Norinco T97 Bullpup Returns to Canada

Norinco Type 97 Bullpup

Despite a previous ban, the Norinco T97 is quickly becoming one of the most popular black rifles in Canada.

It is a .223 bullpup with a 19” barrel that uses a short stroke gas piston and a rotating bolt, along with a reciprocating charging handle. At its core, the Type 97 is a civilian version of the Chinese QBZ-95 rifle; standard issue to the Peoples Liberation Army.

This is the latest version, imported by North Sylva as the T97NSR, manufactured by EMI (aka Norinco) in the People’s Republic of China.

Norinco T97 Exploded Parts Diagram

Rather than the proprietary 5.8x42mm cartridge, the Type 97 has been converted to 5.56x45mm for the Canadian market. Along with commonly available ammunition, the T97 also benefits from STANAG magazine compatibility rather than using the curved rock-in magazines specific to the military’s rifles.

The design of the Type 97 fits into a 90s idea of small arms. Any kind of “modularity” is built around proprietary parts. There is a scope rail, but it’s specific to Chinese military optics. There is a flash hider, but not only is it pinned and welded, it uses a non-standard metric thread. As the product of a communist country: user experience comes second to the requirements of manufacture. Concepts like ambidexterity, customization, and standardization with other small arms are not prioritized.

The most glaring ergonomic flaw is the safety. It is positioned on the back of the rifle just below the shooters cheek and requires a full 180 degree rotation from Safe to Fire. The most recent QBZ rifles have been updated with a safety at the pistol grip (similar to an AR-15 or Tavor) but for years the entire family including the T97 have been stuck with this almost inaccessible safety.

The T97's Safety lever

Another design unique to the T97 rifle is the magazine release. Having been retrofit with a STANAG magazine well, the release lever leaves something to be desired. A button about the size of a pencil eraser sits on the right side of the rifle, leaving the shooter to go through a variety of contortions to remove and re-insert a magazine.

Some users reach their reaction hand into their arm-pit and release the magazine with their index finger, while others imitate a PLA manual of arms by using their firing hand to strip the magazine. (This is what I found most natural)

But that doesn’t mean there is no expanding the platform. The core of the rifle can be stripped away from almost all its plastic components, which certainly opens the door for industrious local entrepreneurs to produce aftermarket chassis systems, one of which is already in the testing stage: T97.ca has produced what they’re calling the FTU (Flat Top Upper.) With this setup, the rifle is permanently modified by removing the front and rear sights to allow for a proper picatinny optics rail with a lower cheek weld.

Type 97 Modular Upper from T97.ca

Why do Canadian shooters love this ugly beast? The government banned it once, and now we’ve finally got it back.

The T97 was originally imported in 2008 and registered as non-restricted. The QBZ and its variants were not named in our list of prohibited guns that wiped out popular bullpups like the FAMAS and AUG.

But, an RCMP investigation determined that the initial batch could be converted to full-auto fire “with relative ease.” That model was re-classified as a prohibited firearm and all the guns that had been sold into private hands were confiscated (compensation from the federal government amounted to $800 per owner.) An entire shipment of T97s destined for Canadian customers was seized. Spiraling legal battles over the abrupt seizure and defining “easily converted” led to a common cry among Canadian gun-owners: “registration leads to confiscation.”

It’s been years of subtle redesign and another rigorous approval process by the RCMP Firearms Lab, but now the T97 is back on store shelves in a 100% semi-auto form. It no longer has to be registered with the government, does not require authorization to transport or transfer, and can be fired anywhere it is legal to hunt or shoot (unlike all the AR-15 variants in Canada)

With a retail price just under a $1000, the T97 is the robust, capable black-rifle that any Canadian can afford to own and shoot, despite our flawed firearms legislation.

Related

Edward O

Edward is a Canadian gun owner and target shooter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Crawling over mountains with tactical gear is his idea of fun. He blogs at TV-Presspass and tweets @TV_PressPass.


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  • Sulaco

    Want one, no chance in the US, BATF will never approve its import I guess. One up for our
    northern cousins….

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

      It is aggravating. This is not the only example. Norinco makes a good version of the M1A rifle and of course the 1911 and nice AK’s.

      • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

        Those M14s are a great way to spend $500. The 1911? Not so much. First handgun I ever owned was a Norc 1911 knock-off and it was not pretty

        • ClawShrimp

          Not pretty and a bit rough around the edges, but I got one here (Canada) as part of a package deal – 1000 rds of filthy but functional Norinco .45 ACP, and a pistol marked 1911A1 (no norc badge). If you subtract the normal price of the ammo, I basically got the gun for ~$170. That’s surplus Tokarev money.

        • Jeff Smith

          I managed to get a stainless Norinco 1911 from a local pawn shop that someone had gutted and filled with Wilson Combat parts. I paid $350 and still think it was the best gun-related deal I’ve ever gotten.

  • Nathaniel

    “As the product of a communist country: user experience comes second to the requirements of manufacture. Concepts like ambidexterity, customization, and standardization with other small arms are not prioritized.”

    The irony of this statement being in an article deriding the rifle as “reflecting a ’90s idea of small arms” is that this is an ’80s idea of communist small arms design.

    • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

      I guess that’s fair, considering the quntissential western bullpup is the SA80. A rifle designed in the 70s and produced through the 80s.

      But in my mind an 80s idea of communist small-arms centers around the AK. For the Chinese to switch to a domestic bullpup in a proprietary caliber at the end of the 90s was a fairly radical move.

      • Matrix_3692

        Actually, the 5.8x42mm cartridge was trialed on the Type 87 rifle back in 1989.

      • LCON

        I would argue that the Steyr AUG is, most of the bulls made after it tend to reproduce the trigger guard and ergonomics.
        as for red china. The Chinese communist party has always had protectionism at its heart, the import until ready to stand alone. The Chinese pervious assault rifle was the type56 which well it resembles a AK that resemblance is only skin deep the operation is different. As for a model on which the QBZ is based externally its the LAPA FA-03, internally its unique.

        • Matrix_3692

          You’re forgetting the Type 63 and Type 81 rifles.

          • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

            The Type 81 is currently going through the import process in Canada. All AK variants are prohibited, but the SKS is non-restricted. Here’s hoping the Type 81 is more SKS than AK in the eyes of the RCMP.

          • David Sharpe

            Actually there are 3 version that are NR.

          • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

            Valmets don’t count as AKs in my books ;) Thats the hardest part of Canadian gun law sometimes. Trying to explain it to other people you just can’t hit every exception and keep it brief!

          • David Sharpe

            Jesus, I know what you mean.

          • whodywei

            Does it mean they will start working on the Type 03 after Type 81 ???

          • Matrix_3692

            No, the Type 03 is only used by small portions of their armed forces and armed police. The bulk of PLA will stick with the Type 95 and it’s upgraded version: Type 95-1. By the looks of it, the number of units equipped with 03 isn’t going to grow and is definitely not going to replace the 95s.

          • whodywei

            I was asking if Canada was going to start the import process of the Type 03 rifle.

    • hollan

      Don’t think communism has anything to do with it, just budget. Communist countries have far smaller military budgets for small arms purchase and infantry training, hence their cheap weapon designs.

      • iksnilol

        They dont have smaller budgets, they simply dont spend that much money on the millitary. I find it silly that the US spends more money on the millitary than China and Russia combined. And no offense but I am sure that you dont have a chance against China, from a millitary perspective.

        • BOB

          you don’t think the US has a chance against China militarily? While i’m not down with our overly costly military and overseas military adventures, I think you’re very, very wrong, if I understood your statement correctly.

          • HTC

            Think of it like this – the QBZ suite of rifles is almost completely inter operable with the QBB light machine gun (same caliber, same magazines – the QBB just has a heavier barrel).

            If you were to construct a typical infantry section from the Canadian army (whose weapon composition is surprisingly similar to an US army squad) – you would have 2 gunners running C9/M249 and 6 riflemen running C7/M4′s (for all intents and purposes – the loadout is the same).

            If you think about it logistically, the M4/M16 and C7 (the C7 being a descendend of the M16) are real resources hogs requiring significant amounts of effort dedicated to training and maintaining. Add to the mix that the M249 (and it’s descendant, the C9) – which itself is a fairly maintenance and training intensive weapon.

            So think of it from a strategic, logistical perspective. World War III breaks out, and let’s say China is the big player on one side, the US on the other.

