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British Gun Laws – What it Takes to (Lawfully) Own a Gun

In my previous blog post, I reviewed an unfortunate firearms incident that prompted the use of the mandatory minimum sentencing laws.  I mentioned the stringent laws applying to firearms in Great Britain and thought it would be good to provide a brief overview of the legislation in terms of what exactly is required to lawfully own a firearm.

The Firearms Acts 1968–1997 control the use and possession of firearms, and they are divided up into a number of different categories – for example, firearms; prohibited weapons; shot guns; air weapons; imitation firearms, etc.  A leading Criminal Law Treatise, Blackstone’s Criminal Practice, notes that the Firearms Acts create a “regulatory regime that is coercively enforced by way of criminal offences and penal sanctions.”  This stringent legislation may in part account for Britain’s relatively low statistics for the use of firearms in crime – in 2008-2009 firearms were used in only 0.3 percent of all recorded crimes and were responsible for the deaths of thirty nine people.

The main legislation governing the lawful use of firearms is the Firearms Act 1968.  There are many offenses provided for under the firearms legislation that aim to control and restrict their use.  It is unlawful  to possess, purchase or acquire a firearm or shotgun in Britain without a certificate, although this regulation is subject to certain exemptions.  Individuals that wish to obtain a certificate to possess a firearm or shotgun must apply to the chief officer of police in the area in which they reside and show that they have a ‘good reason’ to possess each firearm.  Conditions under which the firearm or shotgun may be used may be attached to any certificate granted.  Once granted, the certificate will typically be valid for a five year period.  However, it may be revoked (or not issued in the first instance) if the person is:

  • A danger to public safety
  • Of intemperate habits
  • Of unsound mind
  • Unfit to be entrusted with such a firearm
  • No longer has ‘good reason’ for possession.

The term ‘good reason’ for possession of the weapon includes for reasons connected with the certificate holders profession, sport or recreation.  The desire to own a particular weapon is not a sufficiently good reason to obtain a firearms certificate.  The implementation of these criteria has been developed through case law over the past half century.

While the legislation that allows possession of firearms is relatively stringent, the certificates are still granted.  For the period 2008-2009, 138,728 certificates for firearms and 574,946 certificates for shotguns were approved.  The refusal rate of certificates for these weapons were one and two percent, respectively.

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