The Law in England & Wales relating to Firearms, Shotguns and Airguns
The following information is presented by Marple Rifle & Pistol Club (MRPC) in good faith. It is our understanding of certain aspects of current legislation covering the licensing of guns within England and Wales but should not be taken as a complete or definitive statement of the law. Any case of doubt should be referred to a solicitor specialising in firearms law, or the Firearms Licensing Unit of your local police force. Note especially that Northern Ireland, Scotland and locations such as the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are not covered by the following information and we advise that specialist help should be sought for any legal queries within these territories.
If you have a specific question concerning UK Gun Law and / or shooting within England and Wales and wish to ask our Legal Eagle for his advice, write to him (no telephone enquiries please), by clicking on the link shown below and asking Marple Rifle and Pistol Club's very own expert:
To possess any kind of firearm in the UK, any person, including foreign nationals resident within the UK, must normally hold either a Shotgun Certificate (SGC) or a Firearm Certificate (FAC). Air rifles which produce less than 12 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, and air pistols which produce less than 6 foot pounds of energy at the muzzle, are not classed as "firearms" for certification purposes, but they are still subject to various laws restricting their ownership and use: see Air Gun Information below for more details.
It is an offence under Section 21 Firearms Act 1968 as amended, for anyone convicted of a criminal offence, to handle, possess, or shoot a firearm and ammunition (this includes Air Guns). If the sentence was for more than three years the prohibition is for life; if less than three years the prohibition is for five years (note: it is the sentence, not the time served, which is the determining factor).
A firearm is, broadly speaking for certification purposes, any lethal, barrelled weapon which isn't a shotgun or an airgun or a "prohibited weapon". The term "prohibited weapon" covers a multitude of devices including, but not limited to, machine guns, rocket launchers, pepper sprays, semi-automatic and pump-action centrefire rifles, disguised firearms, grenades, torpedoes and "any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30cm in length or is less than 60cm in length overall" (the most common member of this last group is a cartridge loading pistol).
For the purposes of legal possession of a firearm, effectively the above leaves Blackpowder weapons (both rifles and pistols), manually loaded centre-fire cartridge rifles (and all types of .22 rimfire rifles), and manually loaded cartridge pistols with dimensions larger than those defined above. All these weapons are what are termed "Section 1" firearms and are held on a Section 1 Firearms Certificate (there are other Sections for different categories of firearms, for example machine guns are in Section 5 and historic breech-loading firearms are in Section 7). It is difficult for private citizens to obtain an FAC for other than one covering Section 1 firearms.
An application for an FAC can be obtained from any police force via their website. The emphasis nowadays is towards completion of the application online, but blank forms can still be downloaded and printed for offline completion. For an application to be successful applicants must demonstrate to the police that they have satisfactory security in place. They must also demonstrate that they have "good reason to possess" firearms and must produce such "good reason" for each individual firearm applied for. Unlike the SGC an FAC only gives authority for specific individual rifles or pistols, and the applicant must justify possession of each one separately. Applicants must nominate two referees to support their application and must declare all criminal convictions, no matter how old or trivial. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply in respect of firearms legislation. Once granted an FAC is valid for five years. A person over the age of 18 may be granted an FAC and may then buy firearms and ammunition as authorised by the certificate. An FAC may also be granted to a person between 14 and 18, but this will only authorise the possession of the firearms specified thereon - it will not authorise the purchase of firearms or ammunition. FACs are not granted to anyone under the age of 14.
Firearms storage and safe keeping in the home.
The precise requirements for storage of firearms are not actually specified in
law. The legislation merely says that they "must be stored securely at all
times so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, access to the guns
by unauthorized persons". In practice, a steel cabinet constructed and
certified to comply with BS 7558 and Rawlbolted to a solid wall is the norm. The
vast majority of commercially available gun and rifle cabinets meet the
necessary standards. If your premises have shared access, for example if you
live in a block of flats, the requirements may be more stringent. In all cases
the requirement to prevent access to the firearms by "unauthorised persons",
means anyone who doesn't personally hold a FAC. This means that even members of
your family must not have keys to the cabinet or even know where you keep them.
For further information on FAC procedures see the How to obtain a Firearm Certificate page.
A shotgun is, broadly speaking for certification purposes, a smooth-barrelled gun which discharges a number of pellets, rather than a single projectile, when it is fired. Shotguns held on a SGC must not be capable of holding more than three cartridges in total. They may be single barrel, double barrel, pump action or semi-automatic, but the three cartridge limit still applies and the barrel(s) must be longer than 24 inches. Pumps and semi-autos must be longer than 40 inches overall.
An application for a SGC can be obtained from any police force via their website. The emphasis nowadays is towards completion of the application online, but blank forms can still be downloaded and printed for offline completion. For an application to be successful applicants must demonstrate to the police that they have satisfactory security in place and that the possession of a shotgun would not constitute a danger to public safety or to the peace. Applicants must nominate a counter-signatory to approve their application and must declare all criminal convictions, no matter how old or trivial. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply in respect of firearms legislation. Once granted, an SGC is valid for five years and authorises the possession of any number of shotguns and most types of shotgun ammunition. There is no minimum age for the grant of an SGC.
Shotguns which have barrels shorter than 24 inches, or which are capable of firing more than three shots without reloading, may NOT be held on an SGC. They are dealt with under the FAC provisions. Similarly some types of shotgun ammunition, such as solid slug cartridges, may only be held on an FAC.
