This primer on Canadian firearm law is intended for anyone who
- Doesn’t know much about guns;
- Doesn’t know much about Canada’s firearm owner licensing system;
- Doesn’t know much about Canada’s legislative framework for controlling access to firearms;
- Wants to learn a little bit about how Canada deals with firearms and access to them.
If any of the above applies to you …
If you’re still reading, then welcome. If, when you’re finished reading this column, please contact me directly. I will do my best to answer your question(s) or send you to someone who can.
Full Disclosure: I’m biased.
- I like guns.
- I like hunting.
- I like plinking on the shooting range.
- I like occasionally winning shooting competitions.
- I used to teach the Canadian Firearms Safety Course as well as the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course.
- When I worked in the movie industry, part of my duties included training actors to handle guns appropriately for their character while maintaining a safe environment on set at all times.
In other words, I know a little bit about guns, how to use them safely, and how to pass that knowledge on to others.
My goal here is to pass a little of that knowledge on to you, the person reading this article right now.
What You Will Learn
First, I will provide a brief and general overview of Canada’s firearm classification system for those unfamiliar with Canada’s firearms control legislation.
Second, I’ll walk through the process of obtaining your Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) and your Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL).
Third, I will explain why the shooting sports are one of the safest activities in Canada – not according to me, but according to the insurance companies who sell liability insurance (and profit handsomely from it).
Fourth, I’ll discuss why guns in the hands of bad people are always a problem – and why firearms in the hands of federally-licensed, RCMP-vetted individuals seldom are.
Fifth, I will encourage you to attend a sport shooting facility near you. I will encourage you to ask them for a tour of their facility and have them explain how the range operates to ensure everyone’s safety.
Part 1: Canada’s Firearm Classification System
- Non-Restricted Firearm – these shotguns and rifles can be used for hunting, target shooting and shooting sports competition. They may be taken out into the bush and used for hunting and/or target shooting, or taken to a government-approved shooting range for target shooting.
- Restricted Firearm – these firearms, most handguns and some rifles and shotguns, can only be used for target shooting and shooting sports competition. They must be taken to and from a government-approved shooting range and may only be used for those purposes.
- Prohibited Firearm – all automatic firearms (like the military AK-47 or M-16), some semi-automatic rifles and shotguns, and illegally-modified guns like sawed-off shotguns and any handgun with a four-inch or shorter barrel and handguns designed to discharge a 25 or 32 calibre cartridge.
NOTE: International and Olympic shooting competitions primarily use .22 calibre firearms.
For more information, please visit the RCMP’s Classes of Firearms page.
Part 2: Canada’s Firearm Owner Licencing System
The process to legally possess firearms in Canada is costly, both in time and money. Anyone wishing to legally own guns must pay for firearm safety training courses and license application fees, typically between $400 and $500.
From the time you begin the process until you receive your Possession and Acquisition Licence card in the mail can be three or four months, and sometimes longer.
It is not a quick process.
Both firearm safety courses may typically be completed in a weekend – two full days of learning basic firearm safety concepts like ACTS and PROVE, as well as how to safely handle a variety of firearms using hinge, bolt, pump, lever and semi-automatic actions.
The Four Vital ACTS of Firearm Safety
- Assume every firearm is loaded.
- Control the muzzle direction at all times.
- Trigger finger must be kept off the trigger and out of the trigger guard.
- See that the firearm is unloaded – PROVE it safe.
How to PROVE a Firearm is Safe
- Point the firearm in the safest available direction.
- Remove all cartridges.
- Observe the chamber.
- Verify the feeding path.
- Examine the bore.
License Application Fees
If you want to own Non-Restricted firearms (PAL), the licence application fee is $61.32.
If you want to own Restricted firearms (RPAL), the licence application fee is $81.76.
For more information, please see the RCMP’s Service Fees page.
The Licensing Process
The RCMP’s Firearm Owner Licensing page says:
- A firearms licence shows that the licence holder can possess and use firearms.
This statement from the RCMP means a firearms licence holder has successfully:
- Completed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course;
- Passed both the written and practical tests for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course;
- If they want to own handguns or other Restricted class firearms, they completed the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course and passed its written and practical exams;
- Submitted an Application for a Possession and Acquisition Licence Under the Firearms Act, along with proof they’ve passed the CFSC (copies of course exams);
- Passed an RCMP background check where your references are called, your current and former conjugal partners are contacted, and the RCMP found no reason why you should not be permitted to possess firearms. (Typically, this means you have no criminal record or history of violence.)
