Wednesday, November 18, 2015

EVERY GUN TELLS A STORY - Even Mr. Zehah-Bibeau's Model 1894 Winchester

Ronald J. Jack

The Gun - that killed J.F.K. - Bantam, 1976
THE GUN (that killed J.F.K.) by Henry Bloomgarden - was a
Bantam paperback, 1976.  An example of pre-Internet gun prose.

When I was a junior-high school student I shared the enthusiasms of Canadian boys my own age. Many of us developed an interest in the history of weaponry and warfare, and we could rattle off the names and specifications of almost any model that could fire a projectile.  I couldn't afford to buy a gun of my own, but we had a shop teacher who was also a gunsmith. If we brought scrap lead to class he would let us melt it down in a crucible and pour the molten metal into bullet moulds for .45 and .38 slugs. He also let us watch as he cut down the barrels of .12 Gauge and .410 Gauge shotguns and re-bedded them with pistol grips, sans any butt-stock.  He was breaking the law, but we didn't know any better. He was our teacher.

THE WAR BUSINESS - George Thayer, 1970 - book cover

At about that time I read a book that opened my eyes to much bigger issues.  George Thayer's, THE WAR BUSINESS: The International Trade in Armaments (AVON 1970) alerted me to the fact that Canadians companies also sold weapons illicitly, and they didn't particularly care if they were enabling foreign dictators or mercenary armies.  More interesting were a few pages on the importation of cheap war surplus firearms, typified by the Italian carbine (a Mannlicher-Carcano Serial No. C2766) that Lee Harvey Oswald used to assassinate President John F. Kennedy.  A few years later, Henry S. Bloomgarden had an original idea, or so I thought at the time. Why not write a biography of the rifle used to kill Kennedy?  Bantam Books published  THE GUN in 1976 and I pounced on a copy. The story satisfied because the  book described not only the life story of the infamous rifle, but something of of Terni, the company town that produced it, and the lives of the Italian craftsmen who designed and built firearms. More, Bloomgarden detailed the U.S. laws and the lawmakers who aided the importation of surplus weaponry.  

During high school I became aware of the fact that many thousands of collectors were researching the 'biographiies' of individual firearms, and I read many fascinating articles in the gun press which were in effect 'dual biographies' of interesting weapons and the men who once owned them. Some firearms historians spare no effort or expense when sleuthing out the life story of a gun, and many maintain private reference libraries that have cost tens of thousands of dollars to assemble.  With the advent of the Internet came the added ability to swap data with collector-researchers worldwide, and for modest fees acquire personal records that were once impossible to acquire.  I haven't fired a weapon since completing my service in the Canadian Militia in 1981 (Military Police and Infantry) but I have maintained a research/writing interest in modern warfare and weapons design.

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier - Ottawa.
He killed a sentry, but fired few shots. The Winchester Model 1894
holds only a few cartridges in its spring-loaded tube magazine.

"Dead End" on tracing  Zehaf-Bibeau's Winchester

And so when I read reporter Jim Bronskill's  claim (November 10, 2015) of a "Dead End" in the Michael Zehaf-Bibeau investigation, I could smell the fish rotting.  Zehaf-Bibeau, most will recall, was the disturbed man who terrorized Parliament Hill in 2014,  brandishing a very old Winchester lever-action rifle, and fatally shooting a reservist in the back at the National War Memorial.  Under intense pressure, the R.C.M.P. released a photo of the damaged weapon, but not a single detail about its history.  Had they shared even basic information with the public, I feel certain that gun historians would have done their part, and in combination with investigative journalists who could canvass appropriate neighbourhoods and gun enthusiasts, would have done the R.C.M.P.s job for it.  And that, the federal troopers will never allow.

RCMP fail to trace Zehaf-Bibeau rifle -  Canadian Press report

Mr. Bronskill, of the Canadian Press news agency, is one of our most reliable journalists specializing in matters of National Defence, Canada's Intelligence gathering agencies, and Official Secrecy.  He wrote that an inside source had tipped him of the R.C.M.P.s inability to solve the mystery of how and where the gunman acquired his Winchester .30-.30.  "The RCMP devoted more than 130 full-time investigators and staff to the case, interviewing several hundred people across the country."

