Polite Canada Logo

Canada’s Firearm Laws: Balancing safety and access

Canada is often praised for its relatively low rates of gun violence compared to its neighbour in the south, the United States. However, recent events have raised significant questions about the effectiveness of Canada’s stance on weapons in preventing firearms from falling into the wrong hands. Despite having stringent regulations in place, guns still find their way into the possession of individuals who pose a threat to public safety. Understanding the nuances of Canada’s gun regulations and their limitations is crucial in addressing this issue.

We point to a major incident involving an illegal automatic weapon on February 22, 2024 in White Rock, British Columbia. Terrifying video of the early morning shooting showcases high-powered weapons being fired at a vehicle in a residential neighborhood, raising questions about public safety. Investigations into the incident revealed that the weapon used in the shooting was obtained illegally, highlighting the importance of addressing the root causes of gun violence, including the illegal firearms trade and gaps in the enforcement of existing laws.

Canada’s gun control laws are among the strictest in the world. The country requires individuals to obtain a license before they can possess or acquire firearms. This licensing process involves background checks, safety training, and a waiting period. Certain types of firearms, such as handguns and assault weapons, are banned altogether or subject to additional restrictions.

Moreover, Canada employs a classification system to categorize firearms based on their potential danger. Firearms are classified as non-restricted, restricted, or prohibited, with varying degrees of regulation associated with each category. Prohibited firearms currently include automatic weapons and handguns with a barrel length of fewer than 105 millimeters, among others. According to experts, the illicit firearms market in Canada is primarily supplied through four key methods: theft, straw purchasing, smuggling, and illicit manufacturing.

In addition to these measures, Canada has implemented legislation such as the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code to regulate firearms possession and use. These laws aim to strike a balance between protecting public safety and respecting the rights of responsible gun owners, but seemingly downplay the importance of legal gun ownership.

Despite the comprehensive nature of Canada’s gun laws, several challenges persist in preventing firearms from reaching individuals who should not have access to them. One significant issue is the illegal firearms market, fueled by smuggling across the Canada-U.S. border. Criminal organizations exploit this porous border to traffic firearms into Canada, bypassing the country’s strict regulations.

Furthermore, loopholes in the legal system contribute to the proliferation of guns among individuals with bad intentions. For instance, the private sale of firearms between individuals will often not require background checks, making it easier for guns to change hands without scrutiny.

Bill C-21 was the most recent government response to gun crime by codifying a national handgun freeze, and it received Royal Assent on December 15, 2023. It includes measures to combat gun crime and brings increased penalties for firearm smuggling and trafficking with provisions to better address the role of firearms in intimate partner and gender-based violence. However, while Bill C-21 was touted as a means to tackle gun crime, concerns have been raised that most of the guns involved in crime are smuggled in from the United States – they are not legal weapons to begin with. 

Testifying before the House public safety committee during C-21 deliberations, Toronto Police Chief Myron Demkiw said “86 per cent of crime guns in the city were smuggled from the United States – a trend on the increase since 2019.”

While there may be calls to implement stricter measures, including outright bans on legal gun ownership, such actions need to be approached with caution. Instead of blanket bans, it is essential to focus on targeted interventions that address the actual causes of gun violence, primarily illegal firearms trafficking, while preserving the rights of responsible gun owners. By striking a balance between public safety and responsible gun ownership, Canada has the opportunity to develop a more effective and sustainable approach to firearms regulation.

Canada’s gun laws are designed to balance the rights of gun owners with the need to protect public safety. While these laws are among the strictest in the world, illegal firearms trafficking and loopholes in the legal system persist, so who are they really protecting? Promoting responsible gun ownership should be a key aspect to Canada’s approach rather than focusing solely on prohibiting legal gun ownership, which can alienate law-abiding citizens and drive firearms underground. Through education and awareness, Canada can help foster a culture of safety and accountability among firearms owners as opposed to not allowing innocent civilians the ability to possess firearms for legitimate purposes such as hunting, sport shooting, and self-defense.

Government of Canada: Bill C-21 (national freeze on handguns)