Firearms licensing in Canada needs to go

RIP long-gun registry. Now let's take aim at licensing

By Ryan ShervillRyan Shervill

Gun Registry

Photo by Katy Lemay


Firearms licensing as we now know it in Canada needs to go. I’m sure that statement will set off alarm bells from coast to coast, with people shaking their heads in disbelief over such nonsense, but let me explain.

Over the last decade, hunters banded together with other shooters of all stripes to get rid of the reviled long-gun registry. This was a giant step forward for law-abiding firearms owners, but unless we address the major problems with the current licensing laws, the elimination of the registry isn’t really enough to help anyone who owns and uses guns.

The key issue that needs to be understood is the difference between licensing and certification. In the days before Possession and Acquisition Licences, or PALs, we had a card known as the Firearms Acquisition Certificate, which allowed people to purchase firearms. Known as an FAC, it was proof you’d undergone a criminal background check, had an interview with a police officer and there was no reason you shouldn’t own a firearm. This was a form of certification, and the only people who had to worry were criminals and those otherwise prohibited from owning firearms.

With the implementation of Bill C-68 and the PAL system starting in 1995, however, all that changed. What was sold to gun owners as simply “a new card” was actually a major shift in how firearms laws worked. With Bill C-68, every gun owner in the country effectively became a criminal under the Criminal Code—unless, that is, the gun owner completed the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, was vetted by police and obtained a PAL, which essentially gave the holder temporary permission to break the law.

The problem here is that every gun owner in the country is now one paperwork error away from a criminal charge of unauthorized possession of a firearm. If you forget to renew your licence, you now stand to face the same charges—and penalties—as the gangbanger caught with an illegal handgun in his waistband. Mere ownership of a firearm by an otherwise law-abiding Canadian should not constitute a criminal act, but under our current licensing laws, it very much does.

Also contrary to all common sense, PALs expire every five years. You only have to pass the safety course once in your life to maintain your PAL, so what’s the purpose of renewing every five years? I’ve never received a good answer to that question. It seems to me it’s a way to catch people out and revoke their right to own firearms.

Even more disturbing is the potential for abuse. What if a future anti-gun government decided to implement a prohibitively expensive fee to renew a PAL? What if it just decided not to renew them at all? That would be a great way to eliminate gun ownership in this country, and based on what I’ve heard some politicians say about firearms, neither scenario is far-fetched.

That said, not all parts of the PAL system are bad. The licensing regime brought in mandatory safety training and testing for everyone, an element that didn’t exist with the FAC. I believe effective safety testing is a good thing, and that the majority of the firearms community would agree that, at the very least, it doesn’t hurt.

Contrary to what some may warn, the shooting community is not out to remove all gun control to allow anyone to buy a firearm as easily as buying a pack of gum. No, what we’re looking for is a common-sense approach to gun control that incorporates the positive aspects of both certification and safety while removing the threat of criminal prosecution simply because you choose to own a firearm.

In a perfect world, we’d see a return to an FAC-type system, with the added mandatory requirement for safety certification. Firearms ownership would be decriminalized, certification would be valid for life unless there was a reason to have it revoked, and the government would only track those who are prohibited from owning firearms, not legitimate gun owners. That’s what I mean when I say firearms licensing must go.

This article was originally published on May 9, 2012


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May. 15, 2013

3:45 am

I am 69 years old and have been shooting for just five years after a much regretted late start. I'm a member of most of the shooting associations including those in which I compete regularly both in Canada and the US. Canadian gun owners including hunters but particularly those who own restricted firearms are unfairly and outrageously harassed by by a system that makes little sense and for the most part doesn't work. I've been around long enough to be active in a very large number of associations and activities. Based on my experience, the gun-owning communities are possibly the most disciplined and safest groups in existence. In terms of impact on the general population, we are safer than a large number of other recreational activities that result in injury or death in significant numbers. Alcohol consumption in organized venues is non-existence. You are highly unlikely to be injured by someone heading home from the shooting range under the influence. Consider other late night attractions including golf, bowling and curling. This is not to defame the other activities but to draw a comparison based on many years of experience. Abolishing the LGR was a token. The whole framework needs an in depth and honest review and adjustment.


