Dear RCMP, Lawyer: Can We Keep Guns at Cottage, Storage Locker?

The Internet turns up conflicting opinions on whether it’s legal in Canada to store guns at a cottage, with a friend, or in a storage locker, so TheGunBlog.ca asked the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who administer the Canadian Firearms Program, and Pierre Plourde, a criminal-defence lawyer and gun-rights activist.

The responses aren’t all definitive, but at least they’re informed.

Who would want to store guns away from home? Some examples: Parents who want to put distance and obstacles between guns and children; shooters and hunters who want to keep gear closer to where they use it, such as the target range or hunting area; and travellers or Canadians living abroad who keep their belongings in storage or with a friend.

Canada classifies firearms as “Non-restricted,” “Restricted” or “Prohibited,” with different laws and regulations to purchase, own, store, transport, display and use guns in each category. The law doesn’t define “storage,” resulting in opposing interpretations by gun owners, police, lawyers and judges.

‘Restricted’ Firearms

For “Restricted” firearms, the label applied to many handguns and AR-15 rifles, here’s what the 2014 edition of the RCMP’s Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course handbook says on page 316:

A restricted firearm may only be stored at the address located on the registration.

For most licensed gun owners, that will be our home address.

If you want someone else with a firearms licence to hang on to your “Restricted” guns, or want to lend them for a short time, one way is to ask the RCMP to transfer registration.

‘Non-restricted’ Firearms

TheGunBlog.ca e-mailed the RCMP last month to ask about legal storage locations for “Non-restricted” guns, which include many rifles and shotguns. The gist of the e-mail:

Dear RCMP, Is it an offence for private individuals to store their “Non-restricted” firearms:

  • at a secondary home owned by the firearm owner (e.g. firearm owner’s cottage)?
  • at the home of someone who doesn’t have a firearms licence, if the homeowner doesn’t have access to the firearms (e.g. in a locked safe at a friend’s cottage)?
  • in a commercial self-storage locker (e.g. Public Storage)?

RCMP’s Reply

Non-restricted firearms are considered safely stored when an individual attaches a secure locking device, such as a trigger lock or cable lock (or removes the bolt) so the firearms cannot be fired; or when an individual locks the firearms in a cabinet, container or room that is difficult to break into.

The Storage, Display, Transportation and Handling of Firearms by Individuals Regulations support the Firearms Act by setting out very specific rules for storing firearms safely to deter loss, theft and accidents. Individuals who store firearms in an unsafe manner risk penalties under the Criminal Code. Provincial, territorial and municipal laws, regulations and policies may also apply.

The Chief Firearms Officers (CFO) of the provinces and territories have staff that assess safe storage and transportation requirements for firearms in Canada. For specific assistance concerning the questions described in your correspondence, you may contact the CFO of your jurisdiction by calling the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) at 1-800-731-4000.

For more information, you may also consult the safe storage guidelines on the CFP website at http://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/cfp-pcaf/fs-fd/storage-entreposage-eng.htm.

The RCMP’s response and the regulations say how “Non-restricted” firearms should be stored, not where, so TheGunBlog.ca sought the opinion of Pierre Plourde, a criminal defence lawyer. Plourde, based in Ajax, Ontario, was previously a field officer for the National Firearms Association and a founding director, board chair and secretary-treasurer of the Canadian Coalition for Firearm Rights.

Pierre Plourde’s Reply

Re: At a secondary home owned by the firearm owner (e.g. firearm owner’s cottage)?

Provided the storage regulations are followed, this is perfectly legal.

Re: At the home of someone who doesn’t have a firearms licence, if the homeowner doesn’t have access to the firearms (e.g. in a locked safe at a friend’s cottage)?

The issue here will be who has possession. Possession in law is knowledge of the thing possessed and control over the thing possessed. This one is arguable both ways, and I would need to research the case law to see if this situation has been subject of judicial pronouncements. On the one hand you can argue that by preventing the access, the homeowner does not have control, so that even if he has knowledge he is not in possession. On the other hand, the Crown would argue that the homeowner has control over the home as a whole and that by permitting the storage of the firearms, he has control over their location, and therefore has possession. Note that in this scenario, assuming the storage regulations are followed, it is the homeowner and not the firearms owner who is committing the offence. The firearms owner could arguably be a party, however.

Re: in a commercial self-storage locker (e.g. Public Storage)?

Again, provided the storage regulations are followed, and provided there is not a clause in the storage contract preventing the storage of firearms, this would be perfectly legal.

If you have knowledge or experience in these subjects that suggests a different interpretation, please contact TheGunBlog.ca.

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