Understanding Gun Control in Canada

The Canadian Firearms Program in Canada

The federal government is primarily responsible for guns and gun control in Canada.

Legislation covering guns and gun control in Canada consists mainly of Part II of the Criminal Code of Canada and related regulations, and the Firearms Act and related regulations.

The Canadian Firearms Program (CFP), part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is responsible for the administration of the Firearms Act which covers the possession, transportation, use and storage of firearms in Canada. The CFP handles the licensing of individuals and maintains a national database of firearms records.

Additional laws and regulations also apply at the provincial or municipal level of government. Hunting regulations are a good example.

Classes of Guns in Canada

There are three classes of firearms in Canada: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited.

Canadian firearms regulations classify some firearms by their physical characteristics, such as barrel length or type of action, and others by make and model.

Non-restricted guns (long guns) are rifles and shotguns, although there are some exceptions which are classified as restricted or prohibited firearms.

For more details, see the Restricted Firearms and Prohibited Firearms from the Canadian Firearms Program.

Firearms Licences in Canada

In Canada, in order to acquire, possess and register a firearm and obtain ammunition for it, you are required to have a license, which must be kept current.

There are different types of firearms licenses:

  • Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL):
    This license allows you to acquire or permanently import a firearm. It is renewable every five years. In general, applicants must pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.
  • Possession Only Licence (POL):
    This license allows a firearm owner to possess registered firearms, including borrowed firearms of any class designated by the license. It is valid for five years.
    See: Applying for a New Possession Only Licence
  • Minors Licence
    With this license, minors aged 12 to 17 are allowed to borrow a non-restricted rifle or shotgun for approved purposes such as hunting. Applicants must have passed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course.
  • For Non-Residents 18 Years and Older
    Non-residents over 18 can present a completed but unsigned Non-resident Firearms Declaration (see Forms for Non-Residents to a customs officer at their first point of entry into Canada. When the declaration is confirmed by the customs officer it will serve as a 60-day temporary license.
  • Firearms Business Licence:
    This license allows a business to carry on activities specified on the license.​

    Gun Registry in Canada

    The Canadian Firearms Registry contains information on all registered firearms and on firearms license holders. Police officers can check the registry before going on a call, The registry is currently being accessed more than 14,000 times a day.

    Currently, all three classes of firearms must be registered. Although legislation to end the long-gun registry is in progress, it has not received Royal Assent nor come into force.

    Before you can register a firearm, you must have a valid firearms Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). Also, individual guns must have a certificate. If you have a license, you can apply to register your firearms online.

    For more information on registering a firearm in Canada, see Registration of Firearms - Frequently Asked Questions.

    Gun Safety Course

    To be eligible to apply for a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) applicants must pass the written and practical parts of the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC), or challenge and pass the CFSC tests without taking the course.

    Safe Storage, Transporting and Display of Guns

    There are also regulations in Canada for the safe storage, transportation, and display of firearms to help prevent loss, theft, and accidents. See Storing, Transporting and Displaying Firearms fact sheet from the Canadian Firearms Program.

    Maximum Ammunition Magazine Capacity

    Under the Criminal Code Regulations, certain high- capacity ammunition magazines are prohibited for use in any class of firearm. As a general rule, the maximum magazine capacity is:

    • 5 cartridges for most magazines designed for use in semi-automatic centre-fire long guns; or
    • 10 cartridges for most handgun magazines.

    High-capacity magazines that have been permanently altered so that they cannot hold more than the number of cartridges allowed by law are allowed. Acceptable ways to alter magazines are described in the regulations.

    There is currently no limit to the magazine capacity for semi-automatic rim-fire long guns, or for other long guns that are not semi-automatics, with some exceptions.

    What About Bows and Crossbows?

    Crossbows that can be aimed and fired with one hand and crossbows less than 500 mm in overall length are prohibited and cannot be legally acquired or possessed.

    No licence or registration certificate is required to possess any other bow or crossbow requiring the use of both hands and longer than 500 mm in overall length. Provisions in the Criminal Code making it an offence to acquire a crossbow without a valid licence have never been brought into force.

    Note that some provinces do not allow crossbows to be used for hunting. Persons planning to use any type of bow or crossbow for hunting should check provincial hunting regulations for information on hunting ​licence requirements and restrictions that may apply to the use of bows. 

    Updated by Robert Longley