Businesses, including auctioneers that sell firearms, need to have a firearms licence for businesses valid for all types of firearms (non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited) they sell.
If you are an executor of an estate with firearms, or an heir of a firearm, please see the Executors and heirs page.
Three ways to transfer a firearm
You do not need to register non-restricted firearms. That means you can transfer a non-restricted firearm without contacting the Canadian Firearms Program (CFP). However, the transferor (seller, giver) must make sure that the transferee (buyer, recipient) has a valid PAL. Call the CFP at 1-800-731-4000 to confirm the validity of the transferee’s licence before you transfer the firearm.
- Restricted and Prohibited
The CFP must speak with both the transferor and the transferee for restricted and prohibited firearms. However, both parties do not need to be available at the same time. Follow the steps below.
- Make sure the firearm is verified.
- Call the CFP with the following information:
- If you are an individual transferor you will need to provide your full name, address and firearms licence number, and the transferee’s full name and PAL number
- If you are a business transferor you will need to provide your business licence and identification number, and the transferee’s full name, address and PAL number
- If you are an individual transferee you will need to provide your PAL number, full name and address, and the transferor’s full name and firearms licence number
- If you are a business transferee you will need to provide your business licence and identification number, and the transferor’s full name, address and firearms licence number
- If you initiate the transfer you will need to provide the registration certificate number and confirm the firearm information (make, model, serial number, firearms identification number (FIN), etc.)
- When you call the CFP, you will get a reference number. Make sure both the transferor and the transferee have that reference number.
- The CFO for the jurisdiction receives the request and will review the transfer to make sure that the transferee is acquiring the restricted firearm or prohibited handgun for one of the permitted purposes (Firearms Act, Section 28).
- The transferor will need to get an Authorization to Transport (ATT) to transport the restricted firearm to its new location. There is no fee for an ATT. Call the CFP at 1-800-731-4000 or submit form RCMP 5490.
- Both the transferor and the transferee will receive a confirmation notice to let them know the transfer is complete. After a transfer is approved the new registration certificate will be mailed to the new owner within a few weeks.
The business initiates the transfer, identifies either the transferee or transferor, and obtains the required information in order to complete the transfer.
A business can use this service to transfer restricted or prohibited firearms if:
- a business buys from, or sells to, an adult who is 18 or older who has a valid PAL for that class of firearm
- a business buys from, or sells to, another business or museum
- a business sells to a public service agency
Use form RCMP 5492 for restricted and prohibited firearms. Both the transferor and the transferee must complete the form. Call the CFP at 1-800-731-4000 to get a form.
If you have the following types of firearms, you have them illegally:
- restricted or prohibited firearms that have not yet been registered
- any restricted or prohibited firearms that were registered under the former law, but not re-registered under the Firearms Act
To reduce the risk of penalties, please register these firearms immediately or dispose of them lawfully.
Do not take firearms into your local police detachment for disposal. Contact your local police department or detachment to arrange for pick up or delivery of any firearms.
Many Americans can buy a gun in less than an hour. In some countries, the process takes months. Here are the basic steps for how most people buy a gun in 16 of them. Many countries have exceptions for specialized professions, and local laws vary.
Reporting was contributed by Charlotte Graham-McLay from Christchurch, New Zealand; Damien Cave from Sydney, Australia; Isabel Kershner from Jerusalem; Iliana Magra from London; Oleg Matsnev from Moscow; Norimitsu Onishi from Johannesburg; Sergio Peçanha from New York; Suhasini Raj from New Delhi; Austin Ramzy from Hong Kong; Christopher F. Schuetze from Berlin; and Hisako Ueno from Tokyo.
Sources: GunPolicy.org; Law Library of Congress; Hans-Jörg Albrecht, Max Planck Institute for Foreign and International Criminal Law; Farea Al-Muslimi, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies; Philip Alpers, University of Sydney; Adam Baron, Sana’a Center for Strategic Studies; Blake Brown, Saint Mary’s University; Wendy Cukier, Coalition for Gun Control; Laura Cutilletta, Giffords Law Center; Nils Duquet, Flemish Peace Institute; Octavio Rodríguez Ferreira, University of San Diego; José Manuel Heredia, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas; Nestor Kapusta, Medical University of Vienna; Adèle Kirsten, Gun Free South Africa; Daniel König, Medical University of Vienna; Jooyoung Lee, University of Toronto; Ivan Marques, Instituto Sou da Paz; Rela Mazali, Gun Free Kitchen Tables; Samara McPhedran, Griffith University; Binalakshmi Nepram, Control Arms Foundation of India; Thomas Niederkrotenthaler, Medical University of Vienna; Rebecca Peters, International Action Network on Small Arms; Sandhya Ramesh; David Shirk, University of San Diego; A.J. Somerset; and Peter Squires, University of Brighton.