Just as interesting was a CBC News report, on the same day, that described an internal dispute among the current and former members of the House of Commons security detail.  "RCMP accused of rewriting history of Parliament Hill attack" Only days after the attack on Canada's Parliament, the House of Commons security force was disbanded (without ceremony) and the R.C.M.P. immediately took over the assignment. In order to keep the Ottawa media out of the government's laundry basket, Kevin Vickers was declared a 'Hero' (or National distraction) for his firing a 9 mm. bullet into the back of the gunman's head, and quickly shipped off to an Ambassadorship in Ireland.  (Refer to my previous Runagates Club article.)  Clearly the whole matter has become completely politicized, and the biography of the Zehaf-Bibeau Winchester 94, is not a book that anyone in Ottawa ever plans to write. Inquiring minds just don't want to know.

In truth, Federal authorities would have known quite quickly the genesis or "birth date" of the rifle and when it was shipped into Canada.  The early records of the factory are in the custody of the Cody Firearms Museum in Wyoming, which has (like Colt) made millions of dollars selling authentication letters to Winchester collectors over the years. I have R.L. Wilson's history of Winchester, but there are a host of expensive "collector-grade" reference works, including one just on the Model 1894 rifle. Basic information on serial numbers (never released by the RCMP) are available all over the Internet, as are archived discussions between serious collectors.  Even pamphlets distributed by Winchester (below) give basic historical information, just to whet the appetite for owning a piece of firearms history. Collectors maintain files of vintage Canadian sales catalogs and advertising for individual communities, and it is often possible to determine which retailer (usually a hardware store) was stocking particular makes in a given community.  

Winchester Model 1894 Serial numbers - by year date

SADDLE GUN :"Since the world was powered by horse flesh at the 
time of its introduction, the 1894 just begs to be slipped into a horse 
scabbard with a string of rawhide or braided suede tied around the 
saddle ring to hold her in place on a rough ride."  -  Kevin Gibson

Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau's rifle appears to be of pre-WW1 manufacture, with an octagonal barrel and a crescent shaped steel butt-plate. It was officially an "antique" (100+ years) when he used it to murder a sentry in Ottawa. Such weapons are noticed, and valued. One identical to it, and with no history, sold recently at auction for $ U.S. 1,175. If you owned one, or had one stolen from you, it would matter. Zehaf-Bibeau did not transport it from British Columbia back to Ontario or Quebec. He acquired it there, and quite possibly it came to him through the family. They deny it, and this is Canada, so there will be no nail-pulling. Of course the R.C.M.P. are only interested in establishing if there is another person tied to the rifle, who is chargeable with a crime. Should you think that the registration of rifles and shotguns is a very modern phenomenon in Canada, think again. Handgun registration started very early, but in 1940 our government decreed that all rifles and shotguns had to be registered. (See the clipping below.) Of course many rural Canadians ignored the law, but that is beside the point. The salient point is that taxpayers have forked over more than a Billion Dollars for the funding of a registration system for so-called "long arms", ostensibly in an attempt to eliminate gun crime, and the very moment in our history that a nut dashes onto Parliament Hill with a hunting rifle, the entire program is shown to be a mirage. A year has passed and we are told "the probe has come to a dead end". My gawd! Even more exasperating, very few newspapers bothered to print Bronskill's story, and NONE have attempted a followup.

Registration of ALL firearms in Canada - WW2 law
In 1940 War Measures allowed the government 
to require that all rifles and shotguns be registered. 
Handguns were already tightly controlled in Canada.

So how could this happen? The Canadian Firearms Registry cost Canadian taxpayers somewhere between $1 Billion - $2 Billion dollars. The exact dollar figure is lost in the fog of political warfare. The project was a Chretien-Liberal boondoggle and was cancelled in 2012, although federal law enforcement still requires individual gun owners be licensed.
The first mass-registration of ALL guns in Canada took place during World War II, and might then have picked up the Winchester Model 94. But it didn't. Surely the Chretien Era registration, with its dire threats of jail time for non-compliance, would have detected it? Well, NO. According to the Bronskill report, the Mounties are at a "Dead End". So gun registration was one of the more costly job creation schemes run by Ottawa, but it didn't make a bit of difference in preventing gun crimes like the Zehaf-Bibeau shooting.

