The Canadian Firearms Safety Course: The experience of a first timer

By Jennifer Hansen, BCWF Marketing and Communications Coordinator

One of the first questions that my Canadian Firearms Safety Course (CFSC) instructor asked us was why we were there.  

A few of the 11 participants in my class wanted to own guns to shoot at a range for fun. A few people were interested specifically in hunting.  

Several of the participants wanted to be able to legally own firearms so that they could inherit sentimental ones passed down through their families.

Finally, a few were primarily attending for education or career advancement.  

To this end, our instructor made one thing very clear: Despite our disparate reasons for taking the course, whether we planned to own firearms, or how we planned to use them, his goal was to ensure that we all left well educated on the safe handling and use of firearms so that if we pass, get our license, and go out into the world to purchase and use firearms, that we are able to do safely. 

And safety was the absolute foundation of the course. While the two-day program covered the various types of firearms, types of ammunition, and how firearms operate, it constantly circled back to safety from both a legal and social perspective.  

Background on the CFSC and PAL Requirements 

I signed up for the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and the Canadian Restricted Firearms Safety Course, in an attempt to get two different licenses: The Possession and Acquisition License (PAL) that would allow me to own and purchase or inherit non-restricted firearms as well as the Restricted Possession and Acquisition License (RPAL) for restricted firearms. 

Taking both courses makes sense because it isn’t that much more expensive to take both, and, as my instructor pointed out, the legislation around firearms is constantly changing and should anyone purchase a non-restricted firearm that is later reclassified to restricted, they don’t have to worry about recertifying to keep that firearm.  

You may have noted that I said “in an attempt to” get the license, and it’s important to remember that passing the CFSC does not guarantee getting a license. If you pass the CFSC, you can apply to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and they will do a background check and contact references prior to granting a license. They can also take that license away at any time.  

It is also important to note that there is a mandatory waiting period of 28 days for all new PAL applicants, meaning that in Canada no one can sign up for the CFSC and purchase a firearm the same month. Due to government backlog, the wait will likely be much, much longer.  

In addition to the above, PAL holders must be at least 18 years of age and a Canadian resident.  

The Canadian Firearms Safety Course 

Honestly, I was dreading spending my entire weekend in a classroom. Both Saturday and Sunday were scheduled from 9 am to 5 pm, with 9 hours being devoted to non-restricted firearms and six hours of classroom time on restricted firearms.  

And note, all the training was done in the classroom. We did not set foot on a range, we did not go outside, we did not shoot live rounds. We only practiced with deactivated firearms and ammunition. 

That being said, our instructor made it really entertaining. I found the course to be well-paced, there was plenty of time to ask questions, and I didn’t feel that any of the topics covered were overly rushed or unnecessarily dragged out. We were given a long enough break to go pick up lunch, but none of my classmates or I were expecting it so we all packed food. 

Our time was divided between listing to a lecture and handling the nine deactivated firearms that the instructor provided. As I had no experience handling firearms, I found them intimidating at first, but after spending some time with them, I started to get the hang of it. I was a lot more comfortable handling them all by the second day, and that seemed to be the general consensus in the room.  

Fundamentally, the course was based on two acronyms: ACTS and PROVE 

  • A: Assume every firearm is loaded. 
  • C: Control the muzzle direction at all times. 
  • T: Trigger finger must be kept off the trigger and out of the trigger guard. 
  • S: See that the firearm is unloaded by proving it safe. 

PROVE it safe: 

  • P: Point the firearm in the safest available direction. 
  • R: Remove all ammunition. 
  • O: Observe the chamber. 
  • V: Verify the feeding path. 
  • E: Examine the bore each time you pick up a firearm. 

As well as our new mantra, “students put guns down open.” 

While the written portion of the exam requires some study and memorization, being able to follow ACTS and PROVE in practice, as well as basic firearm identification and loading ammunition are the fundamental skills needed to pass the practical.  

They are also essential to operating a firearm safely in the field or on a range, so it’s not just about passing the test, it’s about learning essential skills. While it may take some time and practice to acquire the muscle memory to handle the firearms comfortably, he explained that once we get the hang of it, we’ll be able to follow these steps without even thinking about it. As an example, he showed us a video of himself stumbling and falling off an obstacle course during an International Practical Shooting Confederation (IPSC) Match and still managing to keep the muzzle aimed in the safest direction.  

Social Responsibilities 

One thing that I found interesting, and I don’t know if this is universal across all courses, was that in addition to explaining the legal minimum that was required, our instructor went through things that we should do as a good citizen. This included range etiquette, maintaining the firearm, wearing the proper safety equipment, going above and beyond to store and transport firearms safely, and getting our eyesight checked regularly.  

Our instructor also emphasized that doing the legal minimum would not always be enough. For example, he mentioned that we are allowed to walk down the street carrying a non-restricted firearm  as long as we are holding a PAL and have P.R.O.V.E.d the firearm safe, but that if you are a responsible gun owner, you’re going to do more. Because otherwise people will call the police. Because they don’t know that it’s a non-restricted, P.R.O.V.E.d-safe firearm, and they will be justifiably scared.  

The same goes for storing firearms in your home. Yes, there’s a legal minimum, but having extra locks doesn’t hurt.  

Concluding Thoughts 

I definitely came out of the course with a better understanding of firearms and how they work, as well as what to do in situations where a firearm is present. I also have more confidence in my own ability to handle firearms, and more respect for what hunters and range users do to ensure that they are operating firearms safely. 

I also know that there is a certain percentage of people who will say that firearms are never safe, and that no amount of locks will allow them to sleep comfortably at night with a firearm in their home, and that’s fair. Different people have different risk allowances. 

Whether I ever acquire a firearm is still very much up in the air. I’m glad that I can better support the education and advocacy work that the BCWF does, and to support events such as as National Range Day.  

However, I really feel that for me, taking the PAL course and gaining that education was a positive experience. Even if I don’t decide to own a firearm or keep one in my home, there is real value in being able to handle firearms safely and to P.R.O.V.E. one safe in any situation. 

Learn more about the Canadian Firearms Safety Course and the steps to getting your PAL in the Learn to Hunt and Fish Series online presentation, “Learn to Hunt: How to Get Your Canadian Firearms Licence” with Travis and Tiffany Bader of Silvercore, Inc. on Wednesday, September 6, 2023 at 7:00pm PST via Zoom. Register now at

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