The Sig Sauer MCX is a semi-automatic firearm that can be legally purchased in Florida.

To some, the weapon is a “modern sporting” rifle used for hunting. To others, it’s a “military-style” rifle designed to kill people.

On Sunday, the rifle and a handgun were used to massacre 49 people at an Orlando nightclub.

A similar weapon, the AR-15, has been used in similar slayings: in Aurora, Colo., where 12 were killed in a movie theatre; in Newtown, Conn., where 20 children were killed at an elementary school; and in San Bernardino, Calif., where 14 were killed at a services centre for people with disabilities.

Despite the apparent killing power of such weapons, those wishing to purchase them often face little resistance in the United States.

Florida in particular has been criticized by gun safety advocates for failing to license firearm owners and failing to regulate assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.

And while this form, for example, does restrict those who admit to committing a felony, or using illegal drugs, or stalking someone, or being “mentally defective” from purchasing a firearm, it didn’t stop the Orlando nightclub shooter from purchasing a weapon with the intent to commit mass murder.

Canada’s gun culture is seen as muted compared to its southern neighbours, and statistics on gun ownership and gun-related murder seem to back this notion up.


But the AR-15 rifle and other guns like it are also legally available for purchase in Canada. In 2007, more than 3,800 AR-15s were registered to civilians, according to the RCMP, along with thousands of other similar weapons.

The guns are supposed to be used for gun ranges, and aren’t even legal for hunting. Their magazines are also capped at five rounds, unlike the 30 rounds Americans are able to fire without reloading.

And unlike Florida, those wishing to purchase an AR-15 legally must possess a specific licence for restricted firearms.

Owning a gun in Canada

Firearms in Canada fall into three different categories: non-restricted, restricted and prohibited.

Non-restricted weapons are generally long rifles or shotguns used for hunting. Restricted and prohibited guns are weapons that meet the following criteria:

Prohibited weapons in Canada:

  • Handguns will barrel lengths less than 106 mm in length
  • Handguns that fire 25 or 32 calibre cartridges
  • Rifles or shotguns less than 660 mm in length or with a barrel less than 457 mm in length
  • Automatic weapons

Prohibited weapons can only be legally owned in Canada if they were registered by the owner when the weapon first became prohibited. See the RCMP site for full “grandfathering” requirements and exceptions.

Other guns fall into a “restricted” category which allows certain people to own the weapons under certain conditions.

Restricted firearms in Canada:

  • Any handgun that isn’t prohibited
  • Any non-prohibited, semi-automatic firearm with a barrel less than 470 mm in length
  • Any firearm that can be fired when reduced to a length less than 660 mm by folding or other means

To own a restricted firearm, a person must first possess the proper firearms licence, which includes participating in the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course

On top of this, those wishing to possess a restricted firearm must also be issued an “authorization to transport,” which allows individuals to legally move the weapon from one location to another and is issued only at the discretion of the jurisdiction’s chief firearms officer.

The RCMP say most common reasons people are issued restricted firearm licences are for target shooting and gun collecting.

“In limited circumstances, restricted firearms are also allowed for use in connection with one's lawful profession or occupation, or to protect life,” the site also reads.

Handguns vs. long guns

Despite rifles being involved in many high-profile mass killings, long guns are involved in comparatively fewer murders than handguns.

In Canada, handguns – which are always either restricted or prohibited – accounted for approximately 2.5 homicides per one million people in 2013. Long guns, on the other hand, accounted for 1.1 homicides over the same population.

But while Canadian murder rates are comparable between the two types of weapons, in the U.S., handguns are much more prolific.

As shown by the charts below, despite hand gun homicides being at a 15-year low in 2013, they still accounted for more than 10 times as many murders as long guns.


The following charts detail the number of prohibited and restricted firearms registered in Canada, as well as the number of individuals prohibited from legally possessing a firearm.

Gun-related murder rates haven’t increased in Canada, though the number of licensed restricted and prohibited weapons has been steadily rising.

In 2015, the RCMP estimated just under one million such weapons were licensed in Canada -- 795,854 restricted and 182,493 prohibited firearms.

The following charts detail the number of prohibited and restricted firearms registered in Canada, as well as the number of individuals actively prohibited from legally possessing a firearm.


Data from and the RCMP's 2015 Commissioner of Firearms report