A lot of this history is second hand stories and recollections of my own first hand experience during my 20 years as a shooter. If I am factually incorrect about any of this information, I apologize. Please feel free to correct me in the comments below.
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Back In the early 1990’s, when the Canadian “Firearms Act” was made law by the Chretien Liberals, legal classifications of firearms were determined and the existing national gun registry was enhanced to require registration of all guns in the country; including previously unregistered long guns.
At this time, the AK-47 was classified as Prohibited, but the AR-15 was classified as restricted. It’s alleged that the Liberals had intended to classify the AR as prohibited, but intense lobbying by members of the Service Rifle target shooting community persuaded the Liberals to only classify them as Restricted.
To a non-Canadian audience, this meant that the AR-15 would be put under severe licensing, registration, storage, and transportation restrictions, but that there was a legal mechanism for private citizens to possess and acquire them.
In the early 2000’s, when I was studying Engineering at the University of Calgary and serving as a Reservist in the Canadian Armed Forces, I did some research into the price of the C7 and C8 rifles issued to Canadian soldiers like myself. At the time, I was contemplating getting my gun license and start target shooting as a civilian.
Going off memory, I was a bit offput by $3000 Canadian price tagfor a C7 (which was only available to the military anyways).
In 2006, when I was 22 years old, I got my “Restricted Possession and Acquisition License,” but found the AR-15 was somewhat inaccessible. Going off memory, there was not much selection and most what was available where high end AR which retailed between $1500 – $2000. That blew my budget as a new graduate.
There wasn’t much in the way of “entry level” basic AR-15’s back then and there was a bit of a conflicted attitude within the general gun community towards them. I think this caused unnecessary tensions between different target shooting disciplines and seriously undermined the entire sport shooting community. In particular, it’s important to note that according to the criminal code of Canada, forming a private militia is illegal, and in the interest of self censorship and political correctness, target shooting associations didn’t want to associate with AR-15 target shooters to avoid the perception of engaging in illegal “militia” training.
In my opinion, this was a ridiculous concession by overly cautious old conservatives to radical anti-gun leftists who will never be satisfied until all guns are banned. I think that concession only emboldened them. In principle, you don’t compromise to people who are fundamentally unwilling to compromise to your position in anyway – but those Canadian conservatives did that 20 years ago, and now we’re paying the price for it today.
Around 2008, rumors started to circulate that Canadian importers were working with a Chinese manufacturer (Norinco) to produce and import inexpensive AR-15’s. The rumors quickly proved to be true.
Around 2009, the first importer of Chinese made AR-15’s was a Vancouver company called “Lever Arms” who brought in the first line of “Norinco CQ” M4-geries. These were AR’s with 14.5″ barrels with many features that matched the American M4, other than that they were semi-automatic. The Lever Arms Nork CQ’s were somewhat crude. They were painted instead of anodized (with cheap paint that quickly flaked off) and they retailed for approximately $1000 Canadian.
I was one of the first owners of such a rifle, and I was a bit disappointed with it and sold it.
Shortly after, other importers, specifically Marstar and Canada Ammo (but others as well) started importing better quality varients of the Norinco CQ’s at increasingly lower and lower prices. Sometime in the early 2010’s, Canada Ammo had a series of sales where they sold some of their house branded “Dominion Arms DA556” Chinese AR’s for around $500 (mind you, the Canadian dollar was close to par with American dollar at that time).
Also at that time, the “semi-automatic, tactical looking rifle” fad was catching on. The Canadian market became flooded with rifles like the Norinco T97, Swiss Arms, CZ-858 or even sporterized SKS’s. What many of these rifles benefited from was that at the time, they were classified as Non-Restricted, meaning they had the fewest regulations on registration, transporting and storage. All that is needed to possess a Non-restricted firearm in Canada is an appropriate license.
Also around this time, the long gun registry was abolished, meaning non-restricted firearms would have no requirement to be registered. This set into motion a move among domestic manufaturers to develop firearms with almost similiar apperances and manual of arms to the AR-15, but with sufficient mechanical and technical modifications so as to make them substantially different from the AR-15 and thus be classified as Non-restricted.
An insidious element of the Canadian Firearms Act is that it granted the Federal government the ability to arbitrarily re-classify firearms by name, with no consideration for any technical features of a firearm. Another, is that general technical specs used to define classifications of firearms in Canada are vague or outdated, failing to take into consideration new developments within firearms innovation and also being written by individuals with little technical knowledge related to manufacturing in general. This has often lead to conflicting statements, wherein the national police (the RCMP) would make decision that some guns or accessories are legal, leading to commercial vendors sell them to the public, and then later reverse their decisions saying those guns or accessories were prohibited from the start.
As a Canadian gun owner, this is infuriating, as we will purchase items in good faith from reputable commercial vendors only to find out months or years later that the RCMP later classified them as prohibtied and illegal. There is never any legal recourse of compensation.
Such is the case with being a gun owner in Canada.
Coming back to the AR-15, a major culture shift emerged in the early to mid-2010’s, as many younger youth and young adult shooters started getting into the sport.
These were kids who spent their childhood playing first person shooter video games, watching viral gun videos on YouTube, doing MilSim paintball and airsoft, or were veterans of the Afghanistan war, where the Canadian military first adopted “gunfighter” style shooting with emphasis on close-quarters rifle combat.
Whereas the older generations of AR shooters put more emphasis on classical, static rifle marksmanship, these newer shooters wanted to run and gun with an AR.
Within the Canadian context, Action Pistol sports, specifically IPSC and IDPA had a steady following all throughout the 2000’s and 2010’s. Target Shooting Associations who appealed to these disciplines of sports generally had shooting facilities set up that could accomodate run and gun style shooting. This included range template approvals from the RCMP that were rated for centrefire rifle shooting.
So it came to be that these Action Pistol supporting associations began setting up 3-gun programs.
This was coinciding with the rise of 3-Gun sport shooting within the US, which itself fed into the growing demand for 3-Gun shooting in Canada.
This brings us to the later-2010’s.
There are challenges with Canadian 3-gun. In particular that the mindset, regulations and economy of Canada are so different from the US, but the main formal 3-gun shooting rulesets are defined by and for the American firearms community. In particular, there are very different rules concerning magazine capacities, far fewer facilities that can support 3-gun shooting, far shorter and far worse weather seasons, and fewer opportunities in general to develop and host 3-gun programs.
Perhaps the worst challenge though is the persisting institutional opposition from other, older shooting disciplines and groups of gun owners, many of whom may control shooting facilities but are skeptical or openly hostile towards AR-15 ownership. This is a manifestation of the tendency of different groups of Canadian gunowners to infight, weakening their political position, and giving the radical anti-gun left an opening to push for prohibitive legislation.
All this said, the encouraging part of the AR-15 community is that the upcoming generation of shooters and AR-15 owners are very enthusiastic.
I think in the coming years, these AR and 3-Gun loving Young Guns will be the ones who de-legitimize and neutralize the argument by both the institutional, anti-gun left as well as the hostile anti-AR-15 gun owners.
Time will tell, let’s come back in 30 years and see.
In the meantime, I hope to see you on the range!