Firearms Licensing



What is a Firearm?


"Firearm", within the definition of the Firearms Acts, means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description, from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged. It includes any prohibited weapon, whether it is such a lethal weapon as aforesaid or not, and any component part of such a weapon, and any accessory to such weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by the firing of the weapon.


Firearm, within the terms of what you are allowed to hold on a firearm certificate, would obviously not include any prohibited weapons. Neither would it include "shotguns", as they are held on a shotgun certificate. Except, that is, for Section 1 shotguns, which can only be held on a firearm certificate.


What is a Section 1 shotgun?


A Section 1 shotgun differs from a conventional shotgun, by virtue of the fact that it has a magazine capable of holding more than two cartridges. These are known as "pump-action" or "semi-automatic" shotguns, where cartridges from the magazine are loaded by hand "pumping" the action, or by the discharge of the previous round. These weapons are required to be held on a firearm certificate.


What is a prohibited weapon?


This is too large a subject to describe here. It has its own section, Prohibited Weapons, where greater detail is available.


So, what can be held on a firearm certificate?


Well, if you take away Section 2 shotguns, which are held on a shotgun certificate, and also eliminate prohibited weapons, you can have any other weapon you want. Provided you can supply a "good reason".


Most applicants require small or full bore rifles for target shooting, as a member of a Home Office approved club. Others request muzzle-loading hand guns for the same reason. Others still, use rifles for vermin control or deer stalking. Provided good reason is satisfied, all these weapons can be legally held on a firearm certificate.


What do I do if I move address?


Moving house is a traumatic enough experience on its own, without the worry of firearms. Nevertheless, it is your responsibility to ensure that your weapons are secure during the moving process. The easiest way to do this is to arrange to store your firearms with a Registered Firearms Dealer. Your shotguns can be temporarily stored with another shotgun certificate holder, providing he has the accommodation, but remember the 72 hour rule. If he has them for longer than that, they must be entered on his certificate.


If you are moving within the area of your present certificate authority, you must inform them immediately, in writing, and return your existing certificate for amendment. Please be sure to include a daytime contact telephone number.


If you have been unable to temporarily store your weapons elsewhere, you should immediately secure your cabinet, with rawl-bolts, to a solid brick wall inside your house.


A Firearms Enquiry Officer will contact you and arrange for a security inspection at your new home. If you have already returned your old certificate, he will probably bring your new certificate with him. Should he discover that security at your new home requires upgrading, he will provide you with the full details on an official form. You will be allowed ample time to upgrade your security, normally 28 days, but if you find you cannot meet the deadline, contact your Firearms Enquiry Officer. Provided you have made a concerted effort to complete the work, you will normally find a sympathetic ear, and get a short extension.


If security is found to be totally inadequate, with little likelihood of meeting the required standard in the foreseeable future, you will be required to store your weapons elsewhere until the matter is resolved.


If you are moving to a different Firearms Licensing authority area, most of the above advice still holds true, However, you should immediately contact the Firearms Licensing Office for your new area, and they will inform you of what their procedure is. You should also inform your present Firearms Licensing Office of your intended move, in order that your existing file can be passed to your new authority.


What is an 'Antique' Firearm


The word "antique" is not defined anywhere within any of the Firearms Acts or Regulations, so how do we know what is acceptable as "antique"?Firearms Antique


Dictionary definitions include "not of our time" and "a relic of former times".


Consequently it must be accepted that modern reproductions, even of very old flintlocks, etc., cannot be antique.
Many people use the old maxim that over 100 years old means it is antique. To a great extent this will prove to be true, but there are always the exceptions to the rule. There are some old weapons which are still capable of firing a modern centre fire cartridge, and are therefore not classified as antique.


It may be easier to understand what is acceptable as antique, if we first establish what is "modern". Modern, in relation to firearms, has now been established as: manufactured since or during the Second World War. The following tables are a guide as to what may or may not be antique. In reality every case will need to be judged on its own merit.




