Airgun Law in Canada
Airguns in Canada are funny thing, legally speaking.
This is not to suggest airguns are somehow humorous- merely that the laws surrounding them to have been created in a bit of a vacuum. No one we have found has been able to explain how the magic number of "500fps" was derived as the "crossover" point from "non-firearm" to "firearm". If anyone knows the answer of how this number was chose- please update us!
In any event; the basic legal guides for airguns comes from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police/Canadian Firearms Centre in their legal fact sheet:
Air guns (also known as BB guns, pellet guns, spring guns or air soft guns) fall into three categories:
* air (pneumatic system),
* spring (spring-air), and
* gas (CO2/nitrogen).
For purposes of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code, air guns can be broken down further into the following four categories:
1. Air guns that are firearms for purposes of both the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code.
These are air guns with both a high muzzle velocity (greater than 152.4 meters or 500 feet per second) and a high muzzle energy (greater than 5.7 joules or 4.2 foot-pounds). The “muzzle velocity” is the speed of a projectile at the instant it leaves the muzzle of a gun, normally expressed in metres per second or feet per second. The “muzzle energy” is the energy of a projectile at the instant it leaves the muzzle of a gun, expressed in joules or foot-pounds. Air guns need to meet both standards to be classified as firearms for purposes of the Firearms Act.
These high-powered air guns are subject to the same licence and registration requirements as a conventional firearm.
You are also required to store, transport, display and handle them safely in accordance with the regulations supporting the Firearms Act.
Usually, the manufacturer’s specifications are used to determine what muzzle velocity and muzzle energy an air gun was designed to have. This information may be available in the user’s manual or on the manufacturer’s web site. If the information is not available, individuals can call 1 800 731-4000 and ask to speak to a firearms technician to find out if the air gun is classified as a firearm for purposes of the Firearms Act.
High-powered air rifles are classified as non-restricted firearms. High-powered air pistols are classified as restricted if their barrel is longer than 105 mm or prohibited if their barrel length is 105 mm or less.
2. Air guns that meet the Criminal Code definition of a firearm, but that are deemed not to be firearms for certain purposes of the Firearms Act and Criminal Code.
These are air guns with a maximum muzzle velocity of 152.4 meters or 500 feet per second and/or a maximum muzzle energy of 5.7 joules or 4.2 foot pounds.
Such air guns are exempt from licensing, registration, and other requirements under the Firearms Act, and from penalties set out in the Criminal Code for possessing a firearm without a valid licence or registration certificate. However, they are considered to be firearms under the Criminal Code if they are used to commit a crime. Anyone who uses such an air gun to commit a crime faces the same penalties as someone who uses a regular firearm.
The simple possession, acquisition and use of these air guns for lawful purposes is regulated more by provincial and municipal laws and by-laws than by federal law. For example, some provinces may have set a minimum age for acquiring such an air gun. For more information, please contact your local or provincial authorities.
These air guns are exempt from the specific safe storage, transportation and handling requirements set out in the regulations supporting the Firearms Act. However, the Criminal Code requires that reasonable precautions be taken to use, carry, handle, store, transport, and shipped them in a safe and secure manner.
3. Air guns that are replica firearms
These are air guns that are not powerful enough to cause serious injury or death, but that were designed to resemble a real firearm with near precision. Replica firearms, except for replicas of antique firearms, are classified as prohibited devices.
In particular, some air guns that are commonly called air soft guns may fall into this category. These are devices that have a low muzzle velocity and muzzle energy, and that usually discharge projectiles made out of a substance such as plastic or wax rather than metal or lead.
Although replica firearms are prohibited, you may keep any that you owned on December 1, 1998. You do not need a licence to possess them, and they do not need to be registered. However, as an individual, you cannot import or acquire a replica firearm. If you take a replica firearm out of Canada, you will not be able to bring it back in.
The Criminal Code sets out some penalties for using a replica firearm or any other imitation firearm to commit a crime.
The Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) receives many enquiries from people wondering whether a low-powered air gun would be considered a replica if it resembles a real firearm in terms of its shape and size, but it is made of clear or brightly coloured plastic, or is much smaller in size.
Many of these devices have to be assessed on a case-by-case basis. As a general rule, however, those made out of clear plastic and those that are significantly smaller than the real version are not classified as replicas. Brightly coloured paint does not necessarily exclude a device from the definition of a replica.
4. Air guns that are neither firearms nor replicas
These are air guns that are not powerful enough to be classified as firearms and that do not resemble a real firearm closely enough to be considered a replica. An example would be a harmless air gun made out of clear plastic or a device that is obviously a child’s toy.
Like replicas, they generally fall within the definition of an “imitation firearm” and are subject to some penalties under the Criminal Code if used to commit a crime
The law, of course, is more complex than any "Fact Sheet" could hope to explain, but it makes for a good reference and starting point.
Essentially, any instrument designed to shoot metal projectiles through a barrel falls under the provision of a 'potential' firearm, and can then be classified as either a "firearm" (further sub-classified as a "non-restricted", "restricted", "replica") or a "non-firearm". A "firearm" as it applies to airguns is fairly straightforward and outlined in the fact sheet information above. A "non-firearm" is something that outputs projectiles below the legal threshold listed above or some specific products outlined in the criminal code- for example an "antique" gun. That being said, (as also noted) a "non-firearm" that is used in the course of an illegal act/action becomes a "firearm" for the purposes of prosecution. So, for example, carrying a low-output BB pistol "non-firearm" into a convenience store as part of a robbery would carry the same charges and legal penalties as using any other "firearm"- pistol, rifle, shotgun.
Moving on, a barreled device that shoots a projectile that is not metal (i.e. a plastic BB such as an airsoft 6mm BB) but basically resembles an existing, non-antique "firearm" is classified as a "replica" and is "prohibited" in Canada.
A "replica firearm" is listed under the Criminal Code of Canada:
“replica firearm” means any device that is designed or intended to exactly resemble, or to resemble with near precision, a firearm, and that itself is not a firearm, but does not include any such device that is designed or intended to exactly resemble, or to resemble with near precision, an antique firearm;
The most basic definition of "prohibited" is also found in the Criminal Code of Canada:
“prohibited weapon” means
(a) a knife that has a blade that opens automatically by gravity or centrifugal force or by hand pressure applied to a button, spring or other device in or attached to the handle of the knife, or
(b) any weapon, other than a firearm, that is prescribed to be a prohibited weapon;
"Prohibited" products are the most difficult to classify. There is a specific list of products/product features that classify firearms as prohibited (Regulations), but often mistakes in descriptions can lead to incorrect conclusions about such products (for example, BB guns built on frames/receivers coming from the same factory as the "real deal"). "Prohibited," quite literally means that unless you owned a specific prohibited product before laws were changed in the late 1970s and these products were "grandfathered" in as legal to be in your possession, any other device that is classified as "prohibited" is illegal to own or handle without specific legal authority (i.e. Law Enforcement, Military, or suppliers of such entities).
Firearms Act, Canada
Criminal Code, Canada
RCMP/CFC Airgun Info Sheet
Note: None of the above should be construed as legal advice- no one here is professing to be a lawyer. If you have specific legal questions, consult a lawyer for a legal opinion.
More to be added to this later...