Ottawa parliament shooting: What are Canada's gun laws?

A soldier was shot near Canada's parliament building in Ottawa on Wednesday in an ongoing incident possibly involving multiple shooters. Canada has far tighter restrictions than the US on owning a firearm.

Chris Wattie/Reuters
Armed RCMP officers head towards the Langevin Block on Parliament Hill following a shooting incident in Ottawa. A Canadian soldier was shot at the Canadian War Memorial and a shooter was seen running towards the nearby parliament buildings, where more shots were fired, according to media and eyewitness reports.

An unidentified gunman has injured a soldier in Ottawa, Ontario, before running into Parliament Hall where more shots were fired.

The Canadian Broadcast Corporation reports that one of the shooters was a man with dark hair and armed with a long gun. According to witnesses, he fired four shots injuring a soldier standing guard at the Canadian War Memorial before running into the Parliament building. Televised reports say that dozens of shots were fired inside the building, though it is unclear who was firing or how many gunmen there were. 

The soldier was taken to a nearby hospital. The shooter's whereabouts and status is unclear. There are also unconfirmed reports that additional gunmen were involved.

The parliament buildings are currently on lockdown. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and other top government officials are reportedly safe.

But for those in the US, where the debate over guns continues to rage, the incident 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.

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 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.

[Editor's note: This story reuses material from a June 5, 2014 article on Canadian gun laws.]

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