Legally Obtaining Handguns and other Restricted Firearms in Canada

STOP! The content on this page is written assuming that you've read the overview (home) page of this website first!

How do I get a handgun in Canada?Handguns are legal in Canada, and obtaining them and other "Restricted Firearms" (of which they are just one type) for the purposes of target practice, or target shooting competition is fairly straightforward and pretty affordable.

I recommend that anyone who is looking to get into firearms also seriously consider becoming licensed for Restricted Firearms (like handguns) as well because it opens up a whole world of fantastic recreational shooting. Also, if you do it at the same time as when you first apply for a firearms licence you only have to pay the application fee once.

How to do it

You take a additional class called the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (CRFSC). Often this is taken from the same person you take the CFSC from, and roughly at the same time. Then you use the same application form to apply to be able to acquire and possess "Restricted Firearms".

It's the same process even if you already have a PAL.

That's about it… but obviously this page continues, and you really should read it if you are interested in handguns or other "Restricted Firearms" so that you're well informed.

Disclaimer Regarding Accuracy and Completeness

Please note that everything on this page is a bit of a simplification of the complexity. After all, the course (which is also a simplification) takes hours to complete, and this page only takes a few minutes to read.

As such there are statements on this page which some people will object to. For example it is technically possible for someone to be issued a license to purchase Prohibited Firearms, or to be granted an Authorization To Carry a loaded gun. However, except in incredibly rare cases (which, if they applied to you, you'd probably already know about) it's simply not going to happen.

Quick Generalizations

  • You must pass the additional safety course (the CRFSC).
  • They must be be registered.
  • You must follow special "Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling" requirements.
  • You may not carry them on your person.
  • You may own them for target shooting, or collecting.
  • You may shoot them at approved ranges, not on your own property.
  • You will likely need to join a shooting club.
  • There are exceptions to every item on this list.

If those are deal-breakers for you, then you should stop reading this page now and go sign up to take the CFSC and just get a license for regular long guns. That's perfectly fine.

On this page I will use the term "government" to encompass a variety authorities both federal and provincial. It's simply not necessary or productive to be incredibly precise regarding the distinctions between the different authorities. If you have specific questions regarding what I mean in any given case you can certainly contact me for clarification.

Introduction

On this page, we're not specifically discussing just handguns. Handguns are only one type of firearm in the "Restricted Firearms" classification. Although handguns are the most popular type of Restricted Firearm. To own handguns you will become licensed for the Restricted Firearms classification.

To become licensed for Restricted Firearms you must take (and pass) an additional course called the "Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course" (CRFSC) and apply.

The CRFSC is very much like the (CFSC), and even uses the same course manual. It covers the additional specific considerations pertaining to these firearms. Including what kinds of Restricted Firearms there are, special safety considerations, and the tighter laws and regulations surrounding Restricted Firearms

In the next section I will cover what the different classes of firearms are, so you'll have a more complete picture of what's available to you.

Classifications of Firearms

There are three classifications of firearms in Canada:

  • Non-Restricted
  • Restricted
  • Prohibited

Non-Restricted Firearms

The "Non-Restricted Firearm" classification is the default class, and includes most long guns like rifles and shotguns. This is what most people own, and what you can get a license for when you take just the CFSC.

Restricted Firearms

The "Restricted Firearms" classification includes:

  • Handguns
    Unless they're specifically in the Prohibited class for some other reason
  • Semi-Automatic firearms with barrels less than 470mm
    Unless they're specifically in the Prohibited class. Semi-automatic firearms fire one projectile with each press of the trigger, not requiring additional action by the user such as operating a bolt.
  • Firearms designed or adapted to be fired when reduced to be less than 660mm long
  • Firearms which the government declares to be Restricted
    Such as the AR-15 which would by its inherent characteristics generally be a Non-Restricted Firearm because it operates the same way as virtually every other semi-automatic rifle.

Prohibited Firearms

You probably don't need to read this section so it's hidden.
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The "Prohibited Firearms" classification includes:

  • Handguns with barrels of 105mm or less.
    The rational being they're too easily concealed, and not suitable for target shooting.
  • Handguns in 25 or 32 caliber.
    Unless they are prescribed not to be Prohibited because the specific firearm is for use in specially governed international competition.
  • Any firearm altered or adapted to be shorter than 660mm
  • Any firearm altered or adapted to have a barrel less than 457mm
  • Automatic Firearms (machine guns)
    Which fire multiple projectiles with a single pressure of the trigger, even if they've been altered to fire only once with each pressure (semi-automatic).
  • Firearms which the government declares to be Prohibited
    Such as all variants of the AK-47, including all semi-automatic ones.

It incredibly uncommon to become licensed to own prohibited firearms as it requires special circumstances. This page will not discuss those circumstances as they probably do not, apply to you.

Registration

Restricted Firearms (and Prohibited) must be registered with the government. When buying or selling such firearms the transfer of the registration from the current owner to the new one requires the approval of the government.