Shotgun storage and safe keeping in the home.
The precise requirements for storage of shotguns are not actually specified in law. The legislation merely says that they "must be stored securely at all times so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, access to the guns by unauthorized persons". In practice, a steel cabinet constructed and certified to comply with BS 7558 and Rawlbolted to a solid wall is the norm. The vast majority of commercially available gun and rifle cabinets meet the necessary standards. If your premises have shared access, for example if you live in a block of flats, the requirements may be more stringent. In all cases the requirement to prevent access to the shotgun by "unauthorised persons", means anyone who doesn't personally hold a SGC. This means that even members of your family must not have keys to the cabinet or even know where you keep them.
For further information on SGC procedures see the How to obtain a Shotgun Certificate page.
Air rifles which produce muzzle energy higher than 12 foot pounds and air pistols higher than 6 foot pounds at the muzzle, are classed as firearms and an FAC is necessary to possess them legally. If the gun is below the stated figures then no certification of any kind is required to either, buy, possess or use them. The onus is on the owner of the gun to ensure that it does not exceed those power levels. If the gun does exceed those levels, even if the owner is completely unaware of the fact, then the owner is guilty of illegal possession of a firearm.
People over the age of 18 may purchase and own low-powered air rifles and air pistols, and the ammunition for them, and use them, but only where they have specific permission to shoot.
People between 14 and 17 may borrow (but not own or purchase) low-powered air rifles and air pistols, and the ammunition for them, and may use them without supervision, on private premises where they have specific permission to shoot. People in this age group may NOT buy or hire an air rifle, air pistol or ammunition, or receive them as a gift. People in this age group may NOT have an air rifle or air pistol in a public place unless supervised by somebody aged 21 or over, AND have a reasonable excuse to do so.
People under 14 years of age may only use low-powered air rifles and air pistols on private property where they have specific permission to shoot, AND whilst they are under the direct supervision of someone 21 years of age or older. People in this age group may NOT buy, hire or receive an air rifle, air pistol or ammunition as a gift, or shoot, anywhere at any time, unless supervised by somebody aged 21 or over.
Any person on private property without permission is trespassing, and if that person has an air rifle or an air pistol, even a low-powered one in their possession, then they are committing the offence of armed trespass. It is irrelevant whether the gun is loaded or not, or even whether the person has any pellets in their possession. The mere possession of the airgun is sufficient for conviction. Armed trespass is a serious criminal offence carrying heavy penalties.
Air guns which make use of self-contained air or gas cartridges, where the gas or air propellant and the pellet or bullet are contained within a single self-contained cartridge are now prohibited. (The most common example was the Brocock revolver). People who owned such airguns prior to the ban in 2004 were permitted to retain them, but only if they were entered on an FAC. Even the ones held on an FAC may not now be sold, or even given away. The only permitted method of disposal is to hand them to the police for destruction. Possession of such airguns without an FAC carries exactly the same penalties as those for possession of other unauthorised firearms.
Airgun storage and safe keeping in the home.
Since air rifles producing less than 12 foot
pounds muzzle energy, and air pistols producing less than 6 foot pounds of
energy are not included in the firearms licensing procedures, the Firearms Acts
are silent on storage requirements for such guns. However, since 10th February
2011, there is a requirement under the Crime and Security Act 2010 that airgun
owners must "take reasonable precautions to stop unauthorised access to their
airguns by people under the age of 18." The law does not specify what
constitutes "reasonable precautions" and guidance to the police says that
each individual case will be dealt with on its merits and that, "it is not
possible to be prescriptive" about exact security provisions.
Blackpowder information (for Blackpowder Firearms and Blackpowder itself) see disclaimer above
To legally possess a muzzle loading
firearm which is to be actually used, rather than kept solely as an ornament or
curio, a Firearm Certificate (FAC) is necessary irrespective of the age of the
firearm. All the same restrictions apply as they do to a modern breech-loading
firearm. The restrictions on the grant of an Explosives Certificate are quite
severe and so if you have had any convictions of any kind it is important to
declare them all at the time of application.
Cost of Certificates (from 6th April 2015)
Firearm Certificates (FAC) (valid for 5 years)
Grant of firearm certificate
Renewal of firearm certificate
Variation of a firearm certificate (other than when it is renewed at the same time) so as to increase the number or type of firearms or quantity of ammunition to which the certificate relates.
Replacement of a firearm certificate which has been lost or destroyed.
Shot Gun Certificates (SGC) (valid for 5 years)
Grant of Shot Gun Certificate
Renewal of Shot Gun Certificate
Replacement of Shot Gun Certificate which has been lost or destroyed
Co-Terminous Certificate for both Firearms and Shotguns (valid for 5 years)
Grant of Co-Terminous certificate.
£90.00 (this is the way to go if you want both sorts of gun, as it is much cheaper than having separate certificates expiring at different times).
Renewal of Co-Terminous Certificate for both Firearms and Shotguns (valid for 5 years)
Explosives Certificates (necessary for Blackpowder shooting, but not needed if using Pyrodex)
To acquire and keep (valid for up to 5 years)
Please note that in British English spelling:
1) Licence is a noun and License is a verb.
2) Advice is a noun and Advise is a verb.
The Legal Eagle facility was launched on 4th February 2011