Death for Sale
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
The following is Ron's column from April 17th, 1994, two weeks after the tragic drive-by killing of British engineer Nicholas Battersby.
The handgun I bought was a .22-calibre Smith & Wesson. It’s a pretty common gun for Ottawa – there are a lot of .22s out there – and Smith $ Wesson makes a popular model.
I was offered other guns before I bought the .22 – a 9-mm semi-automatic, a .38 Smith and Wesson, another .22. The .38 was a much better deal than the .22 – should have taken it – but I had already committed to the .22 by the time I saw it.
I assumed it wouldn’t be a good idea to change my mind.
I started looking for a handgun on a Tuesday and purchased it Thursday. It wasn’t difficult. Indeed, there was a bazaar-like feel to the final purchase – various people trying to sell me various guns, all of them knowing who I was, all keenly interested in selling a newspaper columnist a gun for higher than market cost.
“You don’t want a 9-mm,” said one person selling a .22. What do you want a 9-mm for? To kill someone? That’s the only thing that gun’s good for. You don’t need it.
“Plus, you have to deal with all that damn paper when you go to buy bullets for it. A .22, you just walk into a store and buy your bullets. Two dollars. Nice and simple.”
I had already identified myself, the person knew what I was doing, yet it seemed I was getting the standard pitch.
“This gun can make you money. You don’t need a 9-mm. And you can do damage with this gun. Don’t forget that.
“A .22 took down that guy on Elgin Street, remember that. You can kill with this gun if you need to.”
The death of Nick Battersby. I heard it used as a sales pitch for .22 handguns.
*** *** ***
“I used to have one of those starter pistols that you bore out so they can take a .22 (bullet). Have you heard of those?”
The voice on the phone is animated. He has been asked to speak of things in his past and he has quickly become nostalgic. Hey, they were good days. Money days.
“I got the gun because I needed something right away. I’d just lost my other gun and I was dealing coke at the time, so I needed something. Dealing without a gun is just asking to be ripped off. That’s one of the reasons there are so many guns out there.
“So I got one of those toy guns. I sort of got to like the thing after a while. It travelled everywhere. I tell you, it’s stupid how easy it was to make. I’ll show you if you want.”
I turn down the offer. I ask him how common guns are in Ottawa.”
“Oh, very common. There have always been guns around here. I grew up with Smith & Wessons and sawed-off stuff, those guns have been around forever. There’s more semi-automatics and foreign stuff today.”
“Is it easy to get a gun?” I ask. It’s Wednesday night, under deadline.
“I’d say it is. There seem to be a lot more people carrying ‘em, that’s for sure. People you never thought would carry a toy are carrying ‘em now. I can’t get over it sometimes.
“It’s like – how can I explain this – it’s like, if you don’t have a gun today it’s not because you can’t find one. It’s because you don’t want one. That’s how easy it is.”
Where would I find a gun?
“I’d just go to some taverns.”
*** *** ***
Cheeseburger, draft and a handgun. That’s what I ended up purchasing at a good, old-fashioned Ottawa Tavern.
Maybe it was an unusual night, but there seemed to be a crazy number of guns around that tavern. At one point I sat at a table with three other people. Two carried guns they wanted to sell. The third wanted to sell a gun that could be here in “five minutes. Guaranteed.”
They were arguing about it. Right in front of me, they were arguing about who was going to sell me a gun.
I was surprised each time I saw a gun. Surprised not only by the gun, but by its easy presence in the tavern.
Once, after speaking to someone for a couple of minutes, the subject of guns not having come up once, the person suddenly lowered his voice and said, as if in a bad movie:
“I hear you’re looking for a toy.”
I said I was.
“I can get you one right now, a lot less than you’re paying, and you won’t even have to get up from your seat.”
The person casually lifted his jacket and showed me the butt of a .38 Smith & Wesson.
I had spoken to this person and had no idea he was carrying a gun. It sent a chill down my back.
Almost an identical scene was repeated a half hour later. A casual conversation with another patron in the bar. The lifting of a jacket. The flashing of a gun stuck down a pair of jeans.
It was crazy. Everyone in the tavern drinking beer. More than half of them still wearing their jackets. Lot of three-quarter-length leather jackets. I’d never noticed that before.
*** *** ***
Although it was easy to purchase a gun, that’s not to say everything went smoothly. A deposit on a 9.mm semi-automatic produced neither gun nor refund.
Identifying myself may also have hindered the buying process. People were wiling to sell to me. But they wanted a lot more than market value.
One person pointed out that because the gun would end up with the police – everyone knew that’s where it would go – the price had to be higher.
“You need a clean toy, man. Something that won’t come back on anybody. That’s going to cost you.”
I ended up paying $400 for the .22, about double what it should have cost. The most expensive guns are the semi-automatics and they start around $400.
I was told the price of handguns was dropping all over Ottawa, just like the price of cocaine dropped about ten years ago. The reason – a glut in the market.
“If you can wait until tomorrow, I’ll get you the semi-automatic, get you anything you want. There’s guns everywhere. Same price,” said the person who eventually sold me the .22.
But I didn’t feel like waiting. I handed over the $400 in a parking lot behind the tavern and got my gun.
It came with the serial number punched off and five bullets “on the house.”
Is it easy to get a gun in Ottawa?
As the police have been telling us, easy doesn’t even begin to describe it.
It’s downright simple and downright scary.
September 3, 1994