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A military-grade machine gun seized by Nanaimo RCMP this week is likely an army surplus weapon smuggled into Canada as part of the thriving illegal gun trade, a Vancouver-based firearms researcher said yesterday.

"It's almost certainly a smuggled weapon," said Gary Mauser, a retired Simon Fraser University business professor who has lectured extensively on the criminal use of firearms.

"Most of the illegal weapons like this are military surplus that have been obtained by legitimate military groups and then sold illegally."

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The machine gun, a fully automatic .30-calibre Browning, was among 41 weapons seized by the RCMP on Wednesday during a raid on a ramshackle acreage just south of Nanaimo. (Police originally mistook the machine gun for a .50-calibre weapon.) The raid also netted two semi-automatic assault rifles, hundreds of rounds of ammunition, grenades, blasting caps, detonator cords, a half-kilo of cocaine and more than $50,000 in cash.

Seven of the weapons are prohibited in Canada, which banned fully automatic weapons in the 1970s.

"Unless that fully automatic Browning is more than 30 years old, there's no way to legally bring it into Canada," Mr. Mauser said, adding that any Canadian interested in buying a similar weapon in the United States would have to deal on the black market.

Browning machine guns were first manufactured in the United States, but models are produced around the world, making it impossible to pinpoint their origins without a serial number, Mr. Mauser said. A fully automatic .30-calibre machine gun is able to destroy cars, helicopters and planes, he added.

Yesterday, Nanaimo RCMP charged one man with a series of weapons and drug offences and released four other people who were arrested during Wednesday's raid.

Glen David Pirart, 43, faces charges of possession of a prohibited weapon, unauthorized possession of a firearm and possession of cocaine for the purposes of trafficking. "No further charges are being contemplated at this time, but there's always a possibility of more charges as the investigation continues," Constable Gary O'Brien said.

Police say Mr. Pirart was living in one of several buildings on the 1.6-hectare property in Extension, an unincorporated area just south of Nanaimo.

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Land-title searches indicate the property is divided into two parcels, one of which is owned by Dennis Paugh, who runs a company called HD Tree Service. The other parcel is jointly owned by Mr. Pirart and Mr. Paugh. Nanaimo RCMP have acknowledged they are investigating possible links between the property and organized crime. However, Constable O'Brien said yesterday police have not made any definitive links to the Hells Angels or any other gang.

While smuggled guns are a problem in Canada, according to a recent study commissioned by the B.C. government, so are legally imported weapons that find their way into the Canadian black market. The study, entitled A Report on the Illegal Movement of Firearms in British Columbia, singled out movie-industry prop masters and other licensed dealers as a source of prohibited weapons.

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RCMP seized a military-grade machine gun like this one south of Nanaimo. The Browing can be used with or without a tripod

THE .30 CALIBRE BROWNING LIGHT MACHINE GUN
Rate of fire 400-600
round/min.
Muzzle velocity 853.6 m/s
Effective range 1,370 m
(1,500 yards)
Bullet feed
system belt 250-round

TONIA COWAN/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

SOURCE: RCMP, FAS. ORG, BROWNING, GOOGLE 3D WAREHOUSE

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