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 hockey, football, skiing, and many other sports.

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

Here’s an outline of how to apply for a licence and buy a handgun for sport shooting, recreation, or competition.


Newest update of this article: 28 March 2020

COVID-19 Update, 28 March 2020

  • You are reading one of the most-viewed articles at
  • Interest in buying a gun is surging as the COVID-19 pandemic worsens.
  • Thank you for your interest!
  • Realistically, if you don’t have a firearm Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL), you probably won’t be allowed to buy a gun until late 2020 or even 2021.
  • The Canadian Firearms Safety Course, the mandatory first step to apply for a PAL, is pretty much shut down across Canada as of now.
  • See my COVID-19 coverage, starting with this: RCMP Firearms Program Updates on COVID-19 Impact on Services
  • Subscribe to for updates.
  • #StayStrong #StayHome



Respect Our Culture & Values

  • Shooting is rewarding and fun, but it isn’t for everyone.
  • Canada’s shooting community values our culture of safety, responsibility and good citizenship.
  • If you aren’t a responsible person of good character and a good citizen, we don’t want you in the shooting community.
  • If you are, 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.
  • If 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.

Facts & Stats

  • More than 2 million men and women have a firearm licence.
  • More than 600,000 of them have taken the extra steps to get a handgun licence.
  • Millions more of our family and friends enjoy shooting without a licence, under our direct supervision.
  • In addition, 90,000 people (mainly police) are authorized or required to carry loaded duty handguns 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.
  • If you see a mistake or have an idea for improvement, please contact me here.
  • 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, even for lawyers and judges. Many parts are unjust.
  • Most laws governing the use and possession of guns are set out in the federal Firearms Act and Criminal Code.
  • Provinces and cities can say where and when guns can be discharged for sport or hunting, or how, where and when they can be transported. (Every province has a Chief Firearms Officer.)
  • Failure to strictly comply with all laws and regulations can land you in jail.

Firearm Classification

  • All firearm owners and all firearms are tightly restricted.
  • The law uses three labels to classify firearms into arbitrary categories:
    • “Non-Restricted”: mainly rifles and shotguns
    • “Restricted”: mainly handguns and semi-automatic rifles
    • “Prohibited”: mainly smaller handguns, automatic firearms, and semi-automatic rifles
  • “Restricted” handguns are generally the only ones available to sport shooters.
  • (Roughly 50,000 people are authorized to own “Prohibited” firearms despite the name, but the police usually have to confiscate those after the owners die.)

License People, Register Handguns

  • The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) manages the licensing of people and the registration of handguns.
  • Licensing 1: The licence to buy and own a firearm and ammunition is a 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 toward being allowed to own a handgun for sport shooting or collecting. This article focuses on sport shooting. Collecting has different requirements.
  • Registration: The federal police registers each handgun to its owner. Lending a handgun to another licensed shooter, even to a spouse or family member who lives with you, requires permission from the police.

Not for Personal Protection

  • Having a Possession and Acquisition Licence for “Restricted” handguns doesn’t allow you to buy or carry guns for personal protection, even though many individuals are better trained than police.
  • You can apply for an Authorization To Carry a firearm (ATC), but it will almost certainly be rejected. Only one person has an ATC.

Steps to Get Your Handgun

Take Course and Exam

  • You must be over 18.
  • Find an instructor in your province and register for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course (8 hours), followed by the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course (8 hours). You can often take these in a single weekend.
  • You’ll learn safety rules to always treat all firearms as if they were loaded, and to never point a firearm at anything you aren’t willing to destroy.
  • You’ll also learn the basics of operating and controlling different types of guns to make you a safe and responsible owner and user. You won’t fire a gun for the course.
  • Pass written and practical exams after each course about the law and safe handling. You need to get a minimum passing grade.
  • After you pass the safety courses, you’ll get a certificate 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 an $80 fee and a professional photo.
  • Wait for police to run background checks, reference checks and get approval from your partner or spouse. If you pass all those, you should get a licence card. This typically takes about 2 months.
  • Then pass daily background checks to keep the licence.
  • Be sure to tell the RCMP within 30 days if you change address, or face prison.
  • Apply to renew the licence card every 5 years for $80. 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 before they will authorize you to buy a handgun.)
  • Find a seller, usually a gun store.
  • Pass a preliminary licence verification by the seller.
  • Request permission from the federal police for the store to transfer ownership to you.
  • Register the firearm with the federal police.
  • (The store usually handles the transfer and registration with the police.)
  • Return to the store to pick up the gun if the purchase is approved, usually a few days or weeks later.
  • Every time you buy (or sell) any handgun, you will need explicit permission from the federal police.

Apply to Take a Gun Home, or to a Target Range

  • 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 time of writing, this is included with your licence in most cases, but the government plans to change that.
  • Unload the handgun and disable it with a trigger lock or equivalent.
  • Place it inside a locked case or container.
  • Transport the handgun to your police-approved destination by a route the law considers “reasonably direct.”

Steps to Store a Firearm

  • Store your handgun at your main residence, not a cottage, cabin or car.
  • 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 the ammunition separately.

Happy Shooting!

More Info

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


Protect Your Culture and Your Rights

Sign up for free e-mail updates.


You can also join as a member anytime to support a powerful voice for Canadian gun owners and get premium info, intel and insight.

Something went wrong. Please check your entries and try again.

© 2015 - 2020