An earlier version of this article included an incorrect requirement for gun purchases in Japan. Residents are not required to join a hunting or shooting club in order to buy a gun.
Canadians tend to believe that their government tightly legislates the buying and selling of firearms. Everyone needs a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) to purchase a gun — whether it’s classified as restricted or non-restricted — and a would-be gun buyer needs that licence at the point of sale, both in-person and online.
That’s all true, in theory. The system works fairly well when you are dealing with guns bought and sold at licensed businesses. It breaks down, however, when it comes to private deals.
When a private owner buys, sells or trades a non-restricted firearm to another private citizen, there is no legal requirement for a seller to verify a buyer’s gun licence. Things get especially murky when it comes to online sales: guns can be transferred between buyers and sellers on opposite sides of the country, and a seller simply has the option to verify a buyer’s licence if he or she suspects wrongdoing.
This is the case even when it comes to non-restricted firearms that are considered by some to be functionally equivalent to the AR-15 — the semi-automatic rifle used in several mass shootings stateside that is classified as restricted in Canada. Some examples include the Swiss Arms 556, the H&K SL8 and the Robinson XCR.
While authorities have not specified the type of gun used by Matthew Vincent Raymond to allegedly kill two civilians and two officers in Fredericton on Aug. 10, they have confirmed that it was classified as non-restricted.
Buying non-restricted guns online
Private sellers take great pains to verify every buyer for fear of legal repercussions, according to one lifelong gun enthusiast.
“The gun community in Canada is extremely self-policing,” Andre Perreault of Lethbridge, Alta. told HuffPost Canada by phone. “We’re extra careful about following the rules because when a PAL holder commits a crime, politicians use that to implement even tighter restrictions on law-abiding gun owners. So, by and large, we’re a self-regulating community.”
Perreault is the founder and owner of GunPost.ca, an online forum for private citizens to buy, sell and trade firearms. He started the website four years ago as a way to conveniently sell guns from the comfort of his home.
While popular online marketplaces like Facebook, Craigslist and Kijiji have banned the advertisement and sale of firearms, privately owned websites can still facilitate transactions between individuals.
Restricted firearms, like non-prohibited handguns and some semi-automatic rifles, are registered to each individual owner. Ownership transfers can take days, sometimes weeks, to approve. But the majority of firearms available to buy on GunPost.ca are non-restricted, according to Perreault.
Here’s what the RCMP website says about those types of guns: “Transfers of non-restricted firearms can be conducted without contacting the CFP [Canadian Firearms Program], as registration is no longer required for this class of firearm. The transferor may verify that the transferee has a valid PAL by calling the CFP toll-free number (1-800-731-4000) before making a sale.”
“May” is the operative word: a seller may call the RCMP to verify that a PAL card is authentic, not flagged for any suspicious activity or reported as stolen. That means that while you must have a licence, you are not required to show it.
Too much ‘wiggle room’: gun control advocates
Some advocates for tighter gun legislation argue that the arrangement allows sellers too much “wiggle room.”
“I think that the optional verification is a legal loophole in Canada’s gun control system,” Jooyoung Lee, a professor of sociology of the University of Toronto who writes about guns and trauma, told HuffPost Canada.
“This program puts the onus of responsibility on gun sellers — who, by and large, care deeply about gun safety and ensuring that the potential buyer of a firearm is and will be a lawful possessor of a PAL. But the fact that this is not compulsory leaves . space for a seller to not follow through on the buyer’s qualifications.”
I think that the optional verification is a legal loophole in Canada’s gun control system. Jooyoung Lee, sociology professor
Perreault’s safety tips help GunPost.ca members protect themselves when buying and selling guns online. Advice includes reading a user’s reviews, assessing a user’s knowledge of Canadian firearm policies (improperly classifying various guns “should raise warning signs”) and sending a friend to inspect the gun if you don’t live in the seller’s area.
“If they refuse that offer, they are 99% likely to be a scammer,” the site reads.
He also advises that buyers only send key information — “name as appears on the card, PAL number and expiry date” — to sellers for verification instead of screenshots of the card, which can leave buyers vulnerable to fraud.
System not designed to flag suspicious activity
Perreault’s tips primarily ensure that fraudulent sellers don’t scam buyers out of their money. “The likelihood of PALS being stolen for the purpose of buying firearms is not a thing,” he said.
But in 2015, Calgary police warned people trying to purchase a firearm online to be aware of fraud sellers trying to obtain PAL numbers.
In those cases, the buyers’ e-transfers were successfully halted before reaching the fraudulent sellers, but the scammers had already obtained PAL numbers. At that point, the police encouraged buyers who suspected their licence number had been compromised to report it.