Canadian - U.S. Cooperation on Tracing Guns
We Canadians are very aware of the American obsession with the right to own unlimited numbers of guns, and the resulting carnage that ensues. For a look at how the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms handles illicit gun tracing, I turned to YOUTUBE. The ATF National Tracing Center is located in Martinsburg, West Virginia, and it employs approximately 400 full-time staff. The video is only a few minutes long, and I provide a hot link below.

published on YOUTUBE,  in early February 2013.

Despite claims of overwork by staff and the complaint of somehow being handicapped by U.S. Federal privacy laws (somewhat of a hollow joke from an employee of the world's leading surveillance-state) the vaunted A.T.F. racks up an impressive success rate. So is it fair to make a direct comparison between American and Canadian capabilities? It would be IF we Canadians had a little more to go on. With respect to current operations and programs, the level of information control in Ottawa is now so routine and pervasive, that it is virtually equivalent to wartime conditions. I daresay, for example, that Canadians during World War II were able to follow the campaigns in Europe more easily than we were able to do with units deployed to Somalia, Bosnia, Afghanistan, or currently bombing Syria. Could you even secure a list of the names of R.C.M.P. officers serving in your community, much less specific details on why investigators were skunked by Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau? Not a chance.  It's interesting to note that when the Windsor Star did a five-part investigative series (2013) on smuggled guns and Canadian victims, they consulted staff at the ATF in West Virginia, and not our own specialists.

Eight Bandido bikers murdered in Shedden, Ontario in 2006
with one Hi-Point .380 pistol. The ATF traced its biography.

Did you know that Canada has a "Commissioner of Firearms"?  Did you know that each year the Canadian Firearms Program  (CFP) publishes a glossy report summarizing annual achievements?  The CFP is "Canada's Authority on Firearms", and so the Commissioner's next report may include a paragraph or two on the Zehaf-Bibeau case - arguably the most important attempt to trace a firearm that the CFP have yet attempted.  It depends on your P.O.V., I guess.  It seems to me that the program has too many chiefs, and not enough Indians.  

Commissioner of Firearms - 2013 Report, Ottawa

If you read the most recent annual report, you will find a "Program Overview". (Provided below)  You will see listed:
- the Chief Firearms Officer Operations and Firearms Safety Training Directorate
- the Firearms Service Delivery Directorate
- the Firearms investigative and Enforcement Services Directorate
- the Firearms Management and Strategic Services Directorate
- the Information Technology Integration and Business Improvement Section

And these CFP  "Directorates" have "components," and are further supported by Department of Justice lawyers in regional offices.

And if that were not enough, consider this recent refinement in Canada's federal gun tracing efforts:

"The Canadian Integrated Ballistics Information Network - CIBIN"
Based in Ottawa this program seeks to instantly link criminal occurrences anywhere in Canada (and by extension the U.S.) by matching digital records of fired bullets, marks left on cartridge casings, etc. The really sneaky component of the service to "frontline" law enforcement is the "Suspicious Firearms Index" which is a growing compilation of evidence taken from "firearms of interest not known to be associated with a criminal charge but that may generate intelligence for investigators". In other words, the goal is to surreptitiously collect firearms evidence from citizens you don't trust, and hold it for a future match when the weapon is illegally used.

"It's 2015"
On the R.C.M.P.s wish list is "Pursuit of the establishment of a live connection between NIBIN and CIBIN".   NIBIN  is the U.S.A.'s  National Integrated Ballistic Information Network.

And yet none of this technology and bureaucracy would have stopped an attack like that perpetrated in Ottawa by one angry and disturbed man who had access to an antique Winchester found somewhere in a closet. What it does do,  is employ a large number R.C.M.P. officers at six-figure salaries, who are counting on pension cycles guaranteed to far exceed their actual years of service.  And bureaucratic waste is a whole different category of crime best left for another time.  Ironically, many American crime labs are abandoning the technology the RCMP are boasting of acquiring.  The consensus among lab staff is that massive centralized databases are not resulting in local arrests and prosecutions, so they don't feel particularly obligated to waste precious hours feeding information to the insatiable Intelligence dragon. ...But I digress.  The killer was himself killed, so if the R.C.M.P. would just share what they do know about the Model 1894 in discussion, then citizen sleuths might get to work and contribute something helpful to the investigation.