Guns In The Great White North

Zac K
by Zac K

Happy Canada Day to our hoser readers—but if you’re a Canadian shooter, can you be happy at all, or is your life a big ball of depression thanks to ever-increasing gun laws? The reality is that yes, Canadian firearms laws are very strict, but they’re not always as strict as shooters from other countries might imagine. Or at least they weren’t until very recently, and that might change soon with a new government. On July 1, Canuckistan’s national holiday of Canada Day, let’s take a look at the shooting scene in Canada.

Canadian firearms news @ TFB:

Fiction: Nobody has guns in Canada

As we told you back in February, Canadians are applying for their PAL (Possession and Acquisition Licence is needed to purchase and own firearms in Canada) in record numbers. Taken into historical context, it’s the biggest push towards new individual firearms ownership that Canada has ever seen. Currently, with about 40 million people in the country, there are almost 2.5 million registered PAL holders. Some firearms experts believe the real number of firearms owners is about double that figure since many rural Canadians simply never get around to filling out their PAL paperwork—or mindfully resist it. And of course, criminals don’t bother with their paperwork, and there’s more of those every year…

A decade ago, experts estimated Canadians owned around 10 million firearms. You could debate how accurate that figure is, but whatever the numbers were in the mid-2010s, they’re a lot higher now.

Fact: Handguns aren’t as common in Canada, and are currently illegal to sell

Long guns are much more common in Canada than handguns, partly due to cultural differences but mostly because there are fewer legally allowed uses for handguns.

Decades ago, before Second Amendment activists got American firearms laws liberalized, it was just about as easy to legally buy a handgun in Canada as it was in some American states. But in Canada, all handguns except for antiques (which come with confusing laws) are classified as either Prohibited or Restricted firearms now. Prohibited firearms are only legally owned by those who had them before the laws changed to ban short-barreled pistols, so-called “Saturday Night Specials” and other handguns.

Until very recently, Restricted handguns were legally bought, sold and owned by Canadians with an RPAL (Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence). But nobody legally CCWs in Canada, and most provinces specifically outlaw handgun hunting, so most shooters only collected handguns, or used them for range visits. Many Canadians avoided owning handguns because they didn’t want the hassle of an RPAL, and they didn’t want to register handguns. Canada destroyed its federal long gun registry about 10 years ago, but the country-wide handgun registry remains.

Then, in 2023, the Canadian federal government passed Bill C-21. This law bans the import of new handguns into Canada for civilians unless it’s for purchase by competitive shooters or someone whose job requires them to carry a handgun (think: trapper in bear country). It also bans the sale of handguns to anyone who isn’t on that list of approved parties. The Liberal Party of Canada, which currently controls the federal government, has made it clear it eventually intends to seize all handguns. You can see the RCMP’s explanation of the law here.

Fiction: You can’t own any fun firearms in Canada

Before passing Bill C-21, the feds threw another hand grenade at Canadian gun owners in May of 2020 with the so-called “OIC Ban.” This massive ban of specific firearms was a response to the Portapique Massacre when a gunman in the east coast province of Nova Scotia killed 22 people with illegally owned firearms while he was disguised as a police officer. In the weeks after, the Liberal Party-led federal government announced it would ban and seize dozens of firearms, including AR-15s, Mini-14s, and a lot more. This ban was announced by Order In Council, which is roughly analogous to an American executive order.

While the firearms affected by this ban are currently protected by an amnesty, that amnesty will expire in 2025, shortly after Canada’s next federal election.

It’s easy to see why you might think Canadians are stuck with a bunch of fudd guns, and nothing fun. Even before 2020, AK-pattern rifles were banned, and a lot of other fun stuff.

But Canadian shooters also had and still have access to interesting firearms that their American cousins can’t easily buy. Surplus SVT-40 rifles are common and were selling in hardware stores for $300 CAD (about $240 USD) around 10 years back. Russian SKS rifles were common before the war in Ukraine; now, Chinese-manufactured SKS rifles are still one of the most affordable firearms in the country. Chinese Type 97 bullpups are also common, and semi-auto Type 81s are still being brought into Canada despite all the gun control laws of the last half-decade. These Type 81s are sold in standard rifle configuration, DMR configuration and even LMG configuration, all for the equivalent of $1,500 USD or less.

