There are two general types of air guns (also known as BB guns, pellet guns, spring guns or air soft guns):
A third type, gas (CO2/nitrogen), even though they are not, strictly speaking, “air guns,” are subject to the same rules set out below. For purposes of the Firearms Act and the Criminal Code, air guns can be further divided into 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 metres 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. Owners and users are also required to store, transport, display and handle them safely in accordance with the regulations supporting the Firearms Act.
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 website. If the information is not available, individuals can call the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) Canadian Firearms Program (CFP) at 1-800-731-4000 and ask to speak to a firearm technician to find out if the air gun is considered to be a firearm for purposes of the Firearms Act.
High-powered air rifles are generally classified as non-restricted firearms. However, the classification depends on the exact design of the air gun. Air rifles manufactured to resemble an assault rifle could be non-restricted, restricted or prohibited depending on the exact model imitated. High-powered air rifles would also be prohibited firearms if fully automatic or if they have a sawed-off barrel. They could also be restricted firearms if they have a folding stock that reduces the overall length to less than 660mm.
2. Air guns that meet the Criminal Code definition of a firearm, but 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 metres 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 are 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 ship them in a safe and secure manner.
3. Air guns that are replica firearms
These are air guns not powerful enough to cause serious injury or death, but 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 commonly known as 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. Airsoft guns with a muzzle velocity below 111.6 m/s (366 fps), and resembling with near precision an existing make and model of a firearm, other than an antique firearm, are replica firearms and therefore are prohibited devices.
Although replica firearms are prohibited, individuals may keep those they owned on December 1, 1998. It is not necessary to have a licence to possess them, and they do not need to be registered. However, an individual cannot import or acquire a replica firearm. If a replica firearm is taken out of Canada, it will not be allowed back in.
The Criminal Code sets out penalties for using a replica firearm or any other imitation firearm to commit a crime.
Some devices may resemble a real firearm in terms of their shape, but are made of clear or brightly coloured plastic, or have significant dimensional differences. Many of these devices need to be assessed on a case-by case basis. As a general rule, however, devices significantly smaller or larger than the real version are not classified as replica firearms.
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.
They generally fall within the definition of an “imitation firearm” and may be subject to some penalties under the Criminal Code if used to commit a crime.
For more information, contact the CFP.
Information on importing a device that is not a prohibited replica is available from the Canada Border Services Agency at 1-800-461-9999.
This fact sheet is intended to provide general information only. For legal references, please refer to the Criminal Code and the Firearms Act and their corresponding regulations. Provincial, territorial and municipal laws, regulations and policies may also apply.
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