A man who walked into a Victoria-area medical clinic with a high-powered rifle and threatened staff last year was given his weapon back only weeks later and was able to keep his firearms licence before killing two people, a coroner’s inquest has heard.
Firearms officers did not question the police decision to return the weapon to Angus Mitchell and did not revoke his licence, although it was put under a temporary review, Terry Hamilton, chief firearms officer for British Columbia and the Yukon, told the inquest.
“[The police] are the ones who have the most knowledge, and we generally tend to follow their lead,” she said.
“We place a great deal of value on opinions of police officers. We didn’t want to interfere with any criminal code timelines.”
A coroner’s jury is examining Mitchell’s death after he was shot by police and why his firearm was confiscated – and then returned to him – in the months before he fatally shot two people in a Burnaby sushi restaurant.
Ms. Hamilton was questioned for over three hours by lawyers for Mitchell’s family and the RCMP about how Mitchell maintained possession of his firearms licence, despite altercations with Victoria police.
“We are very careful about taking away peoples firearms licences,” said Ms. Hamilton.
“We have to make sure there is a basis that will be supportable when reviewed by a provincial judge. We look at things such a charges and convictions, violence and mental illness.”
The Office of the Chief Firearms Officer receives over 80, 000 applications for firearms licences in British Columbia and the Yukon each year. Last year only 12 licences were revoked, including several for criminal reasons.
After Mitchell’s appearance in the medical clinic on February 7, 2012, Victoria police confronted him in his home. He answered the door with a knife in his boxer shorts, according to documents read during the inquest. He was arrested under the Mental Health Act and his rifle was confiscated.
During the police investigations, Mr. Mitchell’s landlord told police he had recently received a strange letter from his tenant. In the case of his death, the letter stated, all of Mr. Mitchell’s belongings were to be thrown out. If he was imprisoned, his belongings were to be put in storage.
Upon hearing of police investigations, Jim Millington, a firearms officer from the Office of the Chief Firearms Officer, placed Mr. Mitchell’s firearms licence under review. The licence was not revoked, and remained legally valid.
When Victoria police decided to return the firearm to Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Millington removed the hold on the license. Mr. Millington is unable to testify at the inquest.
Firearms officers did not question the police decision to return the firearm, said Ms. Hamilton.
On May 27, a month after Mr. Mitchell’s rifle was returned, he killed the sushi restaurant owner and an employee. Two days later he shot and injured his former landlord.
The RCMP’s Lower Mainland Emergency Response Team issued a public warning on May 30. A region-wide manhunt for Mr. Mitchell ensued, and a witness tipped off police to his location in Maple Ridge. Mr. Mitchell fired at RCMP officers, and was injured in the return fire. He died at Royal Columbian Hospital that day.
Police later said Mitchell had a hit list naming individuals and businesses.
Officers are expected to testify later about why Mitchell was able to get his gun back.
After this incident, the Office of the Chief Firearms Officer began work to change the way mental-health issues are reviewed for gun licence applicants, said Ms. Hamilton. The current procedure relies on self-disclosure.
In his firearms application, Mitchell denied having mental-health issues. Firearms officers did not investigate this further.
“I may very well have made the same decision,” said Ms. Hamilton. “But it’s difficult for me to put away knowledge of what has happened. Hindsight is 20/20.”