Firearms and Firearms Act (Script 242)

From Clicklaw Wikibooks

Canada’s main gun control law is the Firearms Act. It applies to everyone who possesses, uses, or acquires guns (called firearms in this script). So it applies to anyone who borrows, buys, or inherits any firearms. The Act is administered by the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program.

The Act requires people with firearms to be licensed and firearms to be registered (like driving laws require drivers to be licensed and cars to be registered). People must have a valid firearms licence to possess or acquire firearms, or to get ammunition. If they want to renew their firearms licence, they must do so before it expires—for as long as they possess firearms. People must also register all restricted and prohibited firearms. In April 2012, the Ending the Long-gun Registry Act became law. Under it, non-restricted firearms no longer have to be registered. But restricted and prohibited firearms must still be registered.

Licensing of people with firearms

What licence do you need?

  • Possession and Acquisition Licence, or PAL, for short – if you are 18 or older and do not have a firearms licence, this is the only licence you can get. To get a PAL, you must first take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, plus the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (to acquire restricted firearms) and then pass a test. Then you must apply to the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program and pay an application fee. The RCMP may contact the references listed in your application, spouses, ex-spouses, and other people you have lived with to see if they have any safety concerns about you owning a firearm.
  • Minor’s licence—people at least 12 years old but under 18 with a Minor’s licence can borrow non-restricted firearms for hunting, target shooting, organized shooting competitions, and instructions in firearms use. But people under 18 cannot own or acquire firearms.

All businesses and organizations that produce, sell, possess, handle, display or store firearms or ammunition must have a valid firearms business licence.

What classes of firearms are there?

The Criminal Code lists three classes of firearms: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited. A firearms licence shows what class of firearm you can possess and acquire.

  • Non-restricted firearms include ordinary shotguns and rifles, such as those commonly used for hunting. But some military type rifles and shotguns are prohibited – see “Prohibited firearms” below.
  • Restricted firearms include certain handguns and some semi-automatic long guns (not all semi-automatic long guns are restricted or prohibited). Rifles that can be fired when telescoped or folded to shorter than 660 millimeters, or 26 inches, are also restricted. You can only have restricted firearms for a purpose that the Firearms Act allows, such as gun collecting or target shooting. You must also pass a restricted firearms safety course/tests approved by the federal minister.
  • Prohibited firearms include most 32 and 25 caliber handguns and handguns with a barrel length of 105 mm or shorter. Fully automatic firearms, converted automatics, firearms with a sawed-off barrel, and some military rifles like the AK 47 are also prohibited.
The Program factsheet has more on classes of firearms and how a firearm’s class is determined.

How much does a firearms licence cost and how long does it last?

A PAL costs $60 if it is only for non-restricted firearms or $80 for any combination of non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited firearms. Firearms licences are generally valid for 5 years.

A Minor’s Licence costs $10 for up to one year; $20 for up to two years, and $30 for more than two years. You must pay for a PAL if you upgrade from a Minor’s Licence when you turn 18.

Renewing a firearms licence

If you want to renew a firearms licence, you must do so before it expires. You can renew it online. If you want to keep firearms, you need to renew your licence. And if your licence expires and you have any restricted or prohibited firearms, their registration could be canceled. In both cases, you could face penalties for illegal possession because you need a licence to possess firearms legally.

Registration of firearms

How do you register firearms?

To register a restricted or prohibited firearm, you must be at least 18 years old and have a licence authorizing you to possess that class of firearm. You may also need to get your firearm verified by an approved verifier before you register it. Call the Program at 1.800.731.4000 for information on having a firearm verified. There is no fee to register a firearm.

You can register restricted and prohibited firearms in 2 ways:

  1. Online, at the Program website
  2. With a paper application form – call 1.800.731.4000 to get a form or get it from the Program website.

Registering prohibited firearms

A Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) allows a person to acquire prohibited firearms only in the same categories as the ones they already have registered, and only if the firearms they want to acquire were registered in Canada on December 1, 1998. A PAL indicates what prohibited firearms the person is licensed to acquire by showing the section of the Firearms Act that “grandfathers” them. Grandfathered status lets a person acquire and possess prohibited firearms already registered in Canada—but not import prohibited firearms into Canada.

To stay grandfathered for a category of prohibited firearm, a person must have continuously held a registration certificate for a firearm in that category from December 1, 1998, onward. To get a registration certificate for a firearm, a person needs a licence to possess that class of firearm. And any renewal of a firearms licence must be done before it expires.

Transferring a firearm, and its registration, to a new owner

  • Restricted and prohibited firearms—any time these firearms are sold or given to someone, they must be deregistered from the first owner and registered to the new owner. This is called a transfer. Transferring and registering a firearm to a new owner differ from registering a firearm that has never been registered. There are three ways to do a transfer:
  1. Call 1.800.731.4000 to transfer by phone.
  2. If either the buyer or the seller is a licensed business, they can do the transfer online. The business will need to start the process on the Program website.
  3. Call 1.800.731.4000 to get a paper transfer form or get it from the Program website.
  • Non-restricted firearms—transfers of these firearms can be done without contacting the Program, because registration is no longer required for this class. But the person transferring the firearm must verify that the new owner has a valid PAL. To do that, they can call the Program (1.800.731.4000) before selling or transferring the firearm.

Storing and disposing of firearms

All firearms must be stored unloaded and locked up, for safety.

If you have firearms that 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 Program. You may also have to provide proof that you disposed of it, 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.

Firearms-related penalties in the Criminal Code

If you have a firearm without a license (and registration certificate for restricted or prohibited firearms), you may face penalties under Part III of the Criminal Code.

If you change your address

If you have a licence and you move, you must notify the Program of your new address within 30 days. You can change your address through the 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 it before it expires.

More information

Call the Canadian Firearms Program at 1.800.731.4000 or check its website for detailed information, including fact sheets on many topics. You can get licence and registration application forms from the website or by calling 1.800.731.4000. For more information, check the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act and their regulations.


To possess or acquire a firearm, you must have a licence. Your licence tells you what class of firearm you can have: non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited. If you have a restricted or prohibited firearm, you must register it. Grandfathered privileges for prohibited firearms are valid only if you continue to hold a valid licence and registration certificate for a firearm in that category of prohibited firearm.

[updated August 2017]

The above was last reviewed for accuracy by Yulina Wang and edited by John Blois.

© Copyright 2018, Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch. Dial-A-Law is a registered trademark owned by Canadian Bar Association British Columbia Branch, a non-profit membership corporation.

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