Firearms licencing in Canada

Becoming a firearms owner in Canada begins with licencing. Short of sub-500 feet per second airguns, anyone over the age of 18 must have a licence for the class of firearm they’d like to own.

There are 3 classifications of firearms in Canada

  • Non-restricted:

Non-restricted firearms are any rifles and shotguns that are neither restricted nor prohibited. Most common long guns are non-restricted, but there are a few exceptions, as indicated in this fact sheet.

  • Restricted:

According to the Criminal Code, a restricted firearm is:

  • a handgun that is not a prohibited firearm;
  • a semi-automatic, centre-fire rifle or shotgun with a barrel length less than 470 mm (18.5 inches) that is not prohibited;
  • a rifle or shotgun that can fire when its overall length is reduced by folding, telescoping or some other means to less than 660 mm (26 inches);-
  • Any firearm prescribed as restricted (including some long guns).
  • Prohibited:

The Criminal Code states that a prohibited firearm is:

  • a handgun with a barrel length of 105 mm or less;
  • a handgun designed or adapted to discharge 25 or 32 calibre ammunition;
  • a rifle or shotgun that has been altered to make it less than 660 mm (26 inches) in overall length;
  • a rifle or shotgun that has been altered to make the barrel length less than 457 mm (18 inches) where the overall firearm length is 660 mm (26 inches) or more;
  • an automatic firearm and a converted automatic firearm;
  • any firearm prescribed as prohibited.

These 3 classifications of firearms are matched with corresponding licence types:

  1. your basic PAL (Possession, Acquisition Licence) is for Non-Restricted Firearms.
  2. PAL + Restricted
  3. PAL + Restricted + Prohibited

All of these classes of licence permit you to obtain/purchase ammunition.   In Canada you cannot legally buy ammunition without at a minimum a deprecated POL (Possession Only Licence).  Modern licence applications will get you a PAL.

  • You must pass mandated safety training for each class of license. (Non-Restricted and Restricted) (or challenge the mandated course and just take the test)
  • You must comply with storage and transportation laws.
  • Your licence allows you to purchase/acquire firearms for the class of licence that you hold.


The Restricted class of licence requires that you declare your purpose for wanting a Restricted Licence.  The purposes for which a Restricted Licence will be issued are generally:

  • Target Shooting Practice and Competition: To be authorized to have restricted firearms for target shooting purposes, you must provide proof that you practice or compete at an approved shooting club or range.For more information about approved shooting clubs and ranges, contact your provincial CFO by calling 1-800-731-4000.
  • Collectors of Restricted Firearms:  To be authorized to have restricted firearms as part of a collection, you must:
    • Know the historical, technical or scientific features of such firearms in your collection
    • Consent to occasional inspections of the place where your collection is stored
    • Comply with regulations dealing with safe storage, record-keeping and other matters related to restricted firearms
  • Employment Purposes and Protection of Life:  In limited circumstances, an individual may be authorized to possess and/or acquire a restricted firearm for employment purposes or for protection of a life


The Prohibited Class of licence is virtually unobtainable by new applications.  Holders of this class have generally been grandfathered in for some other reason.   Short of being a gunsmith, a museum curator, or a REALLY good reason, it’s just not going to happen.

Safety Training

You need to then find a certified trainer in your area where you attend a course and perform both a written and practical exam for either Non-Restricted, Restricted or both.  In the case of both, you must pass your Non-Restricted written and practical tested before completing the Restricted course and test.

In the case of both, you will have 2 written and 2 practical tests to complete requiring a minimum mark of 80% to pass.

Much of the training is common sense stuff, covering the principals of ACTS and PROVE.  The course study manuals are available online in PDF form.

The written exam is based off the course study manuals;  pay attention to the sections in BOLD.

The practical exam is hands-on with deactivated firearms.  You will be asked to show proficiency in various actions, follow the ACTS and PROVE principals EACH TIME.  You will need to demonstrate various stances.  You will load dummy ammunition and simulate taking a shot. You will have to demonstrate various carries.  You will have to explain what you are doing.

You will instantly fail if you point a firearm at anyone, including yourself and the examiner.

