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

25 Jul 2018

4 min read

(Most recent update: 07 Oct. 2018) — Shooting is one of the most-popular and safest sporting activities in Canada. It’s a lot more popular and safer than hockey, football, skiing, and many other sports. The most dangerous part of a trip to the range is the drive.

Here’s a primer on how private individuals can apply to the federal police for permission to own a handgun for sport shooting.


  • More than 2 million men, women and youth have a firearm licence, and millions more of our unlicensed family and friends also enjoy shooting legally under our supervision.
  • More than 550,000 individuals have a firearm licence allowing them to buy and own a handgun for recreation, sport shooting or competition.
  • On top of that, roughly 90,000 people (mainly police) are authorized or required to carry loaded handguns every day for personal and public safety.
  • You’ll have many steps to follow to get a handgun. If you are an honest and safe person and you follow all the steps, you could be shooting your own pistol or revolver in less than four months.


  • 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 your province’s Chief Firearms Officer or the RCMP Canadian Firearms Program for official information.


Legal Framework

  • Canada’s firearm laws are complex and confusing. Maybe that’s why you’re here.
  • Most laws governing the use and possession of guns are set out in the federal Firearms Act and Criminal Code.
  • The government that passed the Firearms Act in 1995 made it a crime for you to buy, sell, own or transport any firearm without a licence, even if you never touch it or use it.
  • 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:
    • “Non-Restricted”: many rifles and shotguns
    • “Restricted”: many handguns and semi-automatic rifles
    • “Prohibited”: many 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, 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 private citizens 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 the police have told me they reject applications unless they think your life is in imminent danger.

Steps to Get a 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 to contact 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.
  • 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.

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.

More Info

© 2018

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


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