How to Buy a Handgun in Canada: Regulatory and Procedural Steps

25 Jul 2018

5 min read — Shooting is one of the most-popular and safest sporting activities in Canada.

It’s a lot more popular and safe than playing hockey, football, skiing, and many other sports.

Everyone is banned from buying, selling or owning any firearm without a licence authorized by the federal police (RCMP).

This article outlines the procedural and regulatory steps to get a licence and buy a handgun.

In Short

  1. Take firearm-safety courses and pass exams. (2 days)
  2. Apply for licence and wait for approvals. (2-3 months)
  3. Buy handgun and wait for approvals. (A few days to a few weeks)

Before 01 May 2020 Confiscation Order: Same steps to get an AR-15 target rifle.

Newest Update of this Page: 17 February 2021

Update on Covid-19 and Handgun Prohibition, 17 February 2021

This is one of our most-viewed articles in general, and since Covid-19.

A. Covid 19 Shutdowns

If you don’t already have a firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), depending on where you live, it might take many months to get one.

  • Some regions and instructors have slowed or stopped offering safety courses.
  • The RCMP said Nov. 2 they face a four-month delay processing new licences, on top of the standard 2-month processing time.

B. Possible Municipal Handgun Prohibition-Confiscation

  • The federal Liberal Party, currently in government, proposed Bill C-21 in February 2021 as a new law to allow municipalities to criminalize handgun ownership. The bill may be defeated.

More Info

  • See our Covid-19 coverage here.
  • See our gun-confiscation coverage here.
  • Subscribe to for updates.


Respect Our Culture & Values

  • Shooting is rewarding, beneficial and fun, and it isn’t for everyone.
  • Beyond the legal requirements, Canada’s shooting community values our culture of safety, responsibility and good citizenship. We strive to be of good character and sound judgment.
  • If you don’t share those values or those aims, we don’t want you in our community.
  • If you do, we’d love for you to join us.

Your Own Handgun in a Few Months

  • You’ll have many steps to follow to get a handgun (or any firearm).
  • If you can show that you are a safe and responsible person and you follow all the steps, you could be shooting your own pistol or revolver in less than four months.
  • The first step is to sign up for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course near you.

Facts & Stats

  • More than 2.2 million men and women have a firearm licence.
  • More than 600,000 of us have taken the extra steps to get a handgun licence.
  • Millions more of our family and friends enjoy shooting without a permit, under our direct supervision.
  • In addition, 90,000 people (mainly police) are authorized or required to carry loaded handguns for work every day for personal and public safety.


  • I’m not a lawyer and this isn’t legal advice or a pitch to sell you a gun. It’s my best attempt to share relevant regulations and procedures as I understand them.
  • Certain people and professions (hunters, trappers, bodyguards, Aboriginals,  …) have different rules.
  • Contact the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program or your province’s Chief Firearms Officer for official information.


Legal Framework

  • Canada’s firearm laws are complex and confusing. Many parts are unjust.
  • The federal Firearms Act and Criminal Code are the main national laws regulating how we are allowed to have and use guns.
  • Provinces and cities also have an important say on where and when guns can be used for sport or hunting, or how, where and when they can be transported. (Every province and territory has a Chief Firearms Officer.)
  • Failing to comply strictly with all laws and regulations can land you in jail.

Firearm Classification

  • All firearm owners and all firearms are tightly restricted and regulated by law.
  • Canadian law classifies firearms into three arbitrary and made-up categories:
    • “Prohibited”: handguns, rifles and shotguns
    • “Restricted”: handguns (Before 01 May 2020: Included some rifles, e.g. AR-15)
    • “Non-Restricted”: rifles and shotguns

License People, Register Handguns

  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) manages the licensing of people and the registration of handguns to their owners.
  • Licensing 1: The licence to buy and own a firearm and ammunition is a firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL). There are different categories depending on the type of firearm you want to own (“Non-Restricted,” “Restricted,” or “Prohibited.”)
  • Licensing 2: A PAL is the first step to being allowed to own a handgun for sport shooting or collecting. This article focuses on sport shooting (recreational or competitive). Collecting has different requirements.
  • Registration: The federal police registers each handgun buyer, seller and owner. Lending a handgun to another licensed shooter, even to a spouse or family member who lives with you, requires police permission.

