This page lists the most general frequently asked questions about Canada and guns, especially in regard to the labyrinthine system of Canadian gun laws which can seem so befuddling to foreign visitors and native Canucks alike.Last updated: July 25, 2015
Bear in mind that this page is just for quick reference and is NOT intended to act as legal advice. While we do our best to provide good information, the fluid nature of Canadian gun law (particularly where Orders In Council are concerned) makes this an extremely difficult task. Whenever possible, double check facts with the Canada Firearms Centre (CFC) or local Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) detachment. Yes, it’s a pain in the butt. But it’s better than losing your guns and going to jail.
- What’s a POL?
- Do we still have to register our guns?
- Visiting Canada with a gun
- How many rounds can a magazine legally hold?
- What guns are banned in Canada?
What is a POL?
A POL is — or rather, was — a “Possession Only License,” which would allow Canadians to posses firearms that they already owned but did not allow them to buy any new guns (you could buy ammo with it, though).
The government no longer issues POLs in Canada, at all, and the last existing ones will be expiring soon (update: you can renew them now, at least until May 16 2014). After that happens, any Canadian who wants to own a firearm of any kind will need to have a PAL — or risk prosecution. Just for having a gun, not for doing anything with it.
Can I buy ammo with a POL?
Yes, as a holder of a POL you can buy all the ammo your little heart desires. Don’t expect the guy at the store to know that, though. We’ve followed up on literally dozens of complaints from POL holders who were refused purchase (usually at large chain stores like Canadian Tire or Walmart). While it is occasionally the result of an anti-gun employee who’s just looking for an excuse, more often than not simply a case of the poor schmuck not understanding the law. Not surprising, really, from the convoluted way it’s constructed.
Do we still have to register our guns?
Nope, not if they’re non-restricteds. Since the passage of Bill C-19, the long gun registry is dead. Nobody will miss it. Nobody who matters, anyway.
Restricted firearms and 12.x goodies still have to be registered and yes, you still need a PAL/POL to own a gun; licencing hasn’t gone bye-bye. Yet.
I’m just visiting/just passing through; do I need to worry about all this junk?
This question seems to be most often asked by people driving from Washington to Alaska, or the other way around. The answer is that yes, you do need to worry about this junk.
You can be the nicest, most law-abiding person on the planet and still, if Canadian cops catch you with a gun and “your papers are not in order,” (best said with a German accent) they will haul you off to the clink. If you’re not willing to go through the hassle (and intrusion into your private life) that getting a PAL involves, the easiest thing to do is to declare the guns in writing to a customs officer at the border with the Non-Resident Firearm Declaration (form RCMP 5589). If you have more than three guns, you should tack on a Non-Resident Firearm Declaration Continuation Sheet (form RCMP 5590) as well. These should be filled out before you hit the border, to save time. However, it should not be signed before arriving at the entry point, because a Canadadian border guard has to witness the signature or else it’s no good.
A confirmed declaration costs $25, no matter how many guns are listed on it. It is valid only for the person who signs it and only for those firearms listed on the declaration. Once the declaration has been confirmed by the customs officer, it acts as a licence for the owner and it is valid for 60 days. You can renew it for free, before it expires, by contacting the Chief Firearms Officer (1-800-731-4000) of the relevant province or territory.
I’ve got my PAL/RPAL, what else do I need to buy a gun?
Well, if you’re buying a non-restricted firearm, that’s all you need. Just go to the store, show your PAL/RPAL, pay your money and away you go. Just remember to mind the transport regs, no matter how dumb they might be.
If you’re buying a restricted firearm, though (like a handgun or a Scary Black Death Machine© with a Shoulder Thing That Goes Up®), you will need to either call 1-800-731-4000 or submit a
BR549 5490 form to your CFO in order to get your Mother May I Slip® to take your gun home.
Or you could just save yourself a whole lot of hassles and, you know, buy it through the mail.
How to buy ammo
In order to buy any ammunition anywhere in Canada, you must have a valid Canadian PAL (or POL, if you still have one of those). If you buy any ammo in the province of Ontario, Provincial legislation requires that your PAL number — and address! — are recorded and entered into a log book kept at the store where you bought the ammunition, even if it’s just some powder.
The fact that these books could be a scumbag’s Christmas shopping list if they fell into the wrong hands (the thief would know where you live, what kind of guns you have, etc.) seems to have never occurred to the socialist Premier (Bob Rae) whose government passed the legislation in the early 1990s.
Can I possess ammo without a PAL/POL?
Yes, you can, unless you have been specifically prohibited from doing so. Many owners of antique firearms (which do not require a PAL or POL to possess) handload their own ammo for personal use, for example.
How many rounds can a mag hold?
Unlike other countries, Canada has very strict limitations on the number of rounds that a firearm’s magazine is allowed to hold at one time. Some large-capacity mags are prohibited no matter what type of firearm they’re attached to (i.e., a 30-rd mag can still be prohibited even it it’s attached to a non-restricted firearm). As a rule of thumb, the magazine capacity limits are:
- Semi-auto centerfire long guns: 5 rds (yes, seriously: five lousy rounds)
- Semi-auto rimfire long guns: no limit
- Any NON-semiautomatic long guns: no limit
- Center- OR rimfire handguns: 10 rds
Bear in mind that a large-capacity magazine is not prohibited if it has been permanently altered (for example, by pinning) so that it cannot hold more than the legal limit. Acceptable ways to alter a magazine are set out in the regulations.
Strangely enough, the wording of the law is such that the limits are on what the mag was designed for, instead of what it is used in at the moment. So… if a long gun (like the Beretta CX Storm) and a handgun use the SAME mag, and you switch them around, the mag that came out of the rifle would still be limited to 5, even if used in a handgun, while the 10 round handgun mag would — in this case — be OK in a rifle.
Hey, don’t look at us. We didn’t make these cockamaimie rules…
Are there any exceptions to the magazine capacity limits?
As a matter of fact, there are. Some examples are:
- The M1 Garand. It uses 8-rd clips.
- Any belt/link designed for belt fed machine guns — designed before 1945 — is exempted from the 5-round rule. (Before you get too excited: a .223 belt would NOT be exempt; the .223 wasn’t designed until the ’60s…)
The “Shotgun Myth.”
There is a persistent — and pernicious — myth in Canada: “Your shotgun is not allowed to hold any more than a total of three rounds in it (1 in the chamber + 2 in the mag/tube).” This is just plain not true. Period. (Where are the Mythbusters when you need them?) So where did this misconception come from in the first place?
Back when the federal government was scrambling to find people to teach the new CFSC (the Canadian Firearms Safety Course – the final exam for which now must be passed before anyone can get a gun license in Canada) as they were implementing C-68, most of the people they managed to get were hunting safety course instructors. Sort of makes sense, right? So here’s the deal: while there is NO firearm law limiting the capacity of a non-semiauto shotty’s mag, there IS a federal law that says a shotgun’s total capacity — while hunting migratory birds! — is to be no more than three rounds (including the one in the chamber).
Like most other people, the instructors were scrambling to catch up to the new regs. Many simply fell back on what they knew, and the myth has been slithering about ever since.
What guns are banned in Canada?
A lot of ’em. Seriously. Canadian politicians (especially the Liberals) love banning things so much, that they’ve banned a buttload of things (seriously, it’s ridonkulous). It’s so out of hand, there’s a whole other page dedicated to just that question. You can view it right here.