(Correction April 9: Corrects rifle model to AR-180-B. March 23: Corrects corporate designation of Wolverine Supplies.)
TheGunBlog.ca — Following are comments by John Hipwell, the founder of Wolverine Supplies Ltd., one of Canada’s largest independent gun stores.
He discusses topics including business since the Liberal government proposed Bill C-71 two days ago, the RCMP, the WK180-C rifle, guns in schools and his early days in Canada.
Hipwell spoke by telephone today from his store in Virden, Manitoba, near the border with Saskatchewan.
The interview was edited for clarity.
How’s business since the government introduced Bill C-71 on Tuesday?
We’re getting a lot of questions from people. There’s a lot of questions. There’s a lot of confusion. There’s a lot of panic buying and selling.
What are people asking about?
The majority of questions and concerns concern the CZ 858. People are asking if they have to register straight away. They don’t understand that this is affecting all of them.
“If the Liberals pass this and then got in with a majority, I think you can say goodbye to all black rifles.”
What do you answer?
“Don’t panic, you have lots of time.”
There’s always a remote chance that it will never become law. Certainly, by the time that it becomes law, it could be changed.
The deadline for registering is June 2018. So the Liberals are putting a deadline on complying with a law that hasn’t been passed yet. That would make criminals out of people who hadn’t complied with a proposed law.
Is that democratic? Is that even legal?
I feel that they’re really setting us up. If the Liberals pass this and then got in with a majority, I think you can say goodbye to all black rifles.
A few people are starting to realize that the Liberals are setting us up by having the RCMP solely responsible for classifying firearms. The RCMP are going to be responsible for doing this “without political interference.” It’s those three words that scare the hell out of me.
[TheGunBlog.ca asked the RCMP about classifications two days ago here.]
“‘Without political interference.’ It’s those three words that scare the hell out of me.”
The FRT is not a legal document. It has no statutory role at all. There’s no appeal process. [FRT = RCMP’s Firearms Reference Table]
It took me two years to meet the [previous] federal minister of public safety. As a result of that meeting, Directive No. 9 was sent to the RCMP. It made them more accountable. But no sooner were the Liberals in power than they revoked Directive No. 9.
If there’s no appeal, what is it? Is it a police state?
It wouldn’t worry me if the RCMP applied certain criteria to the firearm, for example rimfire vs. centrefire, semi-automatic vs. fully automatic, or barrel length.
But when you get terms like “variant” or “ease of conversion,” those are open to opinion. There has to be an appeal when you have someone making a decision based on an opinion.
It goes back to Magna Carta, basic democracy. Every citizen is innocent until proven guilty.
How has this affected business?
They’ve cost me over $1 million in lost sales because of the time delays in approving firearms.
The FRT has no legal standing in Canada, but you can’t get an import certificate to bring in a firearm without an FRT. They won’t issue an import certificate until you get an FRT. I had to wait three years to get the CZ 958 approved. I had placed a purchase order, but by the time it was approved, the factory had re-tooled.
“What has this got to do with keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals?”
How about the CZ 858, which the government said it wants to ban. You were the importer?
We brought in approximately 8,000. Of those 8,000, there’s only 500 registered due to the original 16-inch barrel. So the government knows where 500 are. The other 7,500 will rely on Canadians voluntarily registering them.
If I understand correctly, the government will classify them as “Prohibited,” current owners will be allowed to use them, but eventually they’ll have to be turned in?
Right now they’re saying owners will be allowed to take them to the range. But if the Liberals are re-elected, it wouldn’t surprise me if that changes.
It’s like what happened with the Special Authority to Possess, the SAP, post-1995 [when the Liberals passed the Firearms Act. It allowed owners of “Prohibited” firearms to take them to the range]. They stopped renewing it. There was no appeal.
What has this got to do with keeping the guns out of the hands of criminals?
Antis, Family Safety
What do you tell people who are anti-gun?
I’ll debate gun control. If they were anti, I can at the very least bring them around to be neutral. But it has to be live, so we can discuss all the statistics right then and there.
I’m a married man. I’ve got four children, 13 grandchildren. My son has just come out of 17 years in the RCMP. My family’s safety and security is far more important than making money. I am not anti-gun control. But let’s have a system that is effective.
[The son, Matt, is now CEO of Wolverine Supplies.]
Trudeau Tweet on PAL
What do you think of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau saying we don’t need to show a Possession and Acquisition Licence before buying a gun?
As a business, we validate everybody’s PAL before we ship out. It’s my livelihood on the line. Imagine if one of the firearms I sold was used in a mass shooting?
