Maple syrup, the metric system, Tim Horton’s, overly polite people, plastic money, Trailer Park Boys, universal healthcare and poutine. There’s lots of cool things ‘boot Canada, eh?
But what about guns? Does Canada have guns?
Yes! Add that to Celine Dion and Justin Beiber and Canada is…well, it’s a mixed bag just like everywhere else.
In fact, three of the top five records for the world’s longest confirmed sniper kills are held by Canadians. Obviously, Canucks know how to shoot, but how do they get their guns?
While the process is more complicated than it is in the US, it’s quite legal for Canadian citizens to buy firearms.
Here’s everything you need to know about gun ownership laws in the True North.
*Note: this information is for educational and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Always consult an experienced attorney if you are unsure of the gun laws in your country, state, or province.
How Do Canadians Buy Their Guns?
Well, let’s say you’re a Canadian.
Before you even walk into a gun dealer’s shop, before you start coveting the merchandise and imagining how the metal will chill against the heel of your palm in the subzero temperatures (that’s Celsius, folks), you have a bit of work to do first:
- For vocabulary, you’ll need to understand the Canadian legal definitions of non-restricted, restricted and prohibited weapons.
- For your to-do list, you’ll need to prioritize taking the Canadian Firearms Safety Course. Depending on the weapon you’re considering, you may need to enroll in more than one.
- Your end goal is to become the proud owner of a Possession and Acquisition License—your PAL.
It’s a lot like getting your driver’s license in the U.S.:
- Determine what class of vehicle you want to drive—passenger vehicle, motorcycle or commercial truck, for example.
- Complete the required driver training and safety courses.
- Pass the exams to get the license you need to get behind the wheel.
Once you have your license, all you have to do is abide by the law and renew every five years.
Sounds easy. You do, however, have to pay attention to the details to get it right.
Sorting Out Non-Restricted, Restricted and Prohibited
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police administers and enforces the Canadian Firearms Program.
For simplicity—and clarity—Canada uses three classifications for firearms:
Non-restricted firearms are pretty much limited to “ordinary rifles and shotguns.” While you don’t have to register these weapons in Canada, you must have a PAL to buy or own one.
Restricted firearms include quite a few favorites like:
- Handguns. Keep in mind that in Canada, some handguns rate as prohibited.
- “Semi-automatic, centre-fire rifles or shotguns with a barrel shorter than 470 mm”—that’s 18½ inches for everyone not hip with the metric system.
- “Rifles and shotguns that can fire when their overall length has been reduced by folding, telescoping or other means to less than 660 mm”—or just under 26 inches.
You can still purchase restricted firearms, but you’ll have to take the restricted firearms safety course to get your PAL. You’ll also have extra paperwork to file to transport them, and you’ll pretty much be limited to target shooting and maintaining a collection. Canada also allows restricted firearms associated with a person’s career.
Prohibited firearms are many of your usual suspects:
- “Handguns with a barrel length of 105 mm or less.” That’s about 4 inches.
- “Handguns that discharge .25 or .32 calibre ammunition.” Special exemptions apply to competition weapons.
- Rifles and shotguns that have been altered to shorten the barrel to less than 457 mm or shorten the overall length to less than 660 mm. That would be about 18 inches and 26 inches, respectively.
- Fully automatic weapons, including those that have been converted to fire only one round per trigger pull.
For prohibited items, Canada grandfathered those weapons that individuals already owned prior to the legislation as long as they maintain the registration on the firearm.
However, if you didn’t already own a prohibited firearm, the only kind you can purchase or transfer—even with a PAL—are handguns with barrels 105 mm or less or handguns that shoot .25- or .32-caliber ammo. Even then,
- the gun had to have been made before 1946;
- the gun had to have been registered in Canada before December 1, 1998;
- you must be related to the gun’s owner; and
- you must be acquiring it for an approved purpose like collecting or target shooting.
In addition to all of that, you can only sell or transfer a prohibited firearm to a person approved for that specific class of prohibited firearm on their PAL.
Regardless of which type of weapon you want to acquire, they all require a PAL. To get even the most basic PAL, you have to take the safety course.
Passing the Canadian Firearms Safety Courses
Canada’s Firearms Act requires that anyone “wishing to acquire non-restricted firearms must take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) and pass the tests.” This includes minors—under the age of 18—who are eligible under the Firearms Act’s Section 8.
If you “wish to acquire restricted firearms,” you must be at least 18 and must take the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC) and pass the tests.
To enroll in a safety course, you can find a list of certified instructors and Chief Firearms Offices (CFOs) by province on the RCMP’s Safety Courses webpage.
Fees vary by provider, but the course with the exam included should not exceed $150. If you opt to take the CFSC, CRFSC and their exams as a package, you can count on saving a little, making it a maximum of $260 for both.
The CFSC addresses all the essentials for long guns, from history, parts and actions to safe handling, carry and storage procedures. There are segments devoted to ammunition and firing techniques as well as care of the firearms and a gun owner’s responsibilities.
The CRFSC simply takes the CFSC a step further, tailoring many of the same topics to handguns and restricted rifles.
Along with eight to 10 hours of instruction, each course has its own set of dual exams:
- The written portion has 50 true-or-false and multiple choice questions. To pass, you need an 80 percent or better.
- The practical portion requires that you properly handle three different firearms in different scenarios. The focus is on correctly following established steps in a procedure, with points awarded or lost accordingly. Again, you need an 80 percent or better to pass.
You must pass both portions of an exam to be eligible for the next step—applying for your PAL.