You will lose 2 points each time your finger enters the trigger guard while the firearm is not mounted in a ready-to-shoot fashion with a clear sight picture of the target.

Go slowly, talk it out.  Remember the ACTS and PROVE.

During my training I signed up at and bought some practice questions for both restricted and non-restricted and found it to be quite helpful in exposing things I’d not thought of before.  Canadian Firearms Blog recomments!

Post Safety Training:  Results and Application

Once you’ve taken the course(s) and passed the requisite tests the waiting game begins.  In Ontario, your instructor/examiner will submit your results to the CFO for stamping.   Literally, the form gets stamped and mailed back to you.  This takes 4 to 8 weeks.

Once you have your stamped test results, complete an Application for a PAL.    The application is fairly standard, requiring signed references, spousal sign-off, waivers, photograph, and the necessary fees.

Make copies of everything and using the checklist on the application send in the application, including the photo, fees and the stamped copies of the test results.

In 45 or more days, the RCMP will process your application.  Your references will be called.

You may call or check online for the status of your application by entering a bit of personal information on the following form.

Remember, you are not licenced until you have your licence in hand.

Acquiring a Firearm

Once you have your PAL license, obtaining a Non-Restricted firearm is fairly trivial;  Go to the store or an online (Canadian) store and buy one.   The vendor will register the firearm (The LGR may die today 04-04-2012)  and if there aren’t any issues with the process, you’ll be able to take it home or to the range without any additional protocol.  Private buys/sales are similar;  once the financial transaction is complete, the seller contacts the CFC and initiates the transfer.  Both buying and selling parties will be involved in the communication with the CFC. Once the buyer holds the registration certificate for the firearm, they make take possession of the firearm.

Obtaining a restricted firearm is a bit more onerous.  Engage in a purchase transaction with a private individual or firearms dealer.  Once complete the seller contacts the CFC and initiates the transfer.   This process takes much longer as the provincial CFO must approve the purchase.  Once approved the CFO advises both parties by way of a TAN (transfer authorization number) and they will arrange for an ATT (Authorization To Transport) to be issued allowing the seller to take it to the post office or the buyer to pick it up.  The CFO is somewhat flexible with the circumstances under which the delivery/shipment ATTs are issued.    If you have declared your intended purpose for a restricted license, you’ve specified either Target Shooting or Collecting.  The vendor will ask you which Club you belong to.  The is presumably a check-and-balance the RCMP mandates.   * Unsure about the collector status purchase requirements.

Only once you have that ATT can you either ship or transport the firearm home. In cases where the firearm is shipped to the buyer, the buyer usually does not require an ATT to receive the package at the door.

Shooting your firearm

Non-restricted firearms can be discharged anywhere the discharge of firearms is not prohibited.    This blanket statement covers a lot of square kilometers in Canada; but you must be sure.     Be respectful of others,  know where you are shooting, what you are shooting at and what is beyond.   Police departments respond heavily and in force when the terms “gun” or “shooting” are reported.  Don’t be dumb and screw it up for yourself and paint the rest of Canada’s firearms enthusiasts and hunters with your stupidity.  Research your spots, use Google Maps and be prepared.

Restricted firearms can only be loaded, and discharged at Restricted Ranges as certified by the CFO of the province.  In order to transport your firearm from storage to the range, you are required to have an ATT.  This varies somewhat, province by province but in Ontario, the Club (to which you are a member in good-standing) applies for an ATT on your behalf.   Once processed, the CFO generally issues an ATT allowing you to transport the firearm to applying Club’s range and, as is the case in my experience to ANY Restricted Range certified by the CFO of Ontario for any Restricted Firearm registered at the licensee’s address (meaning you can bring your spouses or other occupants’ firearms to the range under that ATT)


If you need to have your firearm repaired or altered, make arrangements with a gunsmith.   Non-Restricted firearms can be brought to the gunsmith without any CFC involvement.

If you need to have your Restricted or Prohibited firearm repaired, you must make arrangements with the CFC and the gunsmith.  You will need an ATT to bring your gun to the gunsmith and back again.  Contact the CFC for arrangements.


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