Rifles converted to automatic fire an increasing risk, RCMP internal report warns

CBC News

The number of military-style firearms that can be temporarily jury-rigged to become automatic weapons has increased “dramatically” in Canada over the last decade — and so has the public-safety risk.

That’s the stark conclusion of an internal RCMP laboratory report on improvised methods for upgrading semi-automatic weapons, and for illegally altering magazine clips to allow for rapid continuous fire.  

The lab report notes that Criminal Code regulations designed to thwart makeshift upgrades may not apply to newer generations of weapons, creating a legal void.

“The restricted and prohibited firearm provisions of Criminal Code regulations were last updated in 1995, and there are presently numerous models of military and paramilitary firearms on the Canadian market which are outside the scope of the Criminal Code regulations, many being non-restricted in classification,” says the 15-page report.

“The Canadian introduction of new types of military and paramilitary firearms not mentioned in the Criminal Code regulations, nearly all with large capacity magazines sizes, started circa 2005 and has accelerated since.”

“The public safety threat posed by improvised conversion to full automatic fire has correspondingly increased.”

A heavily censored version of the internal report, dated November 2014, was obtained by CBC News under the Access to Information Act.

CBC News has previously reported on the RCMP’s concerns about improvised assault-weapon upgrades, an issue raised by RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson directly with then public safety minister Steven Blaney last year. But the detailed Mountie lab work documenting the issue was released only in the last week.

Last summer, Blaney rejected legislative changes to close any regulatory gap, saying the current law was sufficient. The Conservative government also passed Bill C-42 giving cabinet — not the RCMP — the final say about which weapons to restrict or ban, after the Mounties were slapped down for trying to get a popular semi-automatic withdrawn from Canada.

Some rifles could be banned

But the new Liberal government has promised to “put decision-making about weapons restrictions back into the hands of police, not politicians,” raising the possibility the RCMP may yet be able to get some semi-automatics taken off the market.

A Mountie spokesman, Sgt. Harold Pfleiderer, would not say whether the RCMP is pressing the new Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale to act on the issue. “The RCMP does not comment on the advice it provides to the minister,” he said in an email.

A spokesman for Goodale reiterated the Liberal government’s commitment to get “assault weapons off our streets,” but said consultations are needed first.

“We will work with all levels of government, our stakeholders and the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee to move forward on this commitment,” said Scott Bardsley.

Among the Liberals’ election commitments is to broaden membership of the firearms committee to include representatives of women’s groups and public-health advocates. Critics have said the committee is stacked with gun proponents.

The RCMP lab tested 11 models of rifles and one pistol, including the weapon used by Marc Lepine in the 1989 Montreal massacre and the semi-automatic used by Justin Bourque in the 2014 Mountie shootings in Moncton, N.B.

The testing was prompted by Bourque’s statement to police that he had considered using an improvised technique to turn his rifle into an automatic weapon.

The report says more than 1,200 test shots were fired between July and November 2014, using a technique that is “widely reported on the internet complete with installation and fitting instructions.” The name of the technique is blacked out in the documents, but has been known in gun circles for decades, and information about at least one other technique also circulates.

New firearms on market

The Criminal Code regulations in the 1990s effectively protected against any upgrades “by taking the firearms most practical for conversion to full automatic fire off the civilian market,” says the document, authored by Murray A. Smith, manager with the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program.

“Thus, the public safety risk posed by improvised conversion techniques was largely negated and rendered moot, and not requiring much police attention.”

But the proliferation of new firearms since 2005 has increased the risk to the public, augmented by the availability of new magazines.

“Large capacity magazines are widely available for the military and paramilitary firearms, and although limited in capacity by law and generally reduced to five shots by a pin or similar modification, the original capacity is typically readily restorable.”

“The materials required for improvised full automatic fire are ordinary everyday products.”

Upgrading any weapon to fully automatic status is clearly prohibited by Section 102(1) of the Criminal Code, with prison terms of up to 10 years. But Smith’s report raises questions about the current effectiveness of 20-year-old Criminal Code regulations as they apply to newer weapons shown in lab tests to be “amenable to the improvised full automatic fire technique.”

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9 thoughts on “Rifles converted to automatic fire an increasing risk, RCMP internal report warns

  1. What a BS report. Any semi auto can be converted given you have enough skills in machining. That is a very, very small percentage of the population….unless they are considering bump fire aids as auto. We do not in the US. And, bump fire is so God awful inaccurate it is only a novelty.

    1. I don’t know, Samuel, doesn’t take a whole lot of skill to cut a lobe off of a cam and weld it to a shaft going through a bearing welded to a mount attached to where the trigger guard should be. But then again I guess that would be a Gatling gun. Just a thought.

  2. some people just dont understand how inaccurate a full auto weapon is .. they were designed for suppressive fire ,, just slinging lead to keep your opponents head down so you can move

    the guy that should make them nervous is the guy that can pop yer grape at 2 miles out with a single shot , get up and move , and never be detected

    even if i could own and or afford a full auto, I wouldnt bother ..I’d put my money into something like a CheyTec .408 and reach out an touch someone a mile or 2 away , I guess thats for those of us that really know how to shoot

    1. Very true, EotS. Full-auto rifle fire is for poorly-trained conscripts who don’t know how to use a rifle properly. It can be a morale booster and can scare an unseasoned enemy, but it’s not as effective as semi-auto fire from a rifle.

      Here’s a Navy SEAL on the subject:


      To what he said I would add another point for anyone who is fighting a well-equipped modern force rather than bullying a bunch of primitive tribesmen who live in mud huts and caves. With the widespread use of armor plates and even some rifle-resistant helmets, it’s especially important to aim shots rather than spray ‘n’ pray. Even if spraying ammo allows you to get hits faster — which is only the case at very close range — those hits will often be to non-vital areas or to armor. Simply scoring hits isn’t enough. You have to aim around the armor, and preferably for the center of the head, when the range is close.

      If I had to pick one rifle in 5.56 for combat, I’d choose an SDM-type precision AR over an auto-capable M4A1 every time:


  3. If we use these possible scenarios, we should ban……
    knives, baseball bats, hammers, axes, swords, pointy sticks
    and old ladies with rolling pins.
    Something could happen somewhere some day.
    We need to sit in a hole and wait for the uneducated politicians
    and the RCMP tells us when to come out.
    But we have to ban holes too because they could be filled
    with methane gas or carbon dioxide.
    Now we have to ban methane and carbon dioxide. DAMN IT ALL

  4. Full auto is useful for two things: wasting ammo and ruining your barrel. Other than as suppressive fire it isn’t even useful on the battlefield. In basic we’re taught to use only the semi auto and burst selections unless we’re being charged by an overwhelming force, then it’s “spray and pray”.
    And converting a semi auto to full auto isn’t as easy as people think. Unless you’re a skilled gunsmith, you’re more likely to ruin your rifle or kill yourself than to have a reliable full auto rifle. Most AR’s don’t even have the correct feed ramp in the lower, and you’d need the correct bolt and bolt carrier to fire reliably with an auto sear.

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