Comparison of federal licensing for firearms between Canadian and U.S law reveals a large gap in willpower to save lives. Generally, Canadian law requires a federal safety test and comprehensive background check, including mental health and domestic violence history. Canada also bans most handguns and automatic rifles, while classifying other semi-automatic firearms and handguns as “restricted”. Unrestricted firearms are limited to those used for hunting animals.These are federal policies enforced by the RCMP, including that most open and concealed carry is prohibited unless relevant to one’s profession (Ahmad, 2020).
Comparatively, there is no federal licensing program for owners of firearms in the US. That is left up to each individual state (Bureau, 2021). There is, however, a federal license for SOME gun sellers, but who qualifies as a seller “engaged in the business” and is subject to needing a license has remained unclear in courts of law for decades. (see Background Checks guide) Federal licensing in the US could:
Limit access and bolster enforcement on individual gun ownership
Increase waiting times, preventing some mass shootings that are partially fueled by the combination acute mental health episodes and easy access to assault weapons
Close loopholes that allow big-time gun sellers (like those at gun shows) to fly under the radar, prevent people with a history of domestic violence to access firearms, and prevent people with a history of a mental health disorder from purchasing a firearm
Reduce gun trafficking between states by standardings gun laws
Arguably, the most important difference between Canadian and US law is that the US ban on assault weapons enacted in 1994 sunsetted in 2004, and has yet to be reinstated, despite decades of mass shootings and day-to-day violence (Elving, 2019). Depending on the state and city, Americans can purchase long-guns for hunting, handguns, assault rifles like the AK47 made for military use, and high-capacity magazines to fill them. Americans can sell guns to each other without being subject to federal licensing and background check policy, and they can traffik guns between cities and states without much trouble.
While the neither Canadian Constitution nor state laws have any written right to bear firearms, the US federal Constitution of course has the Second Amendment which states:
“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
Many individual US state constitutions also have a parallel clause about firearms. The meaning of the Second Amendment in the US Constitution has been fought over for centuries. Some Americans believe they have a constitutional right to own any kind of “arms”, others believe that because the Amendment was written in a time when assault rifles and high capacity magazines would have been unimaginable, we must take the constitutional language in the context of our current moment -- prioritizing the safety and lives of our neighbors.
Canada has a federal gun licensing program, with the onus on the individual buyer, which enforces safety training and background checks implemented by the RCMP. The US has none.
Canada bans or restricts most assault rifles and handguns. The US does not.
The Canadian Constitution does not include a right to own a firearm, the Second Amendment to the US Constitution is one of the most debated phrases in the American lexicon.
A federal licensing program in the US would limit access to firearms, enforce safety precautions, and standardize some gun legislation across states
“Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.” Apply for a License | Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, 2021, www.atf.gov/firearms/apply-license.