  • All muzzle loading firearms, except those of "modern" manufacture.
  • Breech loading firearms capable of discharging a rim fire cartridge exceeding .23" calibre (or its metric equivalent), but not 9mm.
  • Breech loading firearms using ignition systems other than rim fire or centre fire. (e.g. pin-fire and needle-fire).
  • Breech loading firearms incapable of firing a centre fire cartridge.

Not Antiques


  • Breech loading firearms capable of firing either:
    - a centre fire cartridge
    - a rim fire cartridge not exceeding .23" (or its metric equivalent)
    - a 9mm rim fire cartridge
  • All firearms of "Modern" manufacture.
  • All ammunition.

If a firearm falls within the accepted definition of antique, then it is no longer subject to the provisions of the Firearms Acts, providing it is kept as a curio or ornament. It will be seen above that no ammunition can be classified as antique and the possession of suitable ammunition, for use with an otherwise antique firearm, may indicate that the firearm is not possessed as a curio or ornament.


For further information please visit The Home Office guidance on Antique Firearms and the Law at Web Link


What are 'Deactivated' Weapons?


Deactivated weapons are any firearms which have been converted, in such a manner that they can no longer discharge any shot, bullet or other missile. More importantly, deactivation is intended to be permanent and such firearms should be incapable of being reactivated without specialist tools or skills.


Deactivation work carried out in the UK since 1st July 1989 will generally have been endorsed by one of the Proof Houses, the weapon proof-marked and a certificate of deactivation issued. To these ends, any weapon, even a prohibited weapon such as a machine gun, can be deactivated. The outcome is that the weapon is no longer a firearm within the meaning of the Firearms Acts, and consequently may be possessed without a firearm or shotgun certificate and may be displayed in the owner's home, rather than be locked in a gun cabinet.


Deactivation of a firearm is not something to be undertaken by the layman. There are stringent requirements before a weapon can be proofed as deactivated and such work is best left to a gunsmith. A Registered Firearms Dealer is the best person to speak to if you require a weapon to be deactivated. He can make all the necessary arrangements for you, including deactivation of the weapon and getting it proofed.


Although the above references to proofing and certification do not preclude the possibility that a firearm which has been deactivated in some other way may also have ceased to be a firearm within the meaning of the 1968 Act (as amended), it is important that care is taken when acquiring any firearm which is described as deactivated. You should ensure that you are shown the Proof House mark and certificate issued in respect of any gun deactivated in the UK since 1st July 1989.


Further advice may be sought from the Firearms Licensing Unit, Registered Firearms Dealers or the Proof Houses.


See also Deactivation of firearms.


What are Imitation Firearms?


Imitation, or replica firearms, generally fall into two categories:


(a) Those that can be readily converted into a firearm to which section 1 of the 1968 Act, (firearms requiring a firearm certificate) applies, and

(b) those that cannot.


Those not requiring certification

The latter are not required to be licensed and therefore, are not subject to most of the regulations regarding firearms. To all intents and purposes they are treated as toys or collectibles.


However, exemption from the certification procedures does not automatically exempt such a "firearm" from all the other provisions of the Act, the application of which should be considered separately.


Those requiring certification

Those that can be readily converted into section 1 firearms are treated as such and must be held by virtue of a valid certificate or permit. Other such imitation firearms may even be section 5 prohibited weapons. For instance, as handguns, subject to certain exceptions are now prohibited weapons, such a readily convertible imitation handgun would also be prohibited.


A readily convertible replica of a rifle, not subject to section 5 prohibition, would be a section 1 firearm and require to be held on a firearm certificate. The owner would also need to satisfy all the other criteria regarding section 1 firearms, including his need of such a weapon. (see "good reason").


Section 57 (4) of the 1968 Act includes a definition, which states -

"Imitation firearm means any thing which has the appearance of being a firearm
(other than such a weapon as is mentioned in section 5 (1)(b) of this Act) whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile."

