MAGAZINE CAPACITY EXPLAINED

Beginning with the ill-fated Bill C-80 in May of 1990, the landscape of firearm ownership in Canada changed significantly when Bill C-17 passed into law in December of 1991. Essentially a revision of the former, one of the changes that came into enforcement as of 1993 was new laws governing magazine capacities as set out in Part Four of the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted.

What exactly does it say? Quite a bit, but most importantly:

 3 (1) Any cartridge magazine

            (a) that is capable of containing more than five cartridges of the type for which the magazine was originally designed and that is designed or manufactured for use in      

                (ii) a semi-automatic firearm other than a semi-automatic handgun 

            (b) that is capable of containing more than 10 cartridges of the type for which the magazine was originally designed and that is designed or manufactured for use in a semi-automatic handgun that is commonly available in Canada.

It goes on with further sub-sections to make exceptions, as an example, for the Lee Enfields and M1 Garand (including variants thereof) given the ten cartridge capacities of the Lee’s box magazine and M1’s eight cartridge en-bloc clip. But back on point, and simply put, magazine capacities are generally limited to five cartridges for most magazines designed for a semi-automatic centre-fire long gun or ten cartridges for most handgun magazines. Deviation in excess thereof is deemed to be a prohibited device. Right?

Well, not quite.

While the legislation regulating magazine capacities is about as specific as legislators could possibly make it, the ability to craft a law which can comprehensively regulate the specific use of hundreds of various types of magazines in concert with the thousands of different types of firearms extant in this country is impossible. Predictably, this has led to areas in which the language of the law is deficient and, as suggested by some, a ‘loophole’ exists. However, it is anything but.

Because legislators used broad strokes to ensure Bill C-17 included provisions to limit all rifle magazines to contain only five cartridges and that all pistol magazines only ten cartridges of their intended calibre; the wording of the law becomes vague when you consider that, when drafting the law, legislators included the caveat that all magazine capacities were to be determined by the specific calibre and firearm for which the magazine was designed. And from this, two areas of interest present themselves when you consider some examples of such.

A prime and frequently referenced example is the RRA LAR-15 pistol: a .223 chambered pistol which is based on the AR-15 platform of rifles. For examples sold in Canada, they include stamped ten cartridge capacity magazines which, being STANAG, will seat in your standard AR-15 rifle and double five cartridge magazine capacities. Another is the Beretta pistol magazine designed for .40 S&W and so modified to limit its capacity to the legally prescribed 10 rounds of .40 S&W. It can be filled with 12 rounds of 9mm Parabellum ammunition due to the difference in case size.

Recognizing the specific wording didn’t address such a scenario, a group of competitive shooters were prompted into action and sought a definitive ruling on the matter of using .40 S&W magazines in 9mm competition handguns for a two to three round advantage in the matter of the Beretta. To address concerns, the RCMP posted information in regard to this matter in Special Bulletin for Businesses # 72 as it pertains to Part Four of the Regulations Prescribing Certain Firearms and other Weapons, Components and Parts of Weapons, Accessories, Cartridge Magazines, Ammunition and Projectiles as Prohibited or Restricted.

Undoubtedly the strongest piece of evidence is supplied by can be by none other than the RCMP themselves for those that are still not convinced of the legality of this: who may consider such actions to be exploiting a loophole or entering a legally grey area.

Again, it discusses several matters and most important are paragraphs four and five:

  1. The maximum permitted capacity of a magazine is determined by the kind of firearm it is designed or manufactured for use in and not the kind of firearm it might actually be used in. As a consequence, the maximum permitted capacity remains the same regardless of which firearm it might be used in.
  1. Magazines designed to contain centre fire cartridges and designed or manufactured for use in a semiautomatic handgun, are limited to 10 cartridges. The capacity is measured by the kind of cartridge the magazine was designed to contain. In some cases the magazine will be capable of containing more than 10 rounds of a different (sic)calibre; however that is not relevant in the determination of the maximum permitted capacity.

One thing we should mention regards centre-fire cartridge magazines designed for use in both semi-automatic rifles and semi-automatic handguns, as per paragraph two of the Special Bulletin for Businesses # 72. Because the magazine is non-specific to the intended firearm, it is limited in its capacity to five cartridges regardless of whether or not it is used in a pistol. Under regulations, magazines must be stamped in such a manner that the intended firearm or calibre is identified on the magazine itself. You need not let that worry you if you’re considering the purchase of applicable magazines for this purpose. Given strict importation regulations and manufacturing constraints surrounding magazines in Canada; you can rest assured that, assuming it was purchased via a reputable retailer or distributor, the magazines are consistent with Canadian firearm laws and regulations. But, given how things seem to work, it’s never a bad thing to double check first.

So now that you’re aware of what really is and isn’t allowed – what is available?

The most frequently encountered examples are likely the use of 9mm Parabellum cartridges in .40 S&W magazines, be it in pistols or pistol calibre carbines. We set about testing a collection of commonly used factory .40 S&W magazines with 9mm cartridges to see how well they would function. Bear in mind too, it should be noted that sourcing magazines with tighter feed lips may produce favourable results.

