07/12/2013 05:52 EDT | Updated 09/16/2013 04:39 EDT

B.C. Gun Amnesty Program Nets Missile, Assault Rifle, Ammunition


RICHMOND, B.C. - A British Columbia gun amnesty appeared to be the perfect solution for the person who had a 1.8-metre missile hidden away in storage for years.

The missile and other notable weapons included bayonets from the 1800s, a machine gun, rifles, handguns, shotguns and 31,000 rounds of ammunition were collected in the month-long amnesty program.

The missile was turned into the Abbotsford, B.C., police by the relatives of an individual who had reportedly kept it as a souvenir following some military service overseas, said Attorney General Suzanne Anton in Richmond Friday.

The amnesty ran from June 1 to June 30, and allowed people to turn in documented or undocumented firearms not used in a criminal offence without being charged, and was endorsed by the ministry and the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police.

"We have to not lose focus of the public safety aspect of the amnesty," said Anton.

"These firearms are dangerous and deadly devices, and gun amnesties over the years have taken thousands out of circulation so that they can't be stolen or misused with tragic consequences."

Anton said the military has taken possession of the missile, adding the amnesty also recovered historic firearms like a Lee-Enfield .303 — a weapon used by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War and Korean War and is still in use with the Canadian Rangers —and even a Russian sniper rifle.

Over 1,800 guns and 155 other weapons were obtained during the amnesty.

Anton said the weapons will be destroyed so they can't be misused or fall into the hands of children.

That was a point underscored by Const. Jeff Palmer of the West Vancouver Police Department who said halfway through the campaign, children found a 1914 Webley, six-shot, .45-calibre revolver on a local greenbelt.

"Although it wasn't surrendered as part of the amnesty, it illustrates some of the risks if you have unattended firearms that you are not keeping close track of, who knows maybe a family member, a child of the person who owned it had it out, playing with it, loses it in the forest."

Palmer said police haven't been able to track the revolver to an owner or connect it to an offence.

As successful as Anton said the program was, this year's numbers fell below previous amnesties.

The Ministry of Justice announced an average of 2,500 firearms and 100,000 rounds were surrendered during amnesties in 1997 and 1998, and 3,200 firearms and 725 other unwanted weapons were handed over in 2006.

Insp. Brad Haugli, president of the B.C. Association of Chiefs of Police, said there's no way to know how many lives have been saved or how many injuries, crimes or accidents have been prevented.

"There is no question that our families, our homes and our communities are safer thanks to the 2013 gun-amnesty program," he said.

In fact, Haugli talked about an uncle who had committed suicide with a firearm, and wondered if he'd still be alive today had the weapon been turned in during an amnesty.

"So this isn't about guns in the hands of criminals," he said. "This is about making our homes and communities safer by ultimately preventing any tragedies that may occur."

According to the Ministry of Justice, 5.3 per cent of British Columbians have a firearms licence, which is below the national average of 5.7 per cent, and 158 homicides were committed with firearms across the country in 2011.

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