Imitation firearms may also be made, adapted or converted to be capable of firing blank ammunition. (see "What is a blank firing weapon?")


The Firearms Act 1982


The Firearms Act 1982 provides control of those imitation firearms readily convertible into firearms to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies.


Important aspects of this Act are:


Section 1 (1) This Act applies to an imitation firearm if:


(a) it has the appearance of being a firearm to which section 1 of the 1968 Act, (firearms requiring a firearm certificate), applies: and
(b) it is so constructed or adapted as to be readily convertible into a firearm to which that section applies.


Section 1 (6) For the purposes of this section an imitation firearm shall be regarded as readily convertible into a firearm to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies if:


(a) it can be so converted without any special skill on the part of the person converting it in the construction or adaptation of firearms of any description: and
(b) the work involved in converting it does not require equipment or tools other than such as are in common use by persons carrying out works of construction and maintenance in their own homes.


From this it can be seen that great care must be taken when considering the acquisition of imitation firearms. Without specialist knowledge or advice the layman could find himself breaking the law. However, there is a statutory defence provided within this Act as follows:


Section 1 (5) In any proceedings brought by virtue of this section for an offence under the 1968 Act, involving an imitation firearm to which this Act applies, it shall be a defence for the accused to show that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the imitation firearm was so constructed or adapted as to be readily convertible into a firearm to which section 1 of that Act applies.


Any imitation firearm suspected of falling within the definition of being so constructed or adapted as to be readily convertible into a firearm to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies, would normally require to be submitted for testing at a forensic laboratory, before any lawful proceedings were undertaken.


Ultimately only a court can decide whether or not a particular imitation firearm requires a firearm certificate.


Possession of an air weapon or imitation firearm in public place


What are Blank Firing Weapons?


Blank firing weapons generally fall into two different categories:


Those not requiring certification


These are imitation firearms, not readily convertible into a firearm to which section 1 of the 1968 Act, as mended, applies. These "firearms" are not firearms within the definition of section 57 (1) of that Act, and therefore are not required to be held on a certificate. (see "What are imitation firearms?")


Such weapons are capable of firing, or capable of being adapted or converted to fire, blank ammunition. With blank ammunition no shot, bullet or other missile is discharged from the barrel - you just get a "bang" and maybe a puff of smoke.


Such weapons are often used in battle re-inactments, theatre and TV productions and for starting races.


Exemption from the certification procedures does not automatically exempt such a firearm from all the other provisions of the Act, the application of which should be considered separately.


Those requiring certification


These include:

(a) those firearms to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies, and

(b) those firearms to which section 2 of the 1968 Act applies, and

(c) those firearms to which section 1 of the 1982 Act applies.


With regard to (a) above - these firearms are "real" firearms such as rifles and handguns which are not subject to section 5, (see "prohibited weapons").


With regard to (b) above - these are conventional shotguns, (but not semi-automatic or pump-action shotguns with a magazine capable of holding more than two cartridges), and include smooth bore muskets.


With regard to (c) above - these are imitation firearms readily convertible into firearms to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies.


All the above three types of firearms can be made, adapted or converted to fire blank ammunition, but would require to be held on a certificate.


Blank ammunition


Section 1 (1) (b) of the 1968 Act requires that ammunition to which that section applies can only be possessed, purchased or acquired by a person authorised by a certificate.


However, section 1 (4) (c) exempts blank cartridges not more than one inch in diameter, measured immediately in front of the rim or cannelure of the base of the cartridge, from this requirement.


How can I take my Licensed Weapons Abroad?


If you are the holder of a shotgun or firearms certificate and you wish to take your weapons abroad within the EEC, then you will need a European Firearms Pass (EPF). This is issued, free of charge, upon written application to your Firearms Licensing Unit. You will need to specify what weapons you will be taking with you, what country you are visiting and when you intend to visit. A European Firearms Pass cannot have an expiry date later than the expiry date on the firearms or shotgun certificate on which the weapons are held.