But PALs don’t work like credit cards: the system isn’t designed to flag suspicious activity. There are no caps on the number of firearms you can buy and no mandatory tracking of where or when a non-restricted gun was purchased. A holder must first notice their licence number has been compromised and then take it upon himself to report it.
“The government doesn’t restrict how you share your PAL,” Perreault said. “The way to know yours had been compromised would be that you sent a PAL to a seller and you never got a gun.”
Hundreds of hunters are failing to declare their firearms when they enter Canada. They are getting arrested and fined, and the U.S. Department of State wants to help.
Geoff Martineau works at the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of American Citizen Services. “We help U.S. citizens traveling abroad avoid problems,” he said. “In Canada, we’re looking at an estimated 200 to 300 U.S. citizens each year who run into trouble for failing to declare their firearms. Vancouver is the single largest port of entry where this occurs, and it’s a good possibility many of these travelers are headed to Alaska.”
Martineau mentioned that it’s common to see U.S. citizens, en route to Alaska for some hunting, stopped at the border as they try to transit with firearms that are presumably rifles and shotguns.
It’s difficult to get a handle on exact figures as most of the detentions aren’t reported, he said, but it seems most pay a large fine and are turned around at the border. He’s heard some go through lengthy court proceedings, have their cars impounded and their firearms confiscated.
When crossing the border into Canada, hunters must declare all firearms in their possession. Declared rifles and shotguns may be carried through Canada while in transit to Alaska. Certain types of handguns are not permitted in Canada under any circumstances. Other handguns may be carried into Canada under certain circumstances.
Declaring firearms involves filling out some paperwork, specifically Form 5589, the Non-Resident Firearm Declaration form. There is a $25 fee, payable in Canadian funds or with a credit card. The form is available at the border, or can be downloaded in advance from the Canadian Firearms Centre website (more details on that are offered at the end of the article). The form must be presented in triplicate and signed in front of a CBSA officer at the border (it is not possible to make photocopies at the border, so it will save time and effort to do some of the work in advance. Just be sure to wait until the border to sign in front of a customs officer).
According to the Canadian Firearms Centre, completing the paperwork also allows you to bring in ammunition for that firearm for personal use.
Martineau said that regarding ammunition, there have been many cases worldwide where American travelers arrive at a foreign destination with a single bullet somewhere in their luggage that they didn’t realize was there, and they get into trouble. He advised: Don’t use the same luggage for hunting as you do for other international travel.
Canadian law requires that officials confiscate any firearms, ammunition, and other weapons from persons crossing the border who deny having the items in their possession. Confiscated firearms, ammunition, and weapons are not returned. Possession of an undeclared firearm may result in arrest and imprisonment. Travelers are strongly advised to inspect all belongings thoroughly prior to travel to Canada to avoid the accidental import of firearms or ammunition.
Canada has three classes of firearms: non-restricted, restricted, and prohibited.
Non-restricted firearms include most ordinary hunting rifles and shotguns. These may be brought temporarily into Canada for sporting or hunting use during hunting season, use in competitions, in-transit movement through Canada, or personal protection against wildlife in remote areas of Canada. Anyone wishing to bring hunting rifles into Canada must be at least 18 years old; properly store the firearm for transport; and follow the declaration requirements.
Restricted firearms are primarily handguns. While they are not firearms, pepper spray, mace, and some knives also are included in this category. A restricted firearm may be brought into Canada, but an Authorization to Transport permit must be obtained in advance from a Provincial or Territorial Chief Firearms Officer. The permit allows a handgun to be in transit, for example to Alaska, but a permit would not be issued to someone simply vacationing in Canada.
Prohibited firearms include fully automatic, converted automatics and certain military style weapons, including weapons designed for civilian use. A full list of prohibited weapons is available on the Canadian Firearms Centre website. Prohibited firearms are not allowed into Canada. Handguns with a barrel length of less than 105 mm, about 4 1/8 inches, are completely prohibited, and .25 and .32 caliber handguns are prohibited.
The best source for more information on carrying firearms into or through Canada the Royal Canadian Mounted Police website, or a call to the Canada Firearms Center at 1-800-731-4000; request Extension #9026 if you will be entering Canada at the Alberta border and Extension #9530 if entering from British Columbia.
U.S. citizens may find it helpful to register firearms with U.S. Customs before traveling through Canada in order to prove ownership.
Martineau said the Department of State gives detailed information for American travelers, covering safety, health, and legal issues worldwide, and specifically target certain at risk travelers. The website is here.
The State Department’s website offers some information on Canada specifically.
The Alaska Department of Fish and Game website offers some information about firearms in Alaska and traveling in Canada with guns.