law relating to firearms


Source: Popular Mechanics


The law relating to firearms in the UK is complex.

The Firearms Act 1968 Section 57 (1) defined a firearm as:

‘Means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged (and includes any prohibited weapon, any component of such a lethal or prohibited weapon.


The Act also created a number of offences (Source: Crown Prosecution Service 2003):

  • Possession of a firearm/ dangerous air weapon without a certificate (Section 1)
  • Possession of a shotgun without a certificate (Section 2)
  • Dealing in firearms without registration (Section 3)
  • Shortening or converting a firearm (Section 4)
  • Possession of a prohibited weapon (Section 5)
  • Possession of a firearm with intent to endanger life (Section 16)
  • Possession of a firearm/ imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence (Section 16 A)
  • Using a firearm to resist arrest (Section 17(1))
  • Carrying a firearm/ imitation firearm with criminal intent (Section 18)
  • Carrying a firearm/ air weapon in a public place (Section 19)
  • Possession on a firearm by a convicted person (Section 21)


The term 'discharge' is not defined in Statute, but the dictionary definition is 'sends out, disburden, send forth, emit' - a definition accepted in Flack V Baldry (1988).



imitation firearms


imitation firearms (Wikipedia)


Imitation firearms having the appearance of a section 1 firearm are also covered by these prohibitions by virtue of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 S. 37 (which amends S. 19 Firearms Act 1968). This Act creates an offence 'to carry an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse'.

An 'imitation firearm' is defined in the 1968 Act S. 57 (4) as 'covers anything that has the appearance of a firearm whether or not it is capable of discharging a shot or bullet'.

Interestingly, fingers held in shape of a gun under a jacket held not to be an imitation firearm (R V Bentham).


Air soft gun (Wikipedia)


firearms policy


Firearms legislation limits the age of those persons able to possess a firearm, for example no one under 14 years of age can acquire or use any firearm or ammunition unless as a member of a recognised club, or when in a shooting gallery using miniature rifles or air weapons.

The Police issues firearms and shotgun certificates, and statistics gathered by the Home Office indicate that 122,076 firearm certificates were on issue at the end of March 2004 in England and Wales covering 342,213 firearms. There were also 569.948 shotgun licences covering 1,372,712 shotguns (Home Office 2005).

Crimes involving firearms in the UK are on the increase – rising by 35% in England and Wales in 2002, with the number of firearm related homicides rising by 32% to 97. There are regional differences, with London accounting for 4,192 offences, followed by Greater Manchester and the West Midlands (Tendler 2003).

‘Sawn-off’ shotguns are section 1 firearms, and possession therefore requires a firearms certificate and not a shotgun certificate. This distinction is important, as somebody of ‘good character’ can possess a shotgun certificate, whilst a firearms certificate is only given where strict criteria have been met. The Firearms Amendment Act 1988 section 6 makes it an offence to shorten the barrel of a shotgun to less than 60 cm (Mason 2001).

Following public concern in the UK about the extent of handgun related crime, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 amended the Firearms Act 1968 S. 5 and prohibited all handguns, except low powered airguns, certain small-calibre pistols and revolvers (.22 or smaller rimfire cartridges), muzzle loaded pistols, antiques and flare guns i.e. small firearms (<60cm length; <30cm barrel length) (Home Office 1997).

The ownership and use of firearms in the USA is on an altogether different and massive scale. In 1992, 37,776 Americans were killed by firearms, with a further 134,000 victims of gunshot wounds survived. This compared with a total of 4095 Americans killed by sharp force trauma, and 3,100,000 injured by knives etc. Annual deaths by gunshot per capita stands at 70 times that of the UK (Miller et al 1997 and Patterson 2003).

The estimated costs of gunshot wounds to the US economy are $126 billion, or $154,000 per gunshot survivor, or $495 per capita. The costs related to sharp force trauma were $46 billion or $11,000 per survivor.


  • Mason J.K. (2001), ‘Forensic Medicine for Lawyers’, Butterworths

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