If you wish to take your weapons to any other country, whether in or outside the EEC, you should seek advice from the embassy or consulate of that country. Even within the EEC other documents may be required other than your European Firearms Pass.


All weapons must be declared to Customs and to the travel company carrying you, whether by land, sea or air.


Holders of British firearm and shotgun certificates, wishing to take their firearms to Northern Ireland, should be aware that a valid certificate of approval, from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, is also required in addition to their firearm and shotgun certificates.


It should be noted that air weapons are also currently required to be licensed in Northern Ireland, and approval as above is necessary to take them there.


Advice on obtaining approval can be found by clicking here


Unexpected Possession of a Firearm - What Should I do?


There have been many incidents where unlicensed people, through no fault of their own, have suddenly found themselves in "possession" of firearms or shotguns. The first criteria is not to panic into doing something silly or even illegal.


Such an incident could be, for instance, when a certificate holder dies and the widow or widower is left with their weapons. In such circumstances the police are empowered to issue a temporary permit to allow lawful access to the firearms, thus allowing time for the weapons to be disposed of properly.


Also see "What is a firearms permit?"


If you find unlicensed weapons in your "possession", for instance discovering them in your loft having just moved into a new address; do not handle them, they could be loaded and in a dangerous condition. Immediately call your local police who will make them safe and dispose of them for you.


Should you find yourself "inheriting" firearms you have a number of choices. If you are a certificate holder then you can request that they be added to your own certificate. This would depend on the weapons not being lost or stolen, and you having capacity to store them and, in the case of a firearms certificate, the authority to possess that type of weapon. You could also request the required authority but would need to satisfy good reason.


If you are not a certificate holder you could first request a permit allowing you access to the weapons, this would give you the time to get them to a Registered Firearms Dealer for storage, whilst you decided what to do next. You could then apply for a certificate yourself to allow you to keep the guns, but remember you would need to satisfy good reason.


Another alternative is to have the weapons deactivated which would remove them from all legislation relating to firearms. They would still retain the original appearance but would be incapable of discharging a missile.


In all case of doubt, contact your local police or the Firearms Enquiry Team covering your area. They will deal sympathetically with your problem and help you find the right solution. The last thing anybody wants is for unlicensed firearms to get into the wrong hands.


What is a Firearms Permit?


A permit can be issued by the Chief Officer of Police, as a temporary authority, for the possession of firearms or shotguns. It is not normally issued to a certificate holder, but to someone who, unexpectedly, finds the need to have legal access to weapons (see Unexpected possession of a firearm - What should I do?).


The authority is usually of a restrictive nature and may not allow use of the weapons for shooting. The permit, by nature of the fact that it is temporary, has a limited life span, probably about thirty days. This can be extended in exceptional circumstances.


The idea of the permit is to allow the holder to transfer or transport weapons, perhaps to a Registered Firearms Dealer or another certificate holder. It is not designed as a legal authority in place of a normal certificate.


You could look on a permit as a temporary "cover-note".


How do I Import or Export Firearms?


To permanently import or export firearms will normally require the grant of a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry. The import and export of firearms is a complex subject and advice should be sought from the following:




Department of Trade & Industry
Import Licensing Branch
Queensway House
West Precinct
TS23 2NF


Tel: Telephone 01642 364351
Fax: Fax 01642 364269

Email: Email




Department of Trade & Industry
Export Licensing Unit
4 Abbey Orchard Street


Tel: Telephone 020 7215 8070
Fax: Fax 020 7215 0558

Email: Email


For more information on exporting firearms, visit the Department of Trade and Industry Export Control web-site.


How can a Visitor to the UK Possess Firearms or Shotguns?


Under section 17 of the 1988 Act a visitor to Great Britain may, if he is granted a visitor's permit, have in his possession firearms, shotguns or ammunition without holding a certificate.


The holder of a visitor's firearms permit may have in his possession any firearm (but not purchase one), and purchase, acquire or have in his possession any ammunition, to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies.


