There are many reasons why a Canadian citizen would own some sort of firearm, from hunting to protection to tournaments and everything in between, but changing laws and regulations are making it harder to acquire one. Unlike the United States, Canada does not consider firearm possession to be a right but rather a privilege. Therefore, what is or is not allowed regarding firearms ownership is subject to change—and is indeed changing.
If you are a gun owner in Calgary or even just want to be one, you must be aware not only of the current gun laws but also of future alterations that may affect you. Not knowing about a new law is not a viable legal excuse for breaking it, and a weapons-related offence can come with serious consequences.
Canada has numerous regulations pertaining to firearms and how citizens may interact with them. Perhaps the most notable of these laws is the Firearms Act. This giant, in-depth Act from 1995 outlines everything from licencing provisions and requirements to manufacturing and transportation criteria, and though it has been amended many times (and will continue to be), it remains the framework for gun laws in Calgary and throughout Canada.
As we evolve as a country and as more people fall victim to senseless gun violence, our laws and regulations are changing to reflect that growth and mitigate the risks. Along with amending the Firearms Act, Public Safety Canada develops bills and other legislation that control how the Act may be enforced and how the country classifies firearms as a whole. For example, in May of 2020, our government banned over a thousand assault rifles and tightened up the background checks needed to obtain licences, making it harder to own certain firearms and limiting which firearms are even available for purchase. This change is by no means the most recent, which shows how frequently—and quickly—Calgary gun laws are evolving.
Right now, firearms fit into one of two categories: non-restricted and restricted (or prohibited). Most assault rifles fall under the restricted umbrella, which means they can only be discharged at a firing range. Hunting rifles are typically non-restricted, allowing them to be transported freely and obtained a bit more easily. For either category, you must first get a Possession And Acquisition License, or PAL, which must be renewed every five years and is contingent upon passing a firearm safety test for first-time applicants. Once you have a PAL, you can apply for a restricted PAL (RPAL) to be able to purchase restricted firearms. This may all sound relatively easy, but the testing is rigorous, and if the government has any reason to believe you would not be a safe gun owner, you won’t be able to get one regardless of your score.
Storage, display, and transportation regulations vary depending on a variety of factors, including the level of restriction on the firearm in question, your own licences, the purpose of the storage, display, or transport, and more, but one constant links them all together: the firearm must be unloaded and entirely unusable. Whether it is being displayed in your home or driven to a range, it must be rendered as inoperable as physically possible. The more restricted the firearm, the more precautions one must legally take in these situations. It can be a lot to keep track of, but knowledge of the laws is the best way to avoid breaking them.
Potential future changes to gun laws
As previously stated, the laws pertaining to guns of all sorts are in a near-constant state of flux, and this is true on both a national and provincial level. Nationally, several changes and amendments have gone into effect that impacts businesses and restricted and non-restricted firearm owners alike. The plan is to do more than just consider more factors in background checks and tighten up recording requirements. A bill titled C-21 aims to prohibit not just automatic assault rifles but many handguns and even several hunting rifles, too. Those who lawfully purchased one of these firearms before the bill’s enactment are encouraged to forfeit their prohibited goods before the designated amnesty date, but officials will be dispatched to collect them as well.
On a provincial level, not everyone agrees with this bill, especially given its potentially damaging effect on indigenous people who rely on hunting to survive. Alberta is one such province that openly criticizes Bill C-21 and is taking steps to protect its citizens from a forced seizure. Alberta’s own bill, Bill 8, allows the province to regulate how C-21 is enforced within its borders, including who can be authorized to seize firearms.
Even with these bills and provincial protections, seizures of some sort will likely still happen after the amnesty date. Current gun owners need to make sure they know their local and national laws and what category their firearms fall under. Laws that have already passed may have deadlines in the future to look out for, such as an amnesty date for legally purchased and newly prohibited firearms. Additionally, as purchasing and lawfully owning firearms becomes more difficult, gun owners will want to ensure they are aware of their rights and never taken by surprise by a seizure of property or improper licence.
Understanding firearm offences
In general, there are three basic weapons-related offences with which a Canadian citizen can be charged. It is important to know that these offences may be compounded by other crimes and a variety of factors. Basically, any crime is made more serious with the addition of a weapon, and the legal penalties follow suit. Examples of Calgary weapons charges include the following:
Use of firearms, which refers to any careless or reckless firearm usage and/or pointing a firearm at another person.
Possession of weapons, which may include any weapon and not only firearms, for a dangerous purpose or simply storing, transporting, displaying, or owning without a proper licence or in an unlawful way. There are also offences relating to the trafficking and obtaining the weapon through another offence.
