Getting Your Gun Licence
Here are the steps for getting your gun licence or Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) in Canada. We’ll go through the Canadian classification system, process and expectations when getting your gun licence in Canada. It may seem a little daunting, but it’s worth the effort!
Canadian Firearms Classifications
Canada has three classifications for firearms:
- Non-restricted – Includes most common long guns (rifles and shotguns).
- Restricted – Includes handguns with barrels over 105mm in length, rifles with a barrel length less than 470mm (often referred to as Carbines), firearms less than 660mm by folding, telescoping or otherwise and any other firearm classified as restricted by Canadian regulations.
- Prohibited – Includes handguns with barrels under 105mm in length, handguns that shoot 25 or 32 calibre cartridges (does not include handguns for use in international sporting competitions and that are are prescribed as restricted), “sawed” off shotguns or rifles that are less than 660mm total length or with a barrel less than 457mm in length, and all automatic firearms and any firearm classified as prohibited by Canadian regulations.
Please note: Magazine capacity is also regulated in Canada. Standard capacity magazines are prohibited regardless of the class of firearm unless permanently altered to the following specifications:
- The maximum capacity for a semi-automatic centre-fire long gun is 5.
- The maximum capacity for any handgun is 10.
- Rimfire and long guns that are not semi-automatic do not have limits on the capacity of the magazines (with some exceptions).
Another BIG note: Canadian gun classifications can be tricky and contradictory. There are lots of loop-holes, so don’t assume that any one source is going to get everything right (even us!). Do your own research!
***UPDATE: As of May 1, 2020, the Canadian Government imposed a sweeping Order in Council prohibiting a large number of previously non-restricted and restricted firearms. Complete list here.***
The Licensing Process
1. Decide what type of gun licence you want
Canada has two types of licences available to new applicants:
- Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) – allows you to purchase ammunition and firearms that are non-restricted.
- Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL) – allows you to purchase ammunition and firearms that are both non-restricted and restricted.
Side note: There are very few people who can possess prohibited firearms – most have special circumstances where they are authorized for employment purposes or protection of life. There are very specific criteria that must be met in order to claim this classification so for the purpose of this article, I have excluded it.
When choosing what kind of gun licence you want, think about what kind of activities you will be doing. Is the only reason you are getting your licence to go hunting? Then a non-restricted PAL is probably all you need. Do you plan on competing in action sports or anything that involves a handgun? You will need an RPAL.
Generally, I tell people to get their RPAL if they aren’t sure what kind of sports they want to get into. The courses are typically run together.
2. Take the Canadian Firearms Safety Course
You must complete a mandatory safety/legal course for each type of gun licence. Typically, the non-restricted course is 8 hours of classroom instruction followed by a written and practical exam. The restricted gun licence requires an additional 4 hours of classroom instruction followed by another written and practical exam.
You must pass the exams to be allowed to apply for a firearms licence.
Minors between 12 and 17 can complete the non-restricted course to receive a Minor’s licence which allows them to borrow and use non-restricted firearms and purchase ammunition. Limitations apply. Minors must apply for a PAL when they turn 18 if they want to keep their licence.
Minors are not required to have a licence if they are accompanied by an adult with a PAL or RPAL.
Most gun ranges have PAL and RPAL courses available and you can also find a list of qualified instructors through your Chief Firearms Officer or on the RCMP website Here.
3. Apply for your licence
You will need to fill out the application forms completely. Your Firearms Safety Course instructor should show you how to do this before you leave the course.
The approval process involves submitting references and passing a background check. Once approved, you will be asked to pay a licence fee, submit your photo (passport style) and then you wait for your licence to be mailed. I have also heard of phone interviews during this process too, depending on circumstances.
It has been many years since I did this myself, but I believe the timeline was between 2-6 months.
Don’t forget to renew your licence every 5 years and update your address within 30 days if you move.
You are now ready to purchase your first gun! If you are buying a restricted firearm, there are more rules that apply to registering and transporting of those firearms. If you want to get into hunting, you will need to complete another safety course to get a hunting licence. This is required to purchase hunting tags.
Canadian gun laws are country-wide, so all the laws are the same across all provinces and territories.