If you pass all these requirements, the RCMP’s Canadian Firearms Program will issue your Possession and Acquisition Licence and, once the licence is in your possession, you may legally acquire a firearm.
You will still be subjected to a CPIC background check every 24 hours (Continuous Eligibility Screening) for as long as you are a licensed firearm owner.
Part 3: The Shooting Sports are Among the Safest Activities in Canada
The primary reason to visit a shooting range is to see for yourself how ordinary Canadians legally use firearms.
Statistically, shooting ranges are one of the safest places on earth. While this sounds completely illogical, insurance companies do not make moral decisions about firearms. They care about one thing and one thing only – making money.
Insurance companies make money by charging more in insurance premiums than they pay out in claims. The more dangerous an activity, the higher the insurance premiums are to cover that activity because there are more claims.
For just $45 per year, you can obtain $5,000,000 of primary liability insurance for all your shooting activities in Canada.
Compare this to your vehicle’s liability insurance. From the statistical perspective of the insurance companies, driving a vehicle is dangerous and sport shooting is not.
For just $95 per year, you can also purchase legal defence insurance should you ever be charged with a firearms offence. This insurance covers up to $250,000 per claim and $1,000,000 per year.
One of the downsides of Canada’s stringent firearm control system is the law is extremely complex and confusing – even for judges and Crown prosecutors. The average police officer doesn’t stand a chance, not when the Canadian Criminal Code is over 1,000 pages long.
As a result, police will generally seize the firearm, arrest and charge the person with it, and let the judge sort it out. This is not a statement against police. They simply don’t have the time or the resources to do so themselves.
If you choose to own firearms, $95 per year is awfully cheap peace of mind. It’s also more proof this insurance company doesn’t pay out much in legal fees each year. If they did, they could never offer to cover $250,000 of legal fees and expenses per claim.
Part 4: Guns in the Hands of Bad People are Always a Problem
When people with bad intentions pick up a gun, nothing good comes from it. We see the proof of this – week in and week out – in cities like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver. It’s not confined to big cities. Smaller cities like Edmonton, Saskatoon and Winnipeg also have far more violence than anyone wants to see.
I can’t recall the last time I made it through an entire week without hearing about a shooting somewhere in our country.
Almost without exception, the source is the same – bad people with illegal guns, shooting at other bad people in an attempt to violently impose their will on others.
These shootings are fueled by drug dealers and gangs doing what drug dealers and gangs always do – enforce their rules by violence.
These are not the licensed gun owners I discussed at the top of this article. These are violent criminals, often with long criminal records already, and they don’t care about ordinary people like you and me.
The awful tragedy we just witnessed in Nova Scotia was no different. This was a violent man with a long history of violence who, one terrible day, took his illegal guns and went on a murderous rampage and killed everyone he came in contact with.
The uncomfortable reality of Canada’s firearm laws is they focus on the law-abiding – on the people willing to take the safety course, on the people who can pass an RCMP background check – not on the violent criminals responsible for 99.9% of all the shootings.
A Firearm Prohibition Order is a restriction placed on criminals convicted of violent offences. This restriction can last for 5 years, ten years or for the rest of the person’s life.
In 2018, the last year the RCMP published these numbers, Canada had 459,538 individuals prohibited from possessing firearms.
On average, 40 people are arrested every month who are in illegal possession of firearms in violation of their pre-existing Firearm Prohibtion Orders. These are just the ones I can find easily using a Google keyword search. The true number is probably much higher.
These are the people who our system should be addressing but does not, an issue the Canadian Shooting Sports Association addressed in their commentary “Court Orders Can’t Stop Criminals From Getting Illegal Guns.”
We need to focus our precious police and court resources on the people responsible for the carnage, not on those who aren’t.
Part 5: Visit a Sport Shooting Facility Near You
The primary reason to visit a shooting range is to see for yourself how ordinary Canadians use firearms legally and safely.
Most shooting ranges are happy to show you around and walk you through their safety procedures. Just give them a call, make an appointment, and then see what legal gun ownership and shooting ranges are all about.
It’s a world vastly different from what you see portrayed in the newspapers or the evening news, but I don’t want you to take my word for it – I want you to experience this for yourself.
If you need assistance locating a sport shooting facility near you, please contact me and I’ll do my best to point you to a facility near you.
Errors and/or Omissions
Please contact me directly about any errors you see in this article, or about any omissions you believe I made. I will address your concerns asap.