Use of firearms in the commission of other crimes, such as armed robbery or aggravated assault. This charge can add years to a conviction even if no one lost their life.
Because these three categories cover such a wide array of possible offences, the legal penalties vary almost as much. However, it is important to understand that these penalties are always severe. Weapons charges usually carry mandatory minimum sentences that, compounded with other crimes or alone, can leave a permanent mark on someone’s legal record and severely impact their future prospects and ability to obtain licences. Crimes like aggravated assault and assault with a deadly weapon, both of which may include firearms, can land you in federal prison. Those convicted of murder in the first- or second-degree face mandatory life sentences, and most manslaughter convictions can result in significant sentences, depending on the situation.
Advice for current and prospective Calgary gun owners
Even a mistake as innocent as possessing a newly prohibited firearm past a certain point can carry serious consequences that will follow you for life. While every Calgary citizen has the right to fight unfair charges, success is never guaranteed, so it is always better to avoid being charged in the first place. If you own a firearm or plan to, the best way to protect yourself is to know not only the current gun laws in your area but what changes are coming in the future.
Public Safety Canada publishes every bill and regulation on their website along with easy-to-understand explanations and breakdowns with which every gun owner should be familiar. The government does take steps to try and make the transitions easier (such as with gun buyback programs for people to return prohibited firearms for compensation) but it is your legal responsibility to comply with these new regulations to the best of your ability. While Alberta may be fighting against the forced seizure of firearms, the laws have still changed, and being caught in any perceived act of non-compliance can land you in serious legal trouble.
If you do end up interacting with law enforcement regarding firearms allegedly in your possession, remain respectful and calm but clear about your rights. You do not have to answer everything the authorities ask, and they must have a legal reason to search your property. If such an interaction does result in an arrest and weapons charge of any sort, your next step is to hire a criminal defence lawyer you can trust. A lawyer experienced in weapons offences knows how to build a strong case with the facts and works tirelessly to get your charges reduced as much as possible, or dismissed. At Bulwark Law, we are here to help in every way we can. Our Calgary team knows what is at stake, and we take it as seriously as you. For more information, call us today at 403-678-7360 or use our contact form. Don’t wait to start fighting back.
What are the basic requirements for owning a firearm in Calgary?
You must be 18+, a Canadian citizen, free of any prior offences, and able to pass a firearm safety test. If you meet these requirements, you may apply for a PAL.
What are the differences between a Possession and Acquisition Licence (PAL) and a Restricted Possession and Acquisition Licence (RPAL)?
PALs allow someone to lawfully possess a non-restricted firearm, whereas RPALs make the same allowance for restricted firearms. One must obtain a PAL before they can apply for an RPAL.
What is considered a “restricted firearm” in Calgary?
Handguns, assault rifles, and some hunting rifles are considered restricted.
How should firearms be properly stored and transported according to the law?
They must be unloaded, dismantled, and locked separately from their ammunition.
What constitutes a firearms offence? What are some examples?
Any crime allegedly committed with the assistance or presence of a firearm, including having an improper licence or prohibited firearm, would constitute a firearms offence. This can mean armed robbery, aggravated assault, manslaughter, and even murder.
What are the potential consequences of a firearms offence conviction?
Legal consequences can include jail sentences ranging from a few months up to life behind bars and the inability to obtain further licences, alongside social consequences such as employment and tenant difficulties.
What are my rights if I am arrested or questioned for a firearms offence?
You have the right to be informed of the reason for your detention or arrest, the right to remain silent, and the right to a lawyer.
Are there any upcoming changes to the gun laws in Calgary that I should be aware of?
More handguns and hunting rifles are going to be classified as prohibited in the coming months. Those who own these firearms may be asked to forfeit their weapons.
As a gun owner, what should I do if a law enforcement officer wants to inspect my firearm or search my home?
Maintain respect and calm when dealing with law enforcement, but know your rights. They must have reasonable grounds to believe you are committing a crime to inspect your home. The search of a home typically arises from a Search Warrant.
What should I do if I am charged with a firearms offence?
Hire an experienced weapons offence attorney as soon as possible and say as little as possible to the officers.
How can a lawyer help me if I am charged with a firearms offence?
Depending on the situation, a lawyer can do anything from arguing to get your charges dropped entirely to simply lessening the conviction and its impact on your future. They can challenge how the police gathered and processed their evidence and poke holes in the prosecution while also working to make your case as strong as possible.
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