For years, until the OIC Ban, Canadians also bought pallet-loads of Chinese M305 rifles, which were accurate copies of the M14 service rifle. With forged receivers, some shooters thought these rifles were better than American-built options, although they often upgraded them with specific USGI parts. Canadian importers even had the Chinese factory run off M305 rifles chambered in 7.62x39, with AK mag compatibility.

Although actions patterned off the AR-15 design have been restricted in Canada for decades, the AR-180b was very much allowed. Those rifles had a run of popularity, and Canada now has a cottage industry of firearms manufacturers building domestic semi-autos along similar lines, mostly chambered in 7.62x39, .223 Wylde or 300 Blackout. Pistol-caliber carbines are also popular in Canada, including the Ruger PCC, TNW Aero Survival Rifle, JR Carbine, Kel-Tec Sub2000, S& FPC, and Kriss Vector. Canada also has its own manufacturers building PCCs, including the Freedom Arms FX-9 and the Lockhart Tactical Raven 9.

Canada’s firearms manufacturers also have started building bolt-action rifles with tactical features, which some shooters prefer, since Canada’s semi-autos haven’t always had the best reputation for reliability. There’s a good reason for this: Canada’s smaller firearms manufacturers are cash-strapped and forced to constantly adapt to ever-evolving government regs, and they’re confined to a small market.

Canada also has very liberal laws regarding shotgun barrel length. While you can’t legally cut a scattergun barrel under ~18.5 inches, you can buy a manufactured barrel much shorter and install it, all legally with no license required. For this reason, many Canadians use pump-actions with 12.5-inch barrels as their backcountry bear protection.

Fact: Canada does have strong firearms manufacturing

Canada has historically imported most of its firearms, but its Long Branch arsenal and other arms and ammo production were an important part of the World War II effort, building weapons not just for the British Empire but also its allies.

The Long Branch arsenal closed after World War II, but Canada continues to produce military small arms through the Colt Canada plant (formerly Diemaco), with law enforcement and military customers around the world. Famously, Colt Canada built 119A1 and L119A2 carbines for the British SAS and SBS special forces units. The Canadian plant also made small arms for Norwegian commandos and military units from the Netherlands, Denmark and of course Canada itself.

On the civilian side of things, now that Para-Ordnance has left Canada, the Lakefield firearms plant is Canada’s busiest manufacturer. Rising from the ashes of Cooey, the legendary Canadian sporting rifle-and-shotgun manufacturer that closed in the 1960s, Lakefield is now a subsidiary of Savage. If you shoot a Savage rimfire, it was probably manufactured in Canada.

Fiction: Canadians are “giving up” their guns

While their resistance is tempered with realism, Canadians are fighting hard against their federal government’s plans to seize firearms. They are hampered by three complications.

First, many Canadian shooters despise tactical-style firearms and handguns, and display little interest in firearms rights because they presume “nobody’s coming for their duck gun.” This illusion has been shattered in recent years, with the Liberal-led government introducing legislation that, if interpreted literally, would potentially have seen 12-gauge shotguns banned along with many common hunting rifles. It would also have required alteration of hundreds of thousands of other hunting firearms, to restrict magazine capacity. To appease shooters, those in power have since said that these consequences are not the government’s intention, and some of those laws have been rewritten or walked back—but it was a big wake-up call to the fudds.

Second, there’s no single Canadian firearms lobby organization with power anything close to America’s NRA. Love it or loathe it, the NRA has a lot of muscle. Historically, Canada’s firearms lobby organizations have been ineffective, partly due to infighting between various groups. This seems to be changing, but the orgs still have to overcome the problem of a hostile justice system.