Apr. 19, 2013

2:19 am

"The more onerous hoops that one has to jump through in order to obtain the right to keep firearms in Canada vs the US is one of the main reasons why Canada has roughly half as many murders per 100,000 of population per year as the US." You statement has absolutely zero factual basis. Violent crime and murder in Canada hasn't seen a significant drop since the gun regulations took place and violent crime was trending down before the new laws. Most places were like that in 90's because of number of things that spiked the crime rates in the 80's. Basically Canada was always safer and it clearly has nothing to do with the changes in gun laws. Also, if you want more government search and seizure then please move to another country. Perhaps a nice dictatorship. Here in Canada we have some rights still.


Jan. 31, 2013

8:32 pm

The more onerous hoops that one has to jump through in order to obtain the right to keep firearms in Canada vs the US is one of the main reasons why Canada has roughly half as many murders per 100,000 of population per year as the US. It makes perfect sense to require proof that you are a responsible potential (or actual) gun owner before you are allowed to legally own firearms. You need to provide similar proof re driving a car before getting a driver's license. You also need to renew your driver's license every 5 years. Are guns in the hands of nutjobs or idiots any less dangerous than cars? I don't think so. Can a person's mental status change over any given 5 year period? Obviously. The LGR may not have been the best solution, but it was a step in the right direction. Sure it is a hassle for farmers and hunters. Tough. It is a hassle for city dwellers to get and renew their drivers' licenses and car insurance and registrations as well. As a resident of the wilds of Surrey, BC, I would like to see greater police powers to search for and seize based on profiling of "known to police" individuals -- guns belonging to bikers and other drug gangs, along with stiff mandatory sentences for persons found to be in possession of illegal and/or unregistered firearms. That would go a long way to making everyone safer.


Jan. 19, 2013

8:36 pm

I own several farms in Ontario and was originally from the U.S. northwest. I have owned guns all my life (age 12 onwards) and have absolutely no idea why anyone outside of law enforcement would need a hand gun or assault rifle. I need guns as a farmer and use them regularly but I don't need a Bushmaster to keep our lands safe. I see that some of you think restrictions will eventually lead to outright bans but I'm not drinking that koolaid......just trying to understand why the walnut from the asylum should be able to buy an AK47 when he feels the "urge"..........


Jan. 18, 2013

12:41 am

Good article. Note though that the training course for the PAL isn't mandatory. Anyone can challenge the exams without taking the course.


Nov. 27, 2012

12:19 pm

It is time to review the entire firearms act (chapter 39 Statutes of Canada and Criminal Code regarding firearms laws, regulations, and offenses. When it was passed into law (1995) the Firearms Act created the Firearms License ( P.A.L. and P.O.L.) The P.A.L. (Possession and Acquisition License) was touted to do away with the need for checks and reviews of individuals purchasing firearm as all those checks were done prior to the license being issued. And in this day and age of computers the government records of the license should be updated daily if a license should expire or be revoked. All that being claimed, the license does not work that way now. When a person purchases a restricted firearm - there is an investigation, review, and approval process. This takes days, rather than the few seconds that gun owners were promised. That gives us reason to believe the licensing system is not that effective - or maybe it is busy work for the bureaucrat empire that has grown up around gun control in Canada. The other issue is that Licensing of Gun owners has had no effect on the criminal use of firearms, nor the accident rate with firearms, nor the total suicide rate. ( It seems that licensing of gun owners has resulted in a shift of means of suicide since 1998 when a license became mandatory to posses a firearm). When one compares the total death rate attributable to gunshot wounds in Canada it is less than 2 per 100,000 people. When one looks the the maternal mortality rate in Canada ( mothers dying during childbirth) we discover that rate to be 5 per 100,000 live births. Gun control does not have seemed to have prevented any deaths and billions have been spent enforcing it - money that could have been better spent to protect the health of women giving birth....


Aug. 20, 2012

11:00 pm

When the LPC gets back in with Justin Trudeau as PM in 2015 you can kiss the handguns and semi-automatic long guns like the Ruger Mini-14 goodbye. JTs good for 1 majority government just because he's PETs son.


May. 26, 2012

9:00 am

It is time for the law abiding guns owners to tell the government to leave us alone. We have taken our proper and legal safety courses and have aquirred all the proper licenses, This renewal every 5 yrs. is a farce. As for our information going to some outfit in the U.S. That is invasion of privacy. A pettion would be well in order.

May. 23, 2012

4:45 pm

I agree one hundred percent. Also, what's all this crap about our info being sent to the U.S. I believe they're trying to eventually outlaw firearms altogether.Let us as hunters, farmers and legit gun owners band together. I agree .Lets start a petition.


May. 23, 2012

12:29 pm

Lets start a petition.

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