What Is Gun Control in Canada Like?

Understanding the Canadian Firearms Program

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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 its related regulations, as well as the Firearms Act and its related regulations.

The Canadian Firearms Program (CFP), part of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP), is responsible for the administration of the Firearms Act. This legislation 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 and municipal levels of government. Hunting regulations are a good example of these additional regulations.

Classes of Guns in Canada

Canadian firearms regulations classify some firearms by their physical characteristics, such as barrel length or type of action, and others by make and model. There are three classes of firearms in Canada: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.

Non-restricted guns (long guns) are rifles and shotguns. There are some exceptions for long guns that are classified as restricted or prohibited firearms. The Restricted Firearms and Prohibited Firearms sections of the Canadian Firearms Program have additional details on these exceptions.

Firearms Licences in Canada

In order to acquire, possess, and register a firearm and obtain ammunition for it in Canada, you are required to have a license that 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 to obtain this license.
  • 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.
  • 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 first pass 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 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 accessed more than 14,000 times a day.

    All three classes of firearms must be registered. Although legislation to end the long-gun registry has been proposed in the past, 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.

    Gun Safety, Storage, Transportation, and Display

    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.

    There are also regulations in Canada for the safe storage, transportation, and display of firearms to help prevent loss, theft, and accidents. Understanding the rules when traveling while armed into Canada is important when coming from the U.S., which has more lenient gun restrictions.

    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:

    • Five cartridges for most magazines designed for use in semi-automatic center-fire long guns; or
    • Ten cartridges for most handgun magazines.

    It is acceptable to have high-capacity magazines that have been permanently altered so that they cannot hold more than the number of cartridges allowed by law. Acceptable ways to alter magazines are described in detail 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 millimeters (1.6 feet) in overall length are prohibited and cannot be legally acquired or possessed.

    No license or registration certificate is required to possess any other bow or crossbow requiring the use of both hands and longer than 500 millimeters in overall length. Provisions in the Criminal Code making it an offense to acquire a crossbow without a valid license 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 ​license requirements and restrictions that may apply to the use of bows. 

    Sources

    "Canadian Firearms Program." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, February 27, 2018.

    "Firearms Licence Services (for individuals)." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, June 17, 2019.

    "Prohibited Firearms." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, April 10, 2017.

    "Registration of firearms (individuals)." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, June 17, 2019.

    "Restricted Firearms." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, April 10, 2017.

    "Safety Courses." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, October 17, 2016.

    "Storing, Transporting and Displaying Firearms." Royal Canadian Mounted Police, February 27, 2018.