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Handguns are legal in Canada — under certain conditions

Handguns are legal in Canada — under certain conditions
Canada
Many handguns are classified as “restricted” under the federal Firearms Act , which means legal owners need a licence to possess or obtain one, and to buy ammunition for it. Owners also need registration certificates from the federal government, and special permits from their province’s chief firearms officer to transport their weapons, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police .

However, some handguns are classified as “prohibited,” which means they can only be possessed if they were legally obtained prior to being placed on the prohibited list (this is known as “grandfathering”). Prohibited handguns include those with barrels shorter than 105 millimetres, and handguns with magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

There were 839,295 restricted firearms registered to individuals or businesses in Canada in 2016, according to the RCMP .

How do you get a licence?

You can only get a handgun licence for three reasons: if you are a collector, a target shooter, or need one for your job. Solomon Friedman, a criminal lawyer in Ottawa who has written a book on the Firearms Act, said this third category includes people like trappers, . If you want a licence, you have to apply for one of those categories to the provincial firearms officer, who verifies whether it’s true. This is done, for example, by contacting a gun club to check that you are a member, Friedman said.

Next, applicants need to pass two training courses from government-accredited instructors. These courses deal with the law, ethics and safe use, Friedman said. Once you pass these courses, you can apply for a restricted firearms licence through the RCMP, which runs a series of checks for past convictions, charges and police interactions, as well as consultations with two personal references identified by the applicant.

If your application is accepted after a cooling period of at least 28 days —“to ensure nobody is trying to obtain a firearm in the heat of passion,” Friedman said — you can get a handgun licence.

What other restrictions are in place?

Owners need what’s called an “authorization to transport” their handguns, which are issued by provincial firearms officers. These authorizations specify where people can take their handguns, which are limited to their homes and places like shooting ranges and gunsmiths, Friedman said. In other words, you can’t just carry it around. It is also a criminal offence to give away or sell a handgun without notifying the government, and to fail to report the theft, loss or destruction of a handgun.

What about illegal guns?

Scot Wortley, a criminologist at the University of Toronto, describes a black market for firearms not unlike that for drugs or illegal contraband goods. Demand for these guns is typically based on a desire for protection, or to obtain what is seen in some criminal circles as a necessary tool of the trade, he said. “Some of (the research subjects) that I talk to will say, if I wanted a gun, I could have a gun within anything from an hour to a day,” Wortley said.

Where do illegal handguns come from?

Many are smuggled across the border from the United States, where they are easier to acquire, Wortley said. He also said there is evidence that handguns in the illegal market have been stolen from licensed owners, while others are legally purchased by so-called “gun scalpers” who obtain licences and then sell them into the black market to people who would not be able to pass the government’s screening process.

Wortley cautioned, however, that it is difficult to say how many illegal guns are on the streets, or where they come from, because the police can only confirm the origins of guns when they catch criminal activity. “It’s really difficult to get clear answers without being part of that underworld yourself,” he said.

What’s the government doing?

The federal government introduced legislation in March to beef up Canada’s gun laws. The bill would extend the RCMP’s background checks beyond the current five years, restore rules that require gun vendors to track sales, and create a legal obligation for those vendors to verify that people buying restricted firearms like handguns are licensed.

Gun control advocates have criticized the bill for leaving “loopholes” and failing to crack down on gang violence or ban assault-style rifles, such as the one used in last year’s massacre at a mosque in Quebec City.
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