The third problem is related to that—Canadian shooters don’t currently have a constitutional right to bear arms or a right to personal property (although they did hold these rights before and after Confederation, before losing them when the newly-written Charter of Rights and Freedoms ignored these and other issues).

Canadians have mounted massive protests in favor of gun rights, historically. The FED UP and FED UP II rallies of the 1990s saw Parliament Hill in Ottawa covered in protestors, even through overwatch by police snipers. More recently, Canada’s trucker protests were foreshadowed by a mid-COVID protest on Parliament Hill by hundreds of gun owners complaining about the OIC Ban.

Fact: Canadian firearms culture is changing, quickly

Historically, Canadian firearms culture was dominated by hunters and collectors. With little crime and social unrest, most Canadians were happy enough without CCW and felt no need for a tactical carbine in the closet. That’s changing, as gangs increasingly flex their muscles in Canada (typically with illegally-imported firearms or 3D-printed guns).

The politics of firearms are also changing quickly. Previously, the provincial leaders might have squawked about federal firearms laws, but they didn’t really do much. Now, the premiers are starting to actively address their citizens’ concerns. Some are appointing their own Chief Firearms Officers and passing legislation to hinder federal gun confiscation plans, and generally working hard to ensure citizens’ rights. This isn’t the case everywhere; other provincial leaders seem happy to cooperate with the feds, or even take things further (Quebec still has a provincial long gun registry). But even those leaders are complaining they don’t have the resources to enforce the laws that Ottawa is passing.

And then there’s also increasing discontentment on the part of law enforcement. Police officers who own handguns or AR-15s realize that they and other law-abiding licensed gun owners aren’t the problem. Law enforcement organizations have openly expressed their reserve over the federal government’s gun control policies. Part of the reason for the current amnesty on the OIC-banned firearms, originally banned four years ago, is because police aren’t interested in going door-to-door to seize these guns even if they had the manpower to do so. The federal government has thrown millions at planners, trying to come up with other ideas to seize these firearms, and can’t figure out the logistics. They even proposed a seizure-by-mail, with gun owners required to send their firearms in by parcel, and Canada Post said it was a no-go.

And finally, Canada has a federal election coming in the fall of 2025, or perhaps earlier. Currently, a left-leaning Liberal minority government is propped up by the equally leftist New Democrat Party helping them control parliament. Judging by opinion polls, Canadian voters are extremely unhappy with this arrangement and the center-right Conservatives are expected to win the next federal election (although much can certainly change in the next 16 months!).

If that happens, the Conservatives have typically been more gun-friendly than the Liberals, but have their own history of support of gun control, as well as a history of walking back on campaign promises to support gun owners. Past Conservative leader Erin O’Toole famously flip-flopped on firearms in the 2021 federal election, alienating voters on all sides of the issue, and many believe this alone was enough to split the right-leaning vote and put Justin Trudeau’s Liberals in power.

A lot has changed since then, and while Canada is still a left-leaning society, there is growing discontent as living conditions change across the country. If current Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre takes charge of the country and is willing to overhaul the Firearms Act with better-written legislation, rural Canada and even many urban dwellers will be happy. People in Canada are ready for change.

Zac K
Zac K

Professional hoser with fudd-ish leanings.

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2 of 7 comments
  • BeoBear BeoBear on Jul 03, 2024

    Sadly Canada has been rapidly been transforming into a full blown communist-lite government. I'm not sure a "conservative" uprising of votes is enough to stop it at this point.

    As mentioned, the "conservative" party in Canada is more like moderate division of the American democrat party in that they share similar philosophies of government. It's going to take a D-Day level rebellion of true conservatives to have any chance at stopping the tidal wave of socialist liberalism that the Canadian government has become and it's likely too little too late. Without some kind of massive uprising at the ballot boxes Canada's gun laws will most certainly be chipped away a little and a lot at a time until they are essentially gone.

  • Baconator2528 Baconator2528 2 days ago

    For heavens sake, please someone stop them from destroying the 11,000 Inglis Hi-Powers they still have in their inventory. Send them to us in the USA!