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Starter pistols being converted into guns

Pistol made into an automatic weapon found in Surrey
Some of these starter pistols have been converted to real guns

Starter pistols are being converted into lethal weapons, police say, and they're showing up on the streets of Surrey, Nanaimo and Maple Ridge.

The owner of Westley Military Surplus, at 623 Front Street in New Westminster, is facing a number of charges regarding the conversion of the weapons.

Westley William Baker, 67, is charged with four counts of unauthorized transfer of ammunition and one count each of unauthorized transfer of a firearm and manufacturing a firearm. Additional charges are expected.

The arrest comes at the end of a five-month investigation by the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU) called E-PENURY.

Search warrants were executed at the New Westminster surplus store and a home in the 3700 block of Victoria Drive in Port Coquitlam.

During that raid, 100,000 rounds of ammunition, soft body armour, a restricted semi-automatic assault rifle and a number of starter pistols – which shoot "blanks" – were seized.

Police say the weapons were not part of gang activity.

"What investigators found disconcerting was the alleged counselling by the accused on how to convert these pistols into fully functioning firearms, and operational machine guns," said CFSEU Sgt. Shinder Kirk, adding the guns are now appearing on city streets.

"To date, two converted pistols have been seized in Nanaimo, one in Maple Ridge, a lone converted machine gun was seized in Surrey, and all four were seized in relation to criminal investigations," Kirk said.

Const. Frank Grosspeitch, a weapons specialist, said the discovery of the weapons is highly troubling.

Police have seen blank guns (that don't fire live rounds) converted into weapons, but what they're seeing now is different.

"This is a new direction," he said. "We don't normally get semi-automatic and full automatic blank guns that have been converted to firearms," said Grosspeitch.

They are also dangerous to the user, as the starters pistols are not built to shoot live rounds.

"The chances of this firearm blowing up in your face is great," Grosspeitch said. "It's not built to handle the pressure of actual ammunition."

Kirk said army surplus dealers should know if they perform such conversions, they will be found and arrested.

Once the weapons are converted, they become a prohibited firearm and carry a possible jail sentence of three years.