In Canada, certain firearms are classified as "prohibited", and one cannot possess or acquire them unless they were owned before the law was made. Such firearms include .25 and .32 calibre handguns, handguns with barrels less than or equal to 105 millimetres in length, and fully automatic firearms. In addition, the government may declare any firearm prohibited for any reason. Here is a complete list of prohibited firearms.

I can't point to an individual source, but I've commonly heard a story told in Canadian gun circles that the people who initially prohibited the guns knew nothing about them, and that they "looked through a catalogue and banned all the scary looking ones".

Since this question was put on hold until I could point to it as a notable claim, here are several quotes of people repeating the rumour or sentiment:

  • Conservative Party leadership candidate Maxime Bernier:

    • Classify firearms based on function, not appearance

    Firearms should be classified based on their function, not on their appearance. I will use the simple overall-length classification system

  • reddit user Ibmeister:

    And the laws were made by folks who didn't know much about firearms, and that's why they don't make much sense. They basically went through a firearms catalogue and banned all the scary looking ones, restricted a bunch, and let the rest just be, without much rhyme or reason.

  • reddit user diablo_man:

    I keep hearing reference to them just going through a gun catalogue and circling the ones with military appearance...

  • reddit user Q-Ball7:

    I'd like to repeat that the classification committee went through a catalogue of guns and put Xs on the ones that looked scary (and thus got banned), but I can't find a source on that.

  • reddit user SonOfJaak:

    I am convinced the people involved in selecting what firearms needed to be kept out of the public's hands took a look through a catalog or "Guns of the World" book and made a list of the tactical looking ones.

  • I can personally attest to this rumour. When I took the Canadian Firearms Safety Course, my instructor repeated it.

The status of certain firearms as prohibited is at least some evidence for this story. For example, the AK-47 is fully automatic and prohibited. There are semi-automatic versions of it, but they are also prescribed as prohibited — because they look too similar, perhaps?

Is there any evidence that this meeting over a catalogue actually took place?


1 Answer 1


Are certain guns in Canada banned because of how they look? Yes.

Classification of guns is performed by the Canadian Firearms Advisory Committee. Their deliberations are not on the public record:

In order to allow for frank and open discussion of important issues, there will be no public communication regarding deliberations of the Committee.

The list of approved firearms you began with (alternative source) is evidence that the choice was made arbitrarily, as if it was done with some simple set of rules they would have just listed the rules.

The history of this begins with a mass shooting (wiki), some laws were then changed, which allowed the RCMP to move guns onto either the prohibited list or the restricted list. This is still an issue in the Canadian government as the RCMP can delay classifying a new firearm indefinitely (link).

The best example of a gun being banned just on how it looks is the Mossberg‎ Blaze-47 22 LR which was prohibited, even though the only similarity it has with an AK-47 is how it looks (a link better link). I don't know if it is still banned but it was for a time.

If you want an example of a more systematic approach to firearm restrictions you can look to Australia, were they banned all "self-loading centrefire rifles" after a different mass shooting (wiki). This rule in contrast to the Canadian list is more restrictive on what it bans but is less arbitrary. (well they aren't strictly banned, they require a category D license, and there are only 159 of them registered out of a population of ~6 million, link)

  • 8
    Your argument is they banned guns based on how they look, because that is how it looks to you? How do you know this isn't a list based on weapons actually used in crimes, or discovered in shipments. Categorising the Australian system as more fair is opinion-based. (The National Post article describes an arbitrary ruling that is evidence that it was based on appearance, but not strong evidence. It may have been another error [assuming it is an error])
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:13
  • 2
    @Oddthinking you say the evidence I found is not strong evidence, this is your opinion. The comparison to the Australian system show why the list of prohibited firearms is arbitrarily decided upon. In Australia "Can I have this?" "no, its a self-loading centrefire rifle". In Canada "Can I have this?" "let me check my list, that we made, without ever explaining how... its not on there, let me decide if it should be, check back in 3 years"
    – daniel
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 11:09
  • 3
    I agree that the Australian system of having a fixed rule is easier to understand and easier to predict what will happen with new weapons. It isn't necessarily more fair. You haven't shown that the underlying criteria that was used by the law makers is "what it looks like", as opposed to other hidden criteria: "how many deaths has it caused", "has someone asked for arbitration on its legality", "has someone complained about it?", "what country it is made in", "who didn't bribe the law-makers", "did the coin land heads or tails" or perhaps some technical aspect we can't reverse engineer.
    – Oddthinking
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 12:53
  • 1
    I agree on the 'fair' wording, On hidden criteria, yes we are not told what happens in this secret black box. We can see with our eyes that there are both black and yellow guns going in, and only the yellow guns are coming out at the other end, maybe the black guns weigh more, but then we see two guns go in where the only difference is one is black and the other is yellow, and only the yellow one comes out. It must then be some other quality to the gun that is invisible to everyone except mounties.
    – daniel
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 13:09
  • @Oddthinking: While I don't know about Canada in particular, in the U.S. the "Assault Weapons Ban" listed firearms using terminology choices (e.g. when to write "Over/Under" and when to abbreviate "O/U") which precisely matched those of a particular identifiable catalog. There were enough such terminology choices that they would have been unlikely to have emerged by chance.
    – supercat
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 19:26

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