Our first subject was a Glock .40 S&W. Right from the get go, it became obvious to us that the Glock magazine wasn’t the most cooperative and proved difficult to load compared to the others we achieved functionality in. We managed to get 11 cartridges into the magazine which, during the process, liked to tilt upward and necessitate some adjustments. While manually unloading it, the spring pressure combined with the relatively wide feed lips (.384” at the front and .377” at the rear) made the possibility of two cartridges ejecting simultaneously a potential issue during use. With options for use in pistol calibre carbines such as the Kel-Tec Sub-2000, JR Carbine, or Thureon Carbine- it might be worth testing to get the full advantage of the added rounds; however, it probably isn’t worth the trouble in a pistol for a single cartridge.

Next was the S&W M&P40 and it was exceptionally good for loading, done so with a seemingly effortless process. We were able to load 12 cartridges into the magazine and the cartridges seated quite nicely once the magazine was charged. The not so good was the result of its wide feed lips, measured by us at .387” at the front and .383” at the rear. The result was similar to that of the Glock magazine, but inherently far more prevalent. While manually unloading the magazine, rounds were more than able to pop out even before they were pushed forward to release from the magazine. As you can imagine, this would be potentially problematic while in use and we would caution its use.

Our third test subject was the H&K P30 and it was exceptional. Charging the magazine was a breeze and we only noticed some minor cartridge tilting during the process, which isn’t overly challenging to rectify. Once fully charged, a total of 12 rounds were able to be seated and we immediately noticed that the feed lips provided a smaller gap (.370” at front and .361” at rear), which led us to predict that it would require the cartridge to be pushed forward to properly eject. Manually unloading the magazine proved our thoughts correct and the rounds necessitated such to eject correctly form the mag, with following cartridges slotting up nicely. If this magazine is an option to you, it would prove quite reliable firing 9mm.

Our last functional test magazine was that of the SIG Sauer P229 .40 S&W. While capable of accommodating 13 cartridges, it presented itself as a bit of a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in this matter. Effortless much like its H&K alternative up to 12 cartridges, we found the 13th to be somewhat cumbersome. The first issue is getting the 13th cartridge into the magazine which, we suspect, is the cause of the other issue we observed. About an inch and a half down from the feed lips, there is slight step in the magazine body that, with the added spring pressure of the 13th cartridge, causes the staggered 9mm cartridges to jam. With the reduced spring pressure of only 12 cartridges, we found this issue was less frequent and almost non-existent with active shaking of the magazine itself – something we’re confident recoil during its use will keep in check.

The other magazine we tested was an example from CZ and its feed lips were simply too wide to prevent the spring and magazine follower from pushing out the cartridges like confetti. This was quite unfortunate given our affection for the CZ 75 Shadow Tactical. Others we were unable to test included the options from Ruger and Beretta. While we can offer no opinion for that of the Ruger, we can tell you that the Beretta magazines are quite well known for their relative reliability in this regard. When you combine that with the option to slide one of their magazines into a 9mm chambered CX4 Storm, those of you who adore a pistol and pistol calibre carbine sharing the same magazines must be a happy lot indeed.

Other options and restrictions exist as well. Of note, the fate of the .50 Beowulf magazine sits in the hands of the RCMP at the time of this publication. If you haven’t heard of it, Alexander Arms took a .50 Action Express and created the .50 Beowulf cartridge for its .50 chambered AR-15. Firearm enthusiasts in Canada, already aware of the laws surrounding magazine capacities, recognized the STANAG format magazine which is specifically stamped for .50 Beowulf cartridges. Because the follow plate is essentially no different from that of any other STANAG magazine, the previously straight stacked five cartridges of Beowulf essentially allowed for .223 to be staggered up to ten cartridges with full functionality in a standard AR-15 rifle. If you’re looking to get one, on top of the fact that they’re already quite difficult to procure, we should caution you to wait until a decision is made. As they’re under review, its use is actually prohibited. For those of you who have one, fret not. So as long as you don’t use it, it is our understanding it will not be considered a prohibited device.

And lastly, as it applies to rim-fire and as most of you probably already know, magazines designed for rim-fire cartridges for use in a rifle is unlimited. That is, unless, it is also designed for use in a semi-automatic handgun. As it would be if intended for use in the pistol, the magazine is limited to ten cartridges whether or not it’s being used in the rifle itself. This brings to attention something for which we should all be aware. As can be seen in the Business Special Bulletin #72, it exemplifies Ruger’s BX-25 magazine. Capable of seating in their SR22 rifle, other variants of .22 rifles, and Ruger’s 22 Charger handgun, it makes it clear, as should be expected, that unless it is pinned to limit its capacity to ten cartridges it is then considered a prohibited device. As per the posting, this wasn’t included in the original bulletin and only added as recently as September of 2013.

This should serve as a reminder, especially in wake of the sudden and less than popular changes to the classification of the Swiss Arms and CZ v2 rifles, that we should remain vigilant in staying on top of the still changing landscape of firearms ownership in Canada. With the pending decision on that of the Beowulf magazines, a decision against such could set up a potentially detrimental precedent to the application of the law surrounding magazine capacities as they exist now. As always, we always encourage shooters to gain clarification when doubt arises and hope that this will have helped some of you in this regard.

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