Manhunt in Moncton: What are Canada's gun laws?

Moncton, in New Brunswick Canada, is on lockdown after a gunman killed three police officers. Unlike the US, Canada's federal government writes most gun laws.

Marc Grandmaison/The Canadian Press/AP
Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers use their vehicles to create a keep a perimeter in Moncton, New Brunswick on Wednesday June 4, 2014. The RCMP in New Brunswick said an undisclosed number of people have been shot and a manhunt is underway in the north end of Moncton for a man armed with guns.

The city of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada, is on lockdown after a gunman killed three Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers and wounded two more in an attack whose motive is yet unknown.

RCMP officials say that the attack was committed by 24-year-old Justin Bourque, a Moncton man, who was seen dressed in camouflage and armed with a pair of rifles. The attack shows alarming similarities to mass shootings in the United States: most recently, Elliot Rodger's killing spree last month in Santa Barbara, Calif., left six dead and several injured from gun and knife wounds, and more notoriously, Adam Lanza's rampage with several pistols and a rifle in a Newtown, Conn., school in Dec. 2012 that left 26 people dead, including 20 children.

Given the heat of the debate over guns in the US, the Moncton shooting raises the question: Just what are Canada's gun laws?

Though Canada does not offer constitutional protections for gun ownership the way the 2nd Amendment does in the US, gun laws have been just as controversial. In 1989, a gunman went on a rampage in Montreal, killing 14 women with a rifle. This event prompted the Liberal government to tighten gun controls in an effort to prevent its repeat.

Unlike the US, where Washington sets some gun laws and others are set by the individual states, Canada's gun laws are predominantly the domain of the federal government in Ottawa. In New Brunswick, the federal gun laws seem to be applied whole cloth.

Under Canadian law, there are three categories of firearms: prohibited, restricted, and non-restricted. Prohibited firearms include short-barreled handguns, sawed-off shotguns and rifles, and automatic weapons. Restricted firearms include all handguns that do not fall under the "prohibited" class, as well as semi-automatic weapons with barrels shorter than 47 cm (18.5 inches). In addition, specific guns can be designated by regulation as prohibited or restricted. Large-capacity magazines are generally prohibited, regardless of the class of firearm they are used in.

Note that despite the use of the term "prohibited," prohibited firearms are not illegal. Rather they are governed under a stricter set of regulations. Non-restricted firearms are any rifles and shotguns that do not fall under either of the other categories.

To own any firearms in Canada, residents must have a gun license from the federal government. Licenses last for five years, and generally require passing a government gun safety course. For a resident to possess restricted and prohibited firearms, he or she must pass an additional safety course, and the specific weapons owned must be registered with the government.

Canada used to require all long arms to be registered with the government regardless of their category, but that provision was controversially repealed by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's government in 2012.

Canadian police do routinely carry firearms, and are exempt from Canadian gun laws in regards to weapons they use on the job.

In the Moncton case, it is not immediately clear what class of firearms the alleged shooter is carrying. Thus, it is not possible to say whether he has broken any Canadian gun laws; his weapons may fall under the non-restricted class, and he may be licensed. It is also initially not apparent that the repeal of the requirement to register non-restricted firearms would have changed the situation in Moncton at all.

Regardless of the legality of the shooter's possession of his weapons, however, he has violated Canadian gun laws even not considering the RCMP officers he killed and wounded. Under Canadian law, it is illegal to even point a firearm at another person, whether the weapon is loaded or not.

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