The registration system in one of several ways in which non-legislative branches of the government can in effect make "law by policy". For example, although the law does not require you to be a member of a shooting club to obtain a Restricted Firearm, in practice you must be. This is because the government will not generally approve the transfer of the registration if you are not.

Lawful Use

Target practice, target shooting competition, and collecting are the primary lawful reasons for you to own Restricted Firearms. As such the government will not generally transfer you the registration for a restricted firearm unless you can demonstrate that you will be engaging in one of these lawful uses.

Target Practice and Competitive Shooting with Handguns and Restricted Firearms

This is by far the most common reason people own Restricted Firearms, and the reason I recommend people consider it. Shooting pieces of paper alone is a lot of fun, but doing so as part of a competition is really something to be tried!

Club Membership

Since Restricted Firearms may generally only be used at approved ranges, and can not be shot on your own property (unless you build a range and get it approved.) The government will (at this time, as far as I know) require you to prove you have a lawful place to shoot a restricted firearm before they will approve the transfer of the registration to you.

Shooting Clubs vs. Shooting Ranges

A shooting club is not technically the same thing as a shooting range. Clubs are usually centered around one specific type of firearm, or type of shooting sport. A range is a physical facility where shooting may take place. Some clubs own and operate their own ranges, and others use the ranges of other entities. Some commercial shooting ranges have a club you can join that is focused on their range.

An Example of a Shooting Club

Say you're interested in "old west" style revolvers, you could then join a Cowboy Action shooting club (which is awesome by the way.)

It's unlikely that there's going to be enough people in your area participating in Cowboy Action shooting to justify purchasing a large piece of land, building a shooting range on it, and getting the government to approve the range.

However, your club might make an arrangement with a local shooting range operated by a Fish and Game Association. The Fish and Game Association would then produce a document which invites members of your Cowboy Action shooting club to use their range.

You would then provide proof of your membership in the Cowboy Action shooting club, and your club's invitation to shoot at the Fish and Game Association's shooting range to the government to prove you have somewhere to lawfully use a Restricted Firearm.

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The Problem of Finding a Shooting Club and Range

This can be one of the more challenging aspects of getting into shooting Restricted Firearms.

Many clubs do not actively seek new members for various reasons and so have no outreach activities, do not advertise, and do not have an online presence. Others are largely run by very non-technical people who simply don't know how to get their information out there.

Also, some municipalities and counties have enacted by-laws to limit the operation of shooting ranges, or the issuance of new business licenses. This is more of a problem around large cities, especially in BC and Ontario where much of the population is staunchly anti-gun. I know from my personal experience that this shortage has caused clubs near Toronto to implement policies where prospective members must be sponsored by existing members, and this has led to multi-year waiting lists. Thus forcing new shooters in the GTA to join clubs further from the city and drive out to them.

Tips for Finding a Club and Range
  1. Call local stores that sell guns and hunting equipment on the phone and ask the staff at their gun counter if they know of any. This is by far your best bet. Finding the stores however can be difficult. Yellow Pages and Google Maps can help with that.
  2. Check your local yellow colored phone book for a specific category, it likely has a "Hunting & Guns" or "Guns & Gunsmiths" category. You can try the Yellow Pages website too.
  3. Search Google Maps with these links:
  4. You can also try plugging all those search terms into the non-maps Google Search followed by "in YourTown" where YourTown is wherever you live.
  5. Don't give up! There are shooting clubs and shooting ranges all over Canada, finding them is the hard part.

Collecting Handguns and Other Restricted Firearms

Collecting firearms is another lawful use of Restricted Firearms. However, simply wanting to own them isn't sufficient.

Collectors must have (and may be required to actually demonstrate that they have) knowledge of the historical, technological or scientific characteristics that relate or distinguish the restricted firearms they collect.

They must also consent to periodic inspections by the government of the premises in which the restricted firearms are to be kept.

Unless you are legitimately interested in collecting specific artifacts, this isn't going to be for you. If you are, feel free to contact me and we can discuss it.

Storage and Transportation Your Restricted Firearms

Restricted Firearms are subject to more strict "Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling" rules than Non-Restricted Firearms. You will learn about these requirements in the CRFSC. If you wish to read the actual legal wording you can find the requirements on the Justice Laws Website.

Carrying a Handgun or Restricted Firearm

Carrying Restricted Firearms on your person without a special "Authorization To Carry" (ATC) is illegal. Regardless of if the firearm is openly carried, or concealed, or if you are doing it on your own property or in public. It's almost impossible to be issued an ATC unless you have a special job which requires you to carry a firearm.

Please note that "carrying" is not the same as "transporting from one place to another". Transporting must be done in compliance with the regulations which you will learn about in the safety courses. Discussion of the rules for the "Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling of Firearms by Individuals" is beyond the scope of this article and it will be covered in the applicable firearms safety courses.

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