            Let’s measure the training days needed ramp up a civilian conscript to fully trained infantryman: In a western, American style military, you need at least 2 weeks of weapons training JUST to get him qualified on his primary weapon, and I would say 2 week to get him trained on a squad/section weapon, like a M249/C9 (that is, full on instruction of maintenance, operation, and range qualification).

            What is evident from the QBZ and QBB suite of weapons is the simplicity of the design means it is a simple weapon to maintain and even simpler to operate. Yes – it does not have the bells and whistles on it to make it a super fast and ergonomic shooter – but it’s accurate and reliable enough AND capable of serving in the dual purpose role of both a primary infantry rifle AND squad assault weapon.

            Simply put, it’s clear that the QBZ allows the Chinese to significantly streamline the efficiency of their training and operations, meaning while the US military spends most of it’s time training it’s soldiers to meticulously clean and operate their weapons – the Chinese can just train more soldiers.

            There are lots of videos floating around of PLC soldiers on range ex’s shooting BOTH QBZ’s and QBB’s – itself a really fascinating phenomenon. I’m not sure what it’s like in the US military, but in Canada, C9 and C7 range exercises are almost ALWAYS separate (as in, you won’t ever have a LMG on the same firing line as an assault rifle).

            Let’s say World War III doesn’t happen though, and consider this – how many man hours does the US (or Canadian) military dedicate to having their soldiers, sailors, or airmen sitting around, cleaning their rifles? How much of a training budget needs to be allocated to qualify on both the rifle AND LMG?

            Soldiers aren’t volunteers, and they certainly aren’t cheap. After seeing the T97, I think it’s clear that the Chinese really recognize this reality, while Western government’s would rather give ridiculous amounts of money to Rockwell Collins, General Dynamics, Harris, Raytheon, etc.

        • whodywei

          Both China and Russia don’t have military industrial complex, and

          Defense industry lobbyists.

          • kollan

            Both Russia and China probably have larger military industrial complexes as a percentage of GDP.

          • Alex Wijaya

            nope, soviet maybe, not russia and china. Things could change though, the industrial military complex is rising in China.

  • Eric S

    Damnit America, we’re suppose to be the land that invented Freedom, and yet Canada has access to firearms that Americans do not. Our national pride should reverse our import restrictions, cause I want a STG44. For sporting purposes.

    • BryanS

      A better fight would be to get the “sporting purposes” crap tossed out and its supporters made to take a long walk off a short pier.

      There is nothing sporting about a guarantee to the people allowing for the arms to throw off tyranny in a violent way. In fact, the idea of keeping anything “sporting” about the 2nd Amendment would be at the time very… British.

      • Mitch BonDy

        +1

    • Brandon

      Yeah, but there are hundreds, perhaps even thousands of weapons available in the US that are off limits in Canada (Not to mention magazine capacity restrictions)
      We have intense market competition from US companies that drives down prices and improves quality. They have flawed Norinco rifles for a grand. What would you prefer?

      • Esh325

        I’ve shot multiple Norinco rifles over the years and there was never one I didn’t like.

        • HSR47

          I have a Norinco shotgun that needed to be sent to a gunsmith after fewer than 10 rounds had been fired.

          • Esh325

            No manufacturer is perfect. You’ll find duds from every gun maker.

      • Mitch BonDy

        this is true,

    • Jrggrop

      I believe that the restriction on Norinco fire-arm imports was due to their selling missile parts to Iran a few years back.

      • Cifyra

        Meanwhile, Obama’s busy selling guns to the Mexican drug cartel.

  • wetcorps

    I really like the no-nonsense look of it.

  • LCON

    I have read a number of the reviews of the T97NSR the carry Handle like that on the original is fixed if you want to change to a flat top rail like the one pictured you have to get it from some one else and replace the charging handle because the new rails would block the existing unit which also is vertical only and hard to get at inside the handle because of the small amount of space. additionally the sights are virtually hovering over the weapon as its carry handle is way taller then the AR handle sitting in the same height give or take as the G36 but minus the built in optic. The trigger is as creepy as they get. The magazine release is a small stud in the back of the magazine adaptor (I call it that as the 5.56mm STANAG mag well is a part added to the weapon) the stud is hard to engage makes the old complaint about reloading bull pups worse.
    oddly enough the T97NSR still uses the first Gen safety selector on the back of the stock. The latest of the real QBZ95 weapons the QBZ95-G has a thumb selector safety.
    Finally for those who still thinks that Canada is more open because of its import most of the magazines are.pinned at new York capacity levels and the T97NSR has a doubled pinned mag set at 5 rounds the rest of the magazine is just for show.

    • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

      Yup, I’d say you’re spot on. Except for the magazine capacity thing. Other options are available and legal in Canada. We can get up to 15 rounds of .223 as you can see in the video.

    • http://www.huntinggearguy.com/ Adriel

      The trigger’s not that bad. It’s long with a long reset, but it’s not too heavy. The optics problem is real, but I think that t97.ca will have it squashed fairly quickly.

  • Dirt McGirt

    Yo dem gunz is wack. Dey got drill holes in da barrel cuz da fools who be drillin gas ports go to far. Strait up junk.

    • Cobalt-60

      When you typed that comment, did you notice the red squiggly underline under pretty much your entire comment? Just curious..

    • Cobalt-60

      Quick question: When you typed that comment, did you notice the little red squiggly line under pretty much your entire comment? Just curious…

      • Pro Gun Canadian

        That’s just Dirt McGirt. He’s our resident “gangsta” on CanadianGunNutz. He can be quite humorous at times.

        • ozzallos .

          I was thinking “Ork” for a moment, personally. Swore I saw something about a “big shoota” in there somewhere.

  • Jeff Smith

    This article really makes me want to go to the Canadian bar down the street.

    • http://www.scoutbasecamp.com/ TV-PressPass

      You’re welcome eh? Sorry about the high alcohol percentage.

  • Aaron Tyler

    I am hearing rumors that the RCMP are coming for our VZ58′s to reclassify them. You win some you lose some I guess.
    On a secondary note I have become acutely aware of how many Canadians have gun licenses/firearms it’s a little surprising.

    • David Sharpe

      They want all of our guns, not just “military style” guns.
      I don’t think it will happen, our gun lobby is getting stronger.

      • Aaron Tyler

        last I heard the inbound shipments of the VZ858 were turned away also I personally think that the retail for the t97 is a little steep.

  • Lance

    Never cared for both Bullpups and Chicom firearms but I do think this be a fun gun to shoot. Any gun the government try’s to ban makes it a overnight success with gun owners.

  • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

    Are American citizens eligible to obtain a PAL?

    • David Sharpe

      Yes, in fact it’s required to bring firearms over the border.

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

        Neat!

  • Michael

    Can we have something similar here please. At under $1000 would be nice

  • Nicholas Mew

    I would rather go with this instead of a Tavor. Far more simple and with a better bolt design.

    Although I still prefer the A-91M.

  • Mike Knox

    Where’s a FAMAS when you want one instead of this?

  • enscriptchun

    Nice little review.

  • Mike

    i would love to get my hands on one of these. I have always wanted a type 86s but can not justify the price….

  • Ty Fawks

    While I agree the price is right on this beast I can not deny one gets what they pay for. After being a 10 year vet of the Canadian Forces I am no stranger to firearms or on how to implementing them. First thought is the 97 is ergonomically inadequate, front heavy, the butt stock is small (I’m 236 @ 6′) and pointy In my shoulder. Sights deplorable, and safety and mag release are not user friendly especially for anyone doing combat or 3 gun competitions. Best place for this is a plinker at the range and I have a Rugar 10/22 in a archangel g36 stock that’s great for that.

    Trust me when I say pick up a 97 then pick up a tavor. The tavor instantly feels at home in your shoulder ( even for a guy like me who loves his C7/ AR15) it’s ergonomically correct and easy to use. Save up and buy the tavor and you won’t be disappointed when comparing it to the 97. Like I said above. You get what you pay for. But if you do get a 97 practice safe handling everyone. Learn your controls and keep it pointed down range. Can’t stress that enough seen to many idiots at the local range that buy the black rifles and no idea what there doing. Education in proper handling and safety is always recommended.

    Lol can you guystell I’m qualified small arms instructor

  • cmblake6

    I have got to figure a way to get one of those across the border. I like it a lot!