Firearms in Canada - Basics

Heads up! These are very simplified definitions about firearms that are designed to give you some basic knowledge. In reality, the rules and laws around firearms are more complex and detailed. If you have a specific question, please contact me to answer your questions or seek legal advice.

I have found many people do not understand some basics about firearms in Canada, including how you can get a firearm, who can get a firearm, and what kind of firearm you can buy. I think firearm are fascinating and the laws around them are technical and challenging.

In Canada, you need to have a firearms licence to be able to purchase, own, and store firearms and to purchase ammunition. If you do not have a licence, it is probably illegal for you to own or store a firearm. If you applied today, you would apply for a Possession and Acquisition Licence, also called a PAL. Much like a driver's licence, you need to take a course before you can apply for your licence called the Firearms Safety Course. You can contact Dennis Wiebe with 1st Shot Firearms if you want more details about taking the course. The course usually costs around $80. You could also simply challenge the exam too, if you are so bold. After you successfully complete the course, you apply to the government for you licence. The application form is lengthy and requires a photograph and two references. It is designed so that unsafe or higher risk individuals do not qualify for a firearms licence. The application fee is around $60-80. If your application is granted, you will be issued your PAL and your licence will arrive in the mail.

There are three classes of firearms in Canada.

  1. Unrestricted firearms:  these are typically called long rifles and they include shotguns and rifles. The entire length of the firearm has to be a certain amount, so the barrel or the stock cannot be too short. Semi-automatic firearms are allowed along with bolt action, pump action, and single shot. For some of these rifles (semi-automatic centrefire), there is a maximum magazine of 5 rounds. You can use these types of firearms for hunting and target shooting.
  2. Restricted firearms:  these are typically handguns and shorter barrelled rifles. Once again, the entire length of the firearm has to be a certain amount. Some handguns are considered too small and are not in this group. Once again, they can include semi-automatic firearms. You can only use these types of firearms for target shooting at a gun range. There are very strict rules about transporting these types of firearms and you are only permitted to go directly from your home to the gun range. You must get an Authorization To Transport (ATT) certificate and have it on you at all times.
  3. Prohibited firearms:  these are typically firearms that only police or military can possess. They include small handguns, fully automatic firearms, larger magazine semi-automatic centrefire, and smaller rifles. In criminal cases, we sometimes see people charged with possessing a prohibited firearm if they have sawed off the barrel or stock of a rifle or if they tampered with a semi-automatic centrefire rifle to hold more than 5 rounds.

Firearms offences can be very serious in Canada and several have mandatory minimum jail sentences. However, there are some cases that have challenged the fairness of mandatory minimum jail sentences that I expect will work their way to the Supreme Court of Canada. Overall, firearms are only as dangerous as the hands they are in. If you are trained on the safety measures and have the appropriate licence, hunting and target shooting can be fantastic hobbies. If you do not have appropriate training or a licence, you need to make sure you do not become involved with firearms because the criminal consequences can be severe - and for good reason.

About the author

Michael Dyck is a criminal lawyer at Tom Rees and Company. He represents clients from Winnipeg, Steinbach, and rural Manitoba. He has extensive experience helping people charged with criminal offences and focuses on building legal strategy with clients. To read more of his articles, please visit