Guns for Protection

  • One of the most-popular reasons to buy guns is for self-defence in a life-or-death emergency. This is smart preparation for some people, and an extremely serious topic beyond this article.
  • We strongly urge you to get expert professional training that covers morality, legality, mentality, decisionmaking, tactics, skills, psychology and physiology.
  • Having a Possession and Acquisition Licence for “Restricted” handguns for sport doesn’t allow you to buy or carry handguns for personal protection.
  • You can apply to the police for an Authorization To Carry a firearm (ATC) for so-called “protection of life,” but it will almost certainly be rejected. Only one person has an ATC.
  • See our coverage of self-defence.

Steps to Get Your Handgun

Take Course and Exam

  • You must be over 18.
  • Find an instructor in your area and register for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (one day), followed by the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (one day). You can often take these in a single weekend. Evening classes also exist.
    • The courses are in a classroom. You won’t fire any guns.
    • You’ll learn safety rules, such as: Always treat all firearms as if they are loaded, and Never point a firearm at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
    • You’ll learn the basics of operating and controlling different types of guns to make you a safe and responsible owner and user.
    • You’ll pass written and practical exams about the law and safe handling. You need to get a minimum passing grade. If you pay attention to the instructor, you’ll pass.
  • After you pass the exams, you’ll get a form to submit to the federal police as part of your licence application.

Apply for a Handgun Licence

  • Submit your application for a Possession and Acquisition Licence to the RCMP with the $81.76 fee and a professional photo.
  • Wait for police to run background checks, reference checks and get approval from your partner or spouse, maybe even your ex. If you pass all those, you should get a licence card. This typically takes about 2 months.
  • You will then have to pass an automatic daily background screening to keep the licence and your guns.
  • Be sure to tell the RCMP within 30 days if you change address, or face prison.
  • Apply and pay to renew the licence every 5 years. The police can confiscate all your guns and put you in prison if you don’t renew on time.

Apply to Buy a Handgun

  • (Some provinces require you to be a member of a shooting club or target range before they will authorize you to buy a handgun.)
  • Find a seller, usually an RCMP-licensed gun store, or maybe another licence holder.
  • Pass a preliminary licence verification by the seller.
  • Request permission from the police to transfer ownership to you.
  • Register the firearm with the federal police.
    • Stores usually handle the transfer and registration.
  • Wait for approval, usually a few days to a few weeks.
  • Return to the store to pick up the gun if the purchase is approved.
  • Every time you buy (or sell or lend) any handgun, you will need explicit permission from the police.

Apply to Take Your Gun Home

  • Apply to your provincial Chief Firearms Office for an Authorization To Transport firearms (ATT). If it is approved, they will indicate the authorized departure point, arrival point, and allowed times for travel.
  • At the moment, this authorization is included with your licence in most cases, but the government may change that.

Take Your Gun Home

  • Ensure your handgun is unloaded and disabled with a trigger lock or equivalent.
  • Place it inside a locked case or container.
  • Take your gun home by a “reasonably direct” route. (The law doesn’t say what that means.)

Store Your Firearm

  • Store your handgun at your main residence, not a cottage, cabin, car or storage locker.
  • Store it unloaded and locked with a trigger lock, or inside a locked container, safe or a room designed to store firearms safely.
  • In some cases you need to store ammunition separately.
  • The point is to prevent anyone accessing your gear without your authorization (e.g., curious kids, unstable/impaired spouse, dishonest/drunk guests, …).

Be a responsible gun owner.

Happy Shooting!

More Info

The most important part of gun rights isn’t “gun,” it’s “rights.”


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