Transfers of handguns to individuals have been permanently banned and other significant gun control measures became law in Canada on December 15, 2023. In this post, we will survey some of the most significant changes in Canadian firearm laws enacted by Bill C-21.
Canadian firearm owners, dealers, and importers, exporters to Canada in the United States and elsewhere, and others with an interest in Canadian firearm laws, should educate themselves about the new changes quickly to avoid mistakes.
The Canadian Senate passed Bill C-21 on Thursday, December 14, 2023, and the new law took effect on December 15, after receiving Royal Assent. For those who have followed this legislation, Bill C-21 as adopted by the Senate is unchanged from the bill that passed the House of Commons in May 2023.
Bill C-21 as a whole took effect on December 15, 2023, but the effective dates of some portions will not occur until a date specified by order of the Governor in Council. (See the helpful table of effective dates at the bottom of this page.)
The new law sets Canada apart from Europe, Australia, and many other countries that strictly regulate access to handguns but do not totally prohibit individuals from buying them.
The October 2022 freeze on transferring handguns to individuals in Canada is now permanent.
The regulatory freeze on the sale, purchase and transfer of handguns by individuals in Canada that took effect on October 21, 2022, is now permanent. Exceptions are very limited. As a practical matter, sport shooters, hunters and most other licensed firearm owners in Canada are now permanently barred from obtaining new handguns or transferring handguns to other individuals.
The way this comes about is a new prohibition against the issuance of registration certificates for handguns to individuals. (Bill C-21, Section 17). As restricted firearms, handguns that are transferred must be registered (Firearms Act, Section 23.2). Now there is no way for transfers to individuals to be registered.
Semi-automatic rifles will become “prohibited firearms”.
“Semi-automatic” rifles “designed and manufactured” after a date to be specified order of the Governor in Council will become “prohibited firearms”. This has been accomplished by a new category of “prohibited firearm” and a new definition of “semi-automatic” firearm.
In addition to rifles previously banned, “prohibited firearms” now include:
“(e) a firearm that is not a handgun and that
(i) discharges centre-fire ammunition in a semi-automatic manner,
(ii) was originally designed with a detachable cartridge magazine with a capacity of six cartridges or more, and
(iii) is designed and manufactured on or after the day on which this paragraph comes into force”.
“Semi-automatic” is defined as:
“a firearm that is equipped with a mechanism that, following the discharge of a cartridge, automatically operates to complete any part of the reloading cycle necessary to prepare for the discharge of the next cartridge”.
Individuals will need to present their PAL to buy a barrel, magazine or slide.
Anyone (not just a dealer) who sells or “transfers” barrels, magazines, or pistol slides to an individual must now see the transferee’s possession and acquisition license (PAL) before completing the transaction. The PAL must be valid and unexpired, of course. (Bill C-21, Section 21).
New procedures apply to imports by individuals of ammunition, magazines, barrels, and slides
Canadian resident individuals are now permitted to import ammunition and magazines (other than prohibited ammunition and magazines) only if they have a PAL and “produce the [PAL] to a customs officer”. The same rule now applies to barrels and slides, too. (Bill C-21, Section 26).
Bill C-21 also makes other significant changes to Canadian firearm laws.
- Some “replica” airguns are now “prohibited devices”. As a result, they can no longer be purchased, sold, transferred, imported, or exported by individuals. (Bill C-21, Section 1)
- Computer data “capable of being used with a 3D printer, metal milling machine or similar computer system” may not be accessed, possessed, distributed, published, or otherwise made available for the purpose of illegally making or trafficking a prohibited device or prohibited firearm. Note that this covers CNC software, as well as 3D printer instructions, if the purpose is to engage in unlawful manufacturing or trafficking. (Bill C-21, Section 1).
- Magazines that are legal when purchased cannot be “altered” to increase round capacity so as to make them prohibited devices. (Bill C-21, Section 2). Keep this in mind regarding magazine bumpers, extensions, followers, and other parts that increase round capacity.
- New “red flag”, “yellow flag” and license revocation provisions of Bill C-21 are intended to enhance legal tools available for removing firearms and related items from the possession of individuals deemed to pose a danger to themselves or others.
- Criminal penalties for unlawful trafficking and smuggling have been increased.
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