul Martin says he's going to take the guns away from collectors, and the only ones allowed to keep guns are ones to compete in the Olympics.
"But how do you get there if you can't even practise?"
Weese, who is on the firing range about 50 times a year, is among a growing list of legitimate gun collectors targeted by thieves.
"It's not a safe hobby," said Const. Kim Guthrie, with the OPP's Prince Edward County detachment. Local officers and investigators with the province's special weapons enforcement unit in Orillia are hunting for Weese's weapons.
"It appears they knew what they were after," said Guthrie, adding the investigation is a top priority for the force given the surge in violent gun crime.
Toronto's "Year of the Gun" claimed 52 lives in 2005 — the most gun homicides in the city's history. The blood spilled on Toronto streets culminated with the Boxing Day shootout at Yonge and Dundas Sts. between rival gang members, which left 15-year-old Jane Creba dead and six others wounded. No one has been arrested for the slaying.
After the break-in at his house, Weese ordered a heavier safe to store his guns and put in a steel reinforced door, but he doubts it will stop determined thieves.
"Nothing is going to stop them if they want to get at the guns," says the affable Weese, an icon in this town of 700 just south of Trenton, where he settled in 1975 after leaving his job as a tow truck driver in Toronto.
An avid gun collector and defender of gun owners' rights, Weese believes that banning handguns and putting more restrictions on gun owners isn't the answer. The gun community plays by the rules, it's the bad guys that don't, he says.
"It's not the guns that's the problem. It's the attitude of people," says Weese pointing to a plaque tacked to his wall bearing the message: "When Guns Are Outlawed, Only Outlaws Will Have Guns.''
Weese's story is similar to that of Mike Hargreaves, a long-time gun instructor and collector who boasts he was the one who introduced the Glock to Canadian police forces, including Toronto's.
Hargreaves, who now lives in Florida, stored a large collection in his Scarborough apartment. He lost more than 32 firearms to thieves who broke into the apartment in December 2003.
Although police have recovered almost half the firearms, at least seven have been linked to crimes, including a triple homicide, an armed robbery and a road rage incident.
Police have taken out a warrant for his arrest on charges of unsafe storage, a charge Hargreaves laughs at given that thieves spent two days hacking away at his 770 kilogram safe using sledgehammers and blowtorches.
Nevertheless, the 70-year-old Hargreaves said he is particularly worried about two of the missing guns — Steyr Aug assault rifles — because of their portability and deadly accuracy. Police will not say whether they have recovered the Steyr Augs, which Hargreaves says he introduced to Canada and sold to tactical squads in the GTA.
"I'm more concerned with the ease that it can be deployed and you can deploy that against somebody across the parking lot," Hargreaves said. "When your dealing with a pistol these people who point it sideways and jump up and down, it doesn't lend itself to accuracy."
Even in an amateur's hands, the Steyr Aug, the standard issue rifle of the Austrian army is one efficient and durable weapon.
"If I gave you this weapon ... and even if you never fired a gun in your life, you could hit something from zero to 50 yards, first time, all the time, every time."
It can be broken down quickly, concealed in a briefcase, and reassembled in minutes.
"It is basically a soldier's gun you take to battle," said Hargreaves. "You can throw it on the ground, cover it with mud, pee on it to wipe the mud off and use it day in and day out."
Some much bullshit in such a few amount of words.
I'm not sure where to begin with this load of bullshit.
He must've had a Wally World safe before, if they got into it in such a short amount of time.
He actually believes this crock of shit ????
Hey now, dont be so hard on the guy. He is is trying to explain the situation to his liberal gun grabbing pussy canadians, not to arfcom keyboard commandos who eat sleep and breath all things firearm. After all, a computer geek cant teach a granny to use a computer by bombarding her with technical terms eh?
Once and for all, PROOF that the .45 ACP is the bestest cartridge EVAR!!!1
This should be someone's new sigline!
Wow. I haven't read that much bullshit since someone sent me the minutes from the last DNC meeting.
The press in Canada is a wholy-owned subsidiary of their liberal government.