By the way, once you’ve received your flying colors, keep them in a safe place. They’re proof that you took and passed your required safety course.
How To Get a PAL—Possession and Acquisition License
As with so many administrative permissions, it all starts with a form—RCMP 5592, Application for a Possession and Acquisition Licence Under the Firearms Act—a PAL.
It’s a four-page form with four pages of instructions. The essentials are:
- Making sure you complete all the questions.
- Submitting a copy of a valid government-issued proof of identity.
- Getting all the signatures you need from your current and former spouses, your two references and your photo guarantor, for example.
- Paying the proper fee. Fees are $60 for a non-restricted firearms license or $80 for a restricted or prohibited firearms license. For minors, the fee is about $10 a year.
- Supplying two passport-style photos.
- Including a copy of your safety course report.
Once you complete and submit the form to the RCMP address listed on the first page of instructions, you can sit back and wait for 45 days—maybe longer. That’s the minimum it will take to complete your background check and resolve any questions that may arise during the process.
A license can be denied to individuals with a history of criminal convictions, violent or threatening behavior, mental illness or substance abuse.
If you want to track your application’s progress, the RCMP does offer online services—or Individual Web Services (IWS)—that allow applicants to check their general status. It will show if your application has been received, is being processed or has been finalized. RCMP will also let you renew your license and register firearms online.
Getting Permission To Transport Registered or Prohibited Firearms
If you’re applying for a PAL that will let you buy registered or prohibited weapons, you’ll also need an Authorization To Transport (ATT). You can get one by submitting another form—RCMP 5490, Application for an Authorization to Transport Restricted Firearms and Prohibited Firearms—to the CFO “of the province or territory where the firearm is located.”
You don’t need an ATT for non-restricted weapons, but if you want to be able to take your restricted firearm home, to the range, to a show or anywhere else, you’ll need the ATT. Luckily, the ATT will cost you nothing more than a little bit of time.
By the way, the ATT is not a permit to carry. It’s simply permission to be able to safely transport an unloaded, secured firearm in a locked container from one location to another legally.
Using Your PAL To Buy a Firearm in Canada
Once you’ve been approved, you should receive your PAL. It’s good for five years, and you can renew it online.
You’ll need to present your PAL as well as an additional form of government-issued identification to be able to purchase a firearm or the ammunition for it. You’ll also need your PAL to be able to register any firearms that fall within the restricted or prohibited categories. If you’re in Québec, you’ll need to register any gun you buy, including non-restricted ones. In fact, if you’re in Québec, you may need to do a number of things differently—more on that in a bit.
If you are indeed looking to buy a restricted weapon in Canada—like a handgun, for example—you cannot take possession of the weapon until the firearm’s registration has been transferred to your name. You can complete RCMP Form 5492, Application to Register Restricted and Prohibited Firearms Acquired by Transfer, by calling the Canadian Firearms Program. The transfer process has two parts—one for the firearm’s current owner and one for you.
You’ll need all the pertinent information for each party, such as names, addresses, license numbers, registration certificate numbers and the firearm’s identification number. The Canadian Firearms Program officer must speak with both parties, so they’ll supply a reference number that applies to the overall case. Once the area CFO approves it, the transfer is complete.
As for non-restricted weapons, while transfers do not have to be registered, the gun owner is responsible for ensuring that the potential buyer has a PAL. Gun owners are encouraged to call the Canadian Firearms Program to confirm a PAL’s validity before completing the sale.
Honoring Firearms Laws in Québec
Québec’s Bill 9 mandates a few extra precautions and requirements for that province. You must be at least 18, and for non-restricted weapons, you must complete CCSMAF, “Cours canadien de sécurité dans le maniement des armes à feu,” training.
For restricted weapons, you must complete CCSMAFAR, “Cours canadien de sécurité dans le maniement des armes à feu à autorisation restreinte,” training. You must also pass the Provincial Proficiency Test Law 9 and apply for your PAL in person by submitting Form SQ-3007 as well as RCMP Form 5592.
The other major consideration is that even non-restricted firearms must be registered in Québec.
Understanding the Canadian Approach to Firearms
Canada’s laws support responsible gun ownership with a purpose. Hunters’ weapons of choice are for the most part non-restricted, and fees may even be waived in some circumstances for minors who hunt.
When it comes to handguns, however, and other restricted weapons, Canada is more cautious, limiting those acquisitions to collectors, target shooting, professional use and protection of life.
In any case, our northern neighbor offers a straightforward, fairly simple approach that makes for an easy checklist:
- Know whether the gun you want is classified as non-restricted, restricted or prohibited.
- Take the appropriate safety courses—the Canadian Firearms Safety Course or the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course—and pass the exams.
- Apply for your Purchase and Acquisition License (PAL) and the appropriate qualifications.
- Apply for an Authorization To Transport (ATT) for restricted or prohibited weapons.
- Transfer and register your restricted or prohibited weapon.
Once you’ve done all of the above, remember that Canada’s Firearms Act “allows for periodic inspections of firearms collections.” Specific laws govern firearms storage, display, transport and handling.
In addition, individual provinces and territories may have additional laws and programs, especially regarding hunting.
If you’re wondering if Yanks can buy firearms in Canada, the RCMP is pretty clear:
- “Anyone acquiring a firearm in Canada must have a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL).”
- As for the training course needed to get the PAL, “A course from another country does not meet Canadian legal requirements.”
And there you have it. Follow these steps and you’ll be a proud Canadian gun owner, but you’ll still be a long way from being a true Canadian sniper.