The death of an Alberta peace officer has once again led to questions about who should be allowed to carry handguns in Canada.

Rod Lazenby's death on Aug. 10 led to charges of first degree murder against Trevor Kloschinsky.

On-duty police officers can carry handguns. But Lazenby, a retired Mountie who was working as a bylaw officer in the Foothills district, south of Calgary, was believed to be unarmed.

News reports said most Foothills district peace officers are armed only with pepper spray and a baton. But Lazenby was reported to be a level-two peace officer who did not even carry that equipment.

Since 2007, Canadian border guards have been carrying side arms. In fiscal year 2008-2009, border guards deployed a gun 34 times but none were actually fired, according to report obtained through an access to information request by the Canadian Press in 2009.

The Firearms Act and Regulations spells out who else in Canada can legally carry handguns. Under the Criminal Code, handguns are classified as either restricted firearms or prohibited firearms, which require an "authorization to carry."

Two categories for handgun authorization

There are just two categories of individuals who are allowed an authorization to carry: those who require one because of their occupations and those who need one for the "protection of life." They need to get an authorization from the chief firearms officer for their province or territory.

According to RCMP data the National Firearms Association received in response to a recent access to information request, the average number of authorizations to carry issued was 8,169 per year between 2005-2011. The report does not provide a breakdown on the reasons for authorization. The access request was for information on training in firearms proficiency.

The occupation category includes armoured car guards who require firearms "for the purpose of protecting his or her life or the lives of other individuals."

The actual wording in the act permits the carrying of handguns if "the individual's principal activity is the handling, transportation or protection of cash, negotiable instruments or other goods of substantial value."

If one's life could be threatened by wild animals while working in a remote wilderness area and firearms are required for protection, then the act states that authorization is possible.

In 2002, 259 people who worked in remote wilderness were authorized to carry handguns, along with an additional 82 trappers.

Those numbers come from an access to information request by Conservative MP Garry Breitkreuz in 2006. As well, 5,831 armoured car guards had authorization.

Protection of life authorizations rare

Very few authorizations are made under the protection of life category. These would mostly include cases where there is an active police file and a verifiable threat as well as police confirmation that they cannot provide adequate protection for that person.

Section 117 of the Criminal Code of Canada exempts on-duty police officers, members of the Canadian Forces, peace officers and persons training to be become police or peace officers from the restrictions on carrying handguns.

There are also provincial regulations that cover who may or may not legally carry a handgun. For example, Alberta regulations set out two levels of peace officers, with different weapons authorizations.

There are also laws and regulations that apply to shooting ranges, guns shows and transporting handguns to them.