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Rules on gun buying and licencing in the UK

To buy a shotgun in Britain you need to hold a Shotgun Certificate, and to buy a rifle you need to hold a Fire Arm Certificate. You can ask for forms for these from your local police station.

Ask also to speak to your local police firearms liaison officer, who will tell you what you need to fill those forms out to his or her satisfaction. They may also want to see a 'good reason' for you wanting a gun, such as membership of a clay shooting club or pest control. They usually want to see that you will keep your gun or guns in a secure place, such as a steel gun cabinet bolted to a wall. You have to store ammunition separately.

A shotgun is described as a smooth-bore gun (not being an air-weapon) which has a barrel not less than 24 inches with a bore diameter not exceeding 2 inches. A firearm usually describes a cartridge-loading, rifled-barrel longarm (rifle) with a barrel not shorter than 300mm. Overall length of the firearm must not be less than 600mm unless it is a muzzle loader. Firearms include: muzzle-loading rifles or pistols; shotguns with a magazine capacity greater than three; airguns with power ratings exceeding 12 ft/lbs for rifles and 6ft/lbs for pistols; and historic pistols kept at home as part of a collection or kept at a designated historic site and used for non-competitive target practice.

People who apply for a Firearm Certificate for a rifle or muzzle-loading pistol from 1 October 1997 need to be a member of a rifle or muzzle-loading pistol club approved by the Home Office or Scottish Office under the Firearms Acts if they intend to use the gun for target shooting only. Muzzle loaders are now the only legal useable handguns available to UK shooters (apart from the historic cartridge firing handguns kept at designated sites). However, in order to conduct your shooting you will need a supply of blackpowder which as a classified explosive, has its own restrictions requiring the acquisition of a blackpowder certificate from your police force.

It is an offence to fire a gun within 50 feet of a roadway, public footpath or bridleway if by doing so any member of the public is endangered. It is an offence to carry a loaded gun in a public place without good reason. An gun may be considered loaded even if the bullets (or pellets in the case of air rifles) are in a detached magazine.

Post 1997 rule changes

From 1997, firearm and shotgun certification became more stringent. Among the extra hurdles added, people who now apply for Firearms Certificates have to provide two referees, and the police are able to revoke a Firearms Certificate in cases where the holder no longer has a good reason to possess firearms or ammunition.

Certain types of firearm are hard to obtain in Britain without a stringent Home Office licence. These include automatic weapons and most handguns.

The 1997 handgun ban also made buying any gun more difficult. These transactions have to take place face to face rather than by mail-order, as before. The 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act made it illegal to send to any individual who is not a Registered Firearms Dealer a gun that requires a certificate or any metallic ammunition of .22 calibre and above. This also applies to transfers of ammunition which requires a Firearms Certificate. It does not apply to shotgun cartridges.

Guns can, however, be sent by a Registered Firearms Dealer (i.e. any gun shop) to another RFD. If you buy your guns mail order you will either have to set up a relationship with a friendly local RFD or be prepared to travel. This site will help you find an RFD in every area of the UK.

Not all RFD holders will be happy to accept guns that have been retailed by other dealers and all are perfectly entitled to levy a charge for this service. 

Age Limits for Shotgun and Firearms Certificates

You have to be aged 14 or over to have a Firearms Certificate. If you are aged less than 14 you can have a Shotgun Certificate as long as you have your parent's signed permission. You must be aged 14 or over to purchase an airgun and ammunition. If you are aged between 14 and 18 years, you may borrow a gun or have one bought for you by someone aged 18 or over, and you may use it without supervision on private property where you have a right to be. If you are under 14 you may use an airgun on private property but you must be supervised by someone over the age of 21 at all times. It is unlawful for an under-14-year-old to possess a gun and ammunition without supervision.

A person under eighteen is prohibited by Firearms Act (Amendment) Regulations 2010, No 1759 from purchasing or hiring any firearm or ammunition as defined by section 1 of the 1968 Act and a shot gun and ammunition as defined by section 2 of the 1968 Act

Age restrictions apply as follows:

Under 14 years
CAN

  • CAN hold a shotgun certificate

CANNOT

  • CANNOT hold a firearm certificate
  • CANNOT purchase or hire shotguns until 18 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT receive a gift of a shotgun until 15 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)

Under 15 years old
CAN

  • CAN hold a shotgun certificate
  • CAN hold a firearm certificate and
  • CAN Receive a gift of a Section 1 firearm from the age of 14 years old (If authorised by the relevant certificate)

CANNOT

  • CANNOT Purchase or hire a shotgun until 18 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT Purchase or hire a firearm until 18 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT Receive a gift of a shotgun until 15 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT Have an assembled shotgun unless supervised by a shotgun certificate holder over 21 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT Have an uncovered / unsecured shotgun until 15 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)

Under 18 years old
CAN

  • CAN hold a shotgun certificate
  • CAN hold a firearm certificate
  • CAN Receive a gift of a shotgun from the age of 15 years (If authorised by the relevant certificate)
  • CAN Receive a gift of a firearm from the age of 14 years (If authorised by the relevant certificate)
  • CAN Possess a shotgun if covered and secured from the age of 15 years (If authorised by the relevant certificate)

CANNOT

  • CANNOT Purchase or hire shotguns until 18 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)
  • CANNOT Purchase or hire firearms until 18 years old (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate)

With thanks to Dorset Police for age restriction information.

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