What you should know
Canada’s main gun control law is the Firearms Act. It applies to everyone who possesses, uses or acquires guns. It is administered by the Canadian Firearms Program, which is run by the RCMP.
To have a firearm, you must have a licence. Your licence says what class of firearm you can have: non-restricted, restricted or prohibited.
To have a restricted or prohibited firearm, you must register the firearm.
In other words, gun laws require owners to be licensed and (certain) guns to be registered, similar to how driving laws require drivers to be licensed and cars to be registered.
If you are 18 or older, you can apply for a possession and acquisition licence (PAL). The licence enables you to possess or acquire firearms of the class listed on your licence, and to get ammunition.
You must first take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and pass a test. (To have a restricted firearm, you must also take the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course.)
Then you must apply for the PAL licence and pay a fee. The licence fee is based on the class of firearms you intend to acquire: for non-restricted firearms, the fee is $62.55; for restricted or prohibited firearms, the fee is $83.40
There is a minimum 28-day waiting period. The RCMP conduct various background checks. They may contact your partner, former partners, and references listed in your application, to see if they have any safety concerns about you owning a firearm.
The licence is renewable every five years.
The Criminal Code lists three classes of firearms: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. You must register any restricted or prohibited firearm.
- Non-restricted firearms include ordinary shotguns and rifles, such as those commonly used for hunting. (But some military-type rifles and shotguns are prohibited.)
- Restricted firearms include certain handguns and some semi-automatic long guns. Rifles that can be fired when telescoped or folded to shorter than 660 millimeters, or 26 inches, are also restricted.
- Prohibited firearms include most 32 and 25 calibre handguns, and handguns with a barrel length of 105 millimeters or shorter. Fully automatic firearms, converted automatics, firearms with a sawed-off barrel, and some military rifles like the AK-47 are also prohibited.
To possess restricted firearms
You can only have restricted firearms for a purpose the Firearms Act allows, such as gun collecting or target shooting. You must also pass a restricted firearms safety course.
“Grandfather” status for certain prohibited firearms
You are allowed to possess certain prohibited firearms if you had a firearm in the same category registered in your name when it became prohibited, and you have continuously held a valid registration certificate for that type of prohibited firearm from December 1, 1998, onward. The Firearms Act refers to this as being "grandfathered."
To register a restricted or prohibited firearm, you must be at least 18 years old and have a licence authorizing you to have that class of firearm.
You can register a restricted or prohibited firearm in one of two ways:
- Online on the Canadian Firearms Program website.
- By mailing a printed application form to the RCMP. You can download the form from the program website or call 1-800-731-4000.
There is no fee to register a firearm.
Restricted and prohibited firearms being registered for the first time in Canada need to be verified by an approved verifier. Call the program at 1-800-731-4000 for information on having a firearm verified.
Any time a restricted or prohibited firearm is sold or given to someone, it must be deregistered from the current owner and registered to the new owner. This is called a transfer. Transferring and registering a firearm to a new owner is a different process from registering a firearm for the first time.
There are two ways to do a transfer:
- Call the Canadian Firearms Program at 1-800-731-4000 to obtain a printed transfer form or to complete the transfer process by phone.
- If either the buyer or the seller is a licensed business, the transfer can be done online. The business will need to start the process on the program website.
To transfer an unrestricted firearm to a new owner, the person transferring the firearm must verify that the new owner has a valid firearms licence. To do that, they can call the Canadian Firearms Program at 1-800-731-4000. There is no paperwork required for the transfer, as unrestricted firearms do not need to be registered.
If you have firearms you no longer want, or can no longer legally own, you can dispose of them in any of the following ways:
- Sell or give them to a person or business licensed to acquire them, including a museum.
- Have them permanently deactivated in an approved way.
- Export them to a country that allows them.
- Turn them in to police or a firearms officer for disposal.
When you dispose of a registered firearm, you must tell the Canadian Firearms Program. You may have to provide proof you disposed of the firearm, such as a receipt from police if you turn it in, an import or shipping document if you send it to another country, or a completed deactivation notice.
If you change your address
If you have a firearms licence and you move, you must notify the Canadian Firearms Program of your new address within 30 days. You can change your address through the program’s website or by calling 1-800-731-4000. Keeping your address current ensures you get important information, such as notices reminding you to renew your licence. But even if you don’t get a notice to renew, you are still responsible to renew your licence before it expires.
Renewing a firearms licence
Firearms licences are generally valid for five years, and must be renewed before they expire. You can renew your licence online.
If you want to continue having firearms, you need to renew your licence. If your licence expires and you have any restricted or prohibited firearms, their registration could be cancelled. As well, you could face penalties for illegal possession of a firearm, as you need a licence in order to possess firearms legally.
Under the Criminal Code, it is an offence to possess a firearm without a valid licence. It is also an offence to possess a prohibited or restricted firearm without a registration certificate for it.
You risk penalties if police find you in possession of a firearm without a valid licence or registration certificate. To minimize that risk, if you have a firearm, you should apply for a licence and (if needed) register the firearm as quickly as possible.
Who can help
The Canadian Firearms Program, run by the RCMP, administers Canada’s gun control laws. The program’s website features fact sheets as well as licence and registration application forms.
- Call 1-800-731-4000 (toll-free)
- Visit website
Reviewed for legal accuracy by
Yulina Wang, Guardian Law and Christa Delaney, Canadian Firearms Program
Dial-A-Law has more information on Courts & police in the section on Crime.