The only time we might sell without checking the PAL is if there’s a power outage for example. In that case we’ll take the down payment, and ship later for free. I’d sooner spend the $25 on shipping and be able to cover my butt.
“We had 55 Lee Enfield No. 4 .303 rifles, 1 Bren light machine gun, 2 Sten Mk. 2 submachine guns, and 8 Lee Enfield No. 8 .22 LR rifles. And we never shot anybody in school.”
Schools With Guns
What are your thoughts on guns in schools?
I went to a private boarding school in England.
In that boarding school, we had 55 Lee Enfield No. 4 .303 rifles, 1 Bren light machine gun, 2 Sten Mk. 2 submachine guns, and 8 Lee Enfield No. 8 .22 LR rifles.
And we never shot anybody in school. Once a week, we’d go to the armoury, take these out and do drills or exercises. I never graduated but I can tell you the serial number on my rifle was PF1994880.
It was a co-ed school, so we had girls there, too.
Was this a pre-military academy?
Not at all. This was a private boarding school.
I find it amusing in this day and age, when there’s all these school shootings and they want to make schools a gun-free zone, in my school we had enough firearms to arm a platoon, or certainly a section. But then, we were taught to respect girls, too.
So it’s also a question of attitude, character, culture …
And the morals of society.
[He mentions a book on his desk, The Grand Old Lady of No Man’s Land about the Vickers machine gun. It has a photo from 1920 showing it in use by New Zealand high-school students.]
Early Days in Business
How long have you been in the firearm business?
Since 1989. Before that I ran a similar business in the United Kingdom. I immigrated in 1982.
The first time I came to Canada, I had a suitcase and corner to corner was my M1A rifle, two 30-calibre cans of ammo and a bunch of 20-round mags. [The barrel and stock were detached.]
I flew to Vancouver because I had an invite to shoot in a rifle match at Squamish. I shot in a practical-rifle competition in Squamish.
And it sat under the mattress in the camper while my wife and I toured British Columbia.
Do you know Murray Gardner? At that time, he was shooting in world-class competition. I met him at an IPSC annual general meeting, sitting next to Jeff Cooper. [The founder of IPSC, modern defensive handgun technique and the four rules of firearm safety.]
I just wanted to learn about gun control because I knew I was going to immigrate the next year.
I shot my first IPSC match in 1976. It’s the year the United Kingdom Practical Shooting Association was created. I helped form the association. We shot first and wrote the rule book afterwards.
Are you on CanadianGunNutz? My avatar is a red badge with a gold lion holding the IPSC target. In those days, the IPSC target had a headbox. We didn’t have no-shoot targets, we had hostage targets. We treated it as a martial art in those days.
As opposed to a sport like today?
What about boxing, fencing, judo, karate, … are they not sports? Are they also martial arts? Where do you draw the line?
Look at biathlon. That was a military competition. If you research it, when it first started, it used to be shot with a .308 cartridge, not a .22. It was a military competition in the Scandinavian countries before it became an Olympic sport.
Can we talk about the WK180-C rifle?
I’ve been dreaming of building the WK180-C for years.
I’ve been turned down by one Israeli, one Canadian, one British, and three American companies to put this rifle into production.
Because of the CZ Spartan debacle, I got to meet Steve at Kodiak Defence [in Windsor, Ontario, where the rifle will be built].
So I don’t need an FRT.
What’s special about this rifle?
The price tag: the target retail price is $995. I wanted a black, semi-automatic, .223 rifle that was affordable. And “Non-restricted,” of course.
Is it like an AR-15?
No, it’s an AR-180-B. It’s a totally different thing than an AR-15.
How does it compare to an AR-15 in terms of functionality, usage, reliability?
It’s very comparable.
On our rifle, there’s no bells and whistles. There’s no dust covers. They asked if we wanted them, and we said it’s got to be $995. “Then no dust covers, John.” We could have had a side-folding butt-stock on it, but we put a simple, cheap AR-15 butt stock on because again, “That’s what you’ve got to have, John, if you want it for $995.”
We’ll have a lot of standard off-the-shelf items on it, so people can customize it themselves.
When will it ship?
We should be shipping at the end of May.
Are you concerned that the RCMP will reclassify it?
Not right now. But it depends.
I guess you could say that about any firearm.
Another factor in the bill [C-71]: The Governor in Council can no longer move things from “Prohibited” or “Restricted” to “Non-restricted.” So if the RCMP make a mistake on something and it’s classified “Prohibited,” then “Tough luck. Sorry about that, John.”
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