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Is it legal to own a firearm in Canada?

Region: Ontario Answer # 7800

To legally own a firearm in Canada, you must have a licence. To obtain a licence you must undergo a background check, pass the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and meet other eligibility criteria. To legally own a restricted firearm, you must also complete the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course.

Other than the police and military, it is illegal to own automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns and rifles in Canada. If you have been charged with a firearms or weapons related crime, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible.

Licences and registration

  • A Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) allows the licence holder to possess and use firearms.The licence indicates which class of firearms and ammunition a person can own and transport. The licence must be renewed every five years. According to the RCMP, if you are in possession of a firearm, you need a licence even if you are not the owner and never handle the firearm.
  • A Registration Certificate identifies a firearm and links the firearm to its owner (and is required for restricted and prohibited firearms)

What is the law?

In Canada, firearms are federally regulated. Gun control is governed by two laws:

  1. The Firearms Act, and
  2. The Criminal Code of Canada

The Firearms Act and the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP)

The Firearms Act applies to anyone who owns, uses, or buys guns in Canada. As per the Act, the RCMP runs the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). The CFP is responsible for:

  • overseeing firearms licences and registration,
  • maintaining national firearm safety training standards,
  • assisting law enforcement agencies, and
  • enhancing public safety

Criminal Code of Canada

Firearms related offences and their penalties can be found in the Criminal Code. The Code also regulates which firearms and weapons are illegal in Canada and places them into three classes.

  1. Non-restricted (e.g., most ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns – typically known as “long guns”),
  2. Restricted (e.g., most handguns and certain semi-automatic firearms), and
  3. Prohibited (e.g., small and prescribed handguns, including those small and easily concealed, fully automatic firearms, and sawed-off rifles and shotguns).

The Code defines a “firearm” as

A barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury or death to a person and includes any frame or receiver of such a barrelled weapon and anything that can be adapted for use as a firearm.

Individuals may own firearms in the non-restricted and restricted classes if they have the appropriate licence. Businesses can possess prohibited devices, with the appropriate licence, however, individuals may only own prohibited firearms in exceptional circumstances outlined in the Firearms Act. There are also circumstances under which individuals convicted of certain prohibited offences may not own a firearm.

For more information on the classes of firearms in Canada and what is legal to own, refer to 7804 How are firearms classified in Canada?

Under what circumstances are you allowed to own a firearm?

You may only be licensed to acquire or possess a restricted firearm if it is for one of the following purposes:

  • target practice or target shooting competitions (you must provide proof that you practice or compete at an approved shooting club or range)
  • as part of a collection
  • in limited circumstances, for employment purposes or for protection of life (the use of weapons for self-defence is strictly limited, and it must be proven that it was both necessary and reasonable given the situation)

Guns must be kept locked and unloaded when not in use.

How old must you be to own or use a firearm? 

  • Canadians must be over 18 and pass a firearms safety course or the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course to own a restricted firearm.
  • Canadians aged 12-17 can get a minor’s licence, allowing them to use non-restricted firearms like most rifles or shotguns for hunting or shooting competitions, and buy ammunition.
  • Children aged 12-17 can use a restricted gun without a minor’s licence if they are under the “direct and immediate supervision” of an adult who has a licence

Provincial and territorial laws

Along with federal legislation, provincial and territorial laws exist that include restrictions on such things as additional firearms licensing and permits; when and where it is legal to carry and discharge a firearm; and regulations around gun safety, shooting ranges, and hunting.

Existing laws or government regulations:

View other answers for more information on firearms law, including licensing, owning, types of firearms, importing and exporting firearms, and firearm offences.

Get help

To erase your criminal record, call toll-free 1-888-808-3628 or learn more at Pardon Partners. It’s easier than you think.

If you have been charged with a crime, it is important to hire an experienced criminal defence lawyer as soon as possible. Contact our preferred criminal defence expert, Calvin Barry Criminal Lawyers for a free consultation at 416-938-5858 .

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