When Michael Zehaf-Bibeau ran into the halls of Parliament's Centre Block and got into a shootout with guards, officers and the House of Commons sergeant-at-arms, the 32-year-old was wielding an outmoded hunting rifle designed in 1894.
Because of his lengthy criminal record, Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau was barred from owning firearms. The gun he secured for his attack Wednesday is a common hunting rifle with modest power and magazine capacity that required him to pull a lever to load before each shot – and presumably limited his capacity to wreak havoc in the halls of Parliament.
How Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau obtained the Winchester is now the primary focus of the police investigation, RCMP Commissioner Bob Paulson told reporters Thursday.
"The source of that gun is of tremendous interest to us. He was prohibited criminally from possessing firearms and we will determine where that gun came from," Mr. Paulson said.
He said the gun was a 30-30 Winchester lever-action rifle, a model similar to the iconic gun seen in many Western movies. It is not known whether Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau obtained it on the black market, through an accomplice or via theft. Gun owners are supposed to notify the authorities if their firearms are stolen.
"Although it can be used as a weapon, it's hardly the firearm of choice," said Keith Cunningham, a retired army officer who is now a certified shooting coach. "I don't know why he eventually chose this rifle … you can get any firearm you want on the black market. I would have thought his weapon of choice would have been the AK" – meaning the AK-47 assault rifle – "so I doubt he's had any kind of training or experience with a firearm."
The Winchester is commonly used for deer hunting, but many hunters today prefer more powerful firearms that can accommodate shooting scopes, said Jeannot Ruel, editorial adviser for the hunting and fishing magazine Sentier Chasse et Pêche. "It's ancient. It's not the most performing weapon you could find."
A hunter using this rifle would have to get closer to the game, he said, as the 30-30 cartridge is of modest power.
A light, relatively compact weapon, the Winchester can hold up to eight rounds – seven in the magazine and another in the chamber. It has to be loaded one cartridge at a time, from a port on the right side of the chamber.
The RCMP said Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau approached his first targets, two members of the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders regiment, as they faced away. The soldiers' rifles wouldn't have been loaded because they were on ceremonial guard duty at the National War Memorial.
Mr. Zehaf-Bibeau fired two shots at Corporal Nathan Cirillo, fatally wounding the 24-year-old reservist. He fired another shot at the second guard – he missed – before running away.