50 rounds were discharged into a crowd at an Ottawa wedding. Three gun experts explain the logistics

50 rounds were discharged into a crowd at an Ottawa wedding. Three gun experts explain the logistics

« You don’t bring 50 rounds if you’re carrying it for your own protection. »

Published Sep 07, 2023  •  Last updated Sep 08, 2023  •  5 minute read

Ottawa paramedic police evidence markers wedding reception shooting
With police evidence markers on the ground behind him an Ottawa paramedic leaves the scene of last Saturday’s mass shooting outside a wedding reception. Photo by Ashley Fraser /Postmedia

Of the scant information released so far by Ottawa police about a shooting outside an Uplands-area wedding reception last Saturday, one solid piece of information sticks out: The shooter or shooters discharged 50 rounds into a crowd.

“It is clear this could have been a much more deadly attack,” Ottawa Police Service Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson told reporters on Wednesday.

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Police have released few other details, but the fact that 50 bullets were sprayed into the crowd offers some clues. The first is the possibility there was more than one shooter. Even though illegal handguns may have magazines holding dozens of bullets in preloaded clips, shooting 50 rounds would still likely require reloading.

Trish Ferguson Ottawa POlice Service Deputy Chief
Ottawa Police Service Deputy Chief Trish Ferguson addresses a news conference on Wednesday about the shooting outside a wedding reception last Saturday. Photo by Jean Levac /Postmedia

A semi-automatic handgun can also be fired as fast as a shooter can pull the trigger and release it halfway back to the original position, said Gregory Brown, a former Ottawa police investigator turned academic and an adjunct professor at Carleton University.

The Glock 22 handgun used by police has a 16-round magazine in the handle of the pistol, plus one bullet in the chamber. Uniform officers carry two extra magazines on their duty belts for an additional 32 rounds. Illegal handguns may carry dozens of bullets in clips or magazines.

“It is unlikely that one person would empty their pistol, reload a full magazine — this process only takes a few seconds for someone that knows what they are doing — empty that, reload another magazine and empty that. So I suspect there might be more than one shooter and more than one firearm involved,” Brown said.

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“I would be shocked if there was only one person involved in something like this. There are logistics. Information was known in advance. There was planning.”

The shooting claimed the lives of two Toronto men: Mohamed Ali, 26, who had arrived in Canada only four months ago from an undisclosed country, and Abdishakur Abdi-Dahir, a 29-year-old engineer.

Police do not believe the two men who died and six other people who were injured were intended targets, Ferguson said.

Gregory Brown Carleton University
Gregory Brown, a former Ottawa police investigator turned academic and an adjunct professor at Carleton University, says shooters don’t bring 50 rounds with them “unless there is a message to be sent to the broader community.” Photo by Tony Caldwell /Postmedia

Fifty rounds is pretty much unprecedented for this kind of incident, Brown said. “Usually, if there is a target, they will bring ammunition to deal with the target. But they don’t bring 50 rounds unless there is a message to be sent to the broader community.”

It is likely the shooter’s gun came into Canada illegally from the United States, said Noah Schwartz, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Fraser Valley and author of On Target: Gun Culture, Storytelling and the NRA.

“Given the relatively open market there, there are a great number of possibilities in terms of the firepower he could have had at his disposal,” Schwartz said.

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It is also possible the weapon was a machine-gun like firearm such as a TEC-9, which can be modified to be fully automatic and can have a magazine holding as many as 40 rounds, Brown said. These firearms have been associated with drive-by shootings in the U.S.

3D-printed handgun magazines can hold large amounts of ammunition, Schwartz said. Standard factory magazines for some semi-automatic weapons can hold up to 33 rounds in the U.S., but after-market versions holding more than that can be purchased in the U.S.

“There are also switches known as ‘auto-sear’ that can be purchased on the black market that are favoured by some gang members that allow semi-automatic handguns to be converted into fully automatic handguns,” Schwartz added. “I have no proof that this was used here, but it is within the realm of the possible.”

The information that 50 rounds were fired raises three questions for Rod Giltaca, chief executive officer of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights, who ran a firearms training company in British Columbia for 10 years. Was the shooter using a fully-automatic handgun? Were there multiple shooters? Did the shooter or shooters plan to stick around the scene long enough to fire that many times?

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Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights CEO Rod Giltaca
Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights CEO Rod Giltaca says Most criminals have no experience with illegal firearms. Photo by Sean Kilpatrick /THE CANADIAN PRESS

“It’s possible for one person to fire 50 rounds, but it’s also possible for two people to fire two magazines and start running after that,” said Giltaca, who has trained police and members of the military.

Handguns are regulated in Canada and must be registered, stored, transported and handled according to regulations. Because of recoil and the difficulty of holding them steadily while aiming, handguns also notoriously inaccurate.

Most criminals have no experience with illegal firearms, Giltaca said.

“It’s not unusual for them to hit bystanders. The accuracy would be awful. Bullets would fly everywhere,” he said.

“If I were to speculate, it tells you that it is not someone who legally owns a handgun or is a sport shooter. It’s someone who has no regard for public safety. They don’t care who they hit.”

It is possible the weapon used last weekend in Ottawa was a fully automatic firearm, which could shoot 50 rounds in about five seconds. These are hard to acquire, even in the U.S., and are prohibited in Canada. They are also very impractical, Giltaca said.

“You can’t control where the rounds are going. There would be bullets everywhere.”

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That 50 shots were fired told Brown that the person or persons responsible went to the wedding venue with the intention of using the weapon. It is possible to stuff a 30-round magazine into the butt of a pistol, and it will still work, but it would be quite heavy and hard to conceal, he said.

“You don’t bring 50 rounds if you’re carrying it for your own protection.”

Using this much ammunition in a single incident is extremely uncommon, Brown said. The person or persons had to know that bystanders could be injured.

Brown is not surprised that police are reluctant to release many details about the investigation into Saturday’s shooting. Copycats may come forward claiming to be the shooter, and some information will only be known to the real shooter. Police will want to keep that information to themselves.

“They have to have an understanding of who the targets are,” Brown said. “I think they have more information.”

Police have implored witnesses to come forward. Even security camera video could be valuable to help put the pieces together, investigators said this week.

Brown understands the witness hesitancy and the difficulty it can lead to in laying charges. In May 2006, Mohamed Jama Ali, 26, died after a fight broke out and someone pulled out a handgun in Bar 56, a ByWard Market nightclub. In 2014, police searched a Vanier park with metal detectors for a firearm associated with the shooting. The homicide remains unsolved.

“We didn’t get even one witness,’” said Brown, who was on that case for the Ottawa Police Service. “It was a crowded, tiny nightclub. No one was willing to come forward.”

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