What makes a licenced gun owner, avid target shooter and hunter, decide selling guns to criminals is a good idea?
That’s the unanswered question remaining after Antonio Sampogna was, on February 14, 2020, sentenced to five years in prison for a series of gun crimes.
Sampogna was once a law-abiding man who, for reasons nobody understands, he chose to sell a gun and ammunition to a drug dealer, who then sold them to an undercover police officer.
When the Crown finished presenting its case, the defence chose to not present evidence at all. Instead, the defence lawyer joined with Crown counsel to make a surprising recommendation.
“Crown and defence counsel jointly invited me to convict Mr. Sampogna,” Justice Robert Goldstein wrote in his reasons for sentencing.
In 2017, police were investigating Daniel Lazarus-Munnick for drug trafficking. Justice Goldstein described the events of that investigation that ended with Sampogna’s arrest.
“On September 1, 2017, Mr. Sampogna sold a firearm to Mr. Lazarus-Munnick. The firearm was a TNW ASR 9mm Luger semi-automatic rifle. Mr. Sampogna also transferred 50 rounds of 9mm ammunition. The firearm was a non-restricted firearm. Mr. Sampogna wore gloves when he handled the box with the firearm. Lazarus-Munnick immediately sold the firearm and ammunition to an undercover police officer.”
When police searched Sampogna’s home several months later, they seized a Browning 9mm pistol, an unregistered Smith & Wesson 44-40 revolver, a Ruger .22 pistol, a sawed-off Cooey .22 rifle, and an unregistered a Beretta 6.35mm pistol.
Unregistered modern handguns are illegal handguns in Canada, which means Antonio Sampogna probably went off the rails quite a while before his arrest.
Antonio Sampogna’s actions will now be used by anti-gun activists and politicians to tarnish all gun owners with the same brush. This is evidenced by a belief rampant on social media, one that raises the hackles of every law-abiding and licenced gun owner who reads it.
How can we say licenced gun owner’s aren’t the problem when faced with such gross stupidity as that shown by Antonio Sampogna?
I honestly don’t know.
From the reasons for sentencing in R. v. Sampogna, 2020 ONSC 1024:
 I find it aggravating that Mr. Sampogna is the holder of permits for lawful weapons. He is a person who is plainly a gun enthusiast. He enjoys hunting and other lawful sports. It is aggravating because he plainly knows better.
In order to obtain a firearms licence a firearms owner is required to take a gun safety course. Moreover, Mr. Sampogna wore gloves when he transferred the box containing the firearm to Lazarus-Munnick. That showed that he understood the significance of fingerprints. It also showed that he clearly understood the illegal nature of that act.
In other words, Mr. Sampogna should have known better.
Some criminal acts we can comprehend, even if we can’t fathom reaching such a point ourselves.
Take three relatively recent examples.
- Meth addict Justin Shipowich bought guns legally and sold them to pay his drug debts.
- Kevin Walid Sifeldeen’s gambling addiction had him believing that selling drugs and guns to cover his gambling debts was a good idea.
- Drug addict and/or drug dealer (news reports are unclear) Misty Kohuch legally bought handguns and illegally sold them to criminals.
Moronic? Absolutely, but most of us comprehend the tragic consequences of addiction. We can never condone their actions, but at least we understand why they happened.
In Antonio Sampogna’s case, none of these reasons appear to exist.
While Justice Goldstein attempted to learn why Antonio Sampogna did what he did, since defence counsel refused to provide any evidence to the court, in the end he was left with little more than his own guesses.
 Mr. Sampogna is something of a mystery, frankly. He is 57 years old and has never been in trouble. He sold a firearm when he owned a business that clearly provided for his needs in life. It is difficult to conceive that he needed the money. He has led an entirely pro-social life, having never been in trouble with the law.
He has worked consistently, operated his own lawful business, and been an integral part of his family. He clearly has an affinity for guns, which is not a crime. There is no evidence he has used his guns for anything other than lawful, regulated pursuits, such as hunting and target shooting.
I wish I could be reasonably certain that Mr. Sampogna’s possession of other illegal firearms would have not come to the attention of the authorities if it were not for the one act of trafficking. Unfortunately, his one act of trafficking does not give me confidence that is the case.
I obviously cannot impose a sentence for something he might have done in the future, but neither can I ignore his possession of illegal firearms in his home.
At the end of the day, I do not need to resolve the question of Mr. Sampogna’s reasons for committing this crime, but it is puzzling.
The question left to those of us who own firearms legally and do so without breaking the law is this: how do we make the case for legal ownership of firearms when human stupidity and human depravity will always result in bad things happening with guns?
Yes, these cases are the extreme minority but they happen, and proponents of gun bans are quick to point out Gamil Gharbi, Alexandre Bissonnette and Justin Bourque all purchased their guns legally before committing their atrocities.
Antonio Sampogna’s raises a few obvious questions.
- How do we protect society from people who pass all the background checks and still go off the rails?
- How do we prevent dangerous individuals from obtaining a Possession and Acquisition Licence in the first place?
- Once a license is issued, how do we take away their guns when a public safety issue becomes evident but before they go on a shooting rampage while still respecting the rights of the millions of Canadians who are not now and never will be a threat to anyone?
These are hard questions with no easy answers, but those of us who value our liberty and our guns can’t ignore them.
In fact, I believe it’s incumbent upon us to find solutions palatable to all sides of this argument.
Will this be easy? Not for a moment, but we can’t play the “no more restrictions” card and expect to win this battle.
If we want to keep our guns and our liberty these are the questions we must answer.