What Airguns Are Firearms?
Under Canadian law "firearm" means a barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or other projectile can be discharged and that is capable of causing serious bodily injury (i.e., permanent damage to an eye) or death to a person, and includes any frame or receiver of such a barrelled weapon and anything that can be adapted for use as a firearm. Using just this definition virtually every airgun firing a lead pellet is a firearm.
However, since 1978 there has been a partial exception for low powered airguns. Historically, according to the Criminal Code a pellet gun is a firearm for most purposes of the Firearms Act only if it is designed or adapted to discharge:
- a pellet at a muzzle velocity of more than 152.4 metres per
second (about 500 feet per second); or
The Canadian limits The law enforcement interpretation of this definition has been that low powered airguns do not require registration nor the owner/purchaser to be licenced. In practice the legislation has led to the production of very low power airguns specifically for the Canadian market. Many airguns that are sold elsewhere in the world would be classified as firearms in Canada and would require a firearms licence to bring into Canada.
Currently, for the purposes of sections 91 to 95, 99 to 101, 103 to 107 and 117.03 of the criminal code, airguns are deemed not to be firearms, where it is proved that the weapon is not designed or adapted to discharge
(i) a shot, bullet or other projectile at a muzzle velocity exceeding 152.4 m per second or at a muzzle energy exceeding 5.7 Joules, or
(ii) a shot, bullet or other projectile that is designed or adapted to attain a velocity exceeding 152.4 m per second or an energy exceeding 5.7 Joules.
In the province of Ontario low power airguns that do not require registration are classed as "imitation firearms" and can only be sold to those over the age of 18. As well there is legislation in Ontario that classifies airgun pellets as ammunition and requires that retailers record the identification of all ammunition purchasers.
For more information about airguns there is an excellent Canadian Airgun Forum.