The holder of a visitor's shotgun permit may have in his possession, purchase or acquire shotguns and is exempt from the requirement to produce a shotgun certificate when purchasing cartridges. Both permits are valid for a period of up to 12 months and must show the full details of weapons covered and, in the case of a firearms permit, show details of the quantity of ammunition to be purchased/acquired and held. Similarly, territorial and other conditions as would appear on a firearms certificate, will normally be imposed on a firearms permit.


Separate permits for each police area are not required as both permits will cover the visitor throughout Great Britain.


For cost of a permit visit the section on Fees and Charges.


How do I apply for a Visitor's Permit?


Applications for visitor's permits must be made on behalf of the visitor, to the Chief Officer of Police, by a person resident in that area. In most cases a private sponsor will himself be a certificate holder, but this is not a requirement.


Applications must be made on Form 107 (Firearm), or 109 (Shotgun).


The sponsor may be a private individual, or may make the application in the capacity of a club, shooting syndicate, country estate or shooting organisation.


Group applications can be made for parties of between 6 and 20 people provided they are all shooting at the same location and at the same time, or are participating in the same event or competition. In such circumstances a reduced fee is payable. See Fees and Charges.


Applications should be made well in advance of the required date, to allow the proper enquiries to be made. The information necessary will be provided by the sponsor to whom all enquiries will be made.


Criteria for granting a permit


A Chief Officer of Police must not grant a permit to any person in respect of whom he has reason to believe:


  1. That his possession of the ammunition or weapons in question would represent a danger to public safety or to the peace; or
  2. That he is prohibited from possessing such weapons or ammunition.

If the grant is not precluded on the above grounds, the Chief Officer of Police must be satisfied that:


  1. The applicant is visiting or intends to visit Great Britain; and either
  2. In the case of a visitor's firearm permit, the applicant has good reason for having each firearm and the ammunition to which the permit relates in his possession, or, as respects ammunition, for purchasing or acquiring it whilst a visitor to Great Britain; or
  3. In the case of a visitor's shotgun permit, the applicant has a good reason for having each shotgun to which the permit relates in his possession, or for purchase or acquiring it, whilst he is a visitor to Great Britain.
When a permit is granted it will be sent to the sponsor who should forward it to the visitor in his country of origin, for presentation to customs on his arrival in Great Britain. The visitor's permit will be accepted in lieu of a Department of Trade & Industry import licence. Failure to produce the permit at the time of importation may render the firearms/shotguns liable to detention or seizure.

Members of EU countries must be in possession of a European Firearms Pass which should be forwarded with the application for the permit.


Should an application for the grant of a visitor's permit be refused there is no right of appeal. However notification of such refusals will, circumstances allowing, be detailed by letter in good time to prevent any unnecessary travel costs.


What is a Prohibited Person?


From 14 July 2014, if a person receives a suspended sentence of three months or more then they will not be able to purchase or possess a firearm or ammunition for a period of five years from the second day after sentence. This timescale has been set so that a person who is in possession of a firearm or ammunition is not in immediate breach of the law when the sentence is passed and has an opportunity to make arrangements to transfer or dispose of their firearm or ammunition.


However, a person who received a suspended sentence before 14 July and already has a firearm certificate would be able to retain their firearm and ammunition for the duration of their certificate.


Section 110 makes another amendment to the Firearms Act so that from 14 July 2014, a person who has served or received a criminal sentence will not be able to possess an antique firearm. The prohibition applies to anyone who has served a custodial sentence of more than three years or has served a custodial sentence, or received a suspended sentence, of between three months and three years.


A person to whom this applies and who currently lawfully possesses an antique firearm will need to dispose of it by 14 July.


The Home Office circular covering this change.


Can I try Shooting without Holding a Certificate?


In short, yes you can, under certain circumstances.


Many approved shotgun clubs and even some Registered Firearms Dealers hold special "open days" where non-certificate holders can fire club shotguns to test their interest in the sport. The club or dealer must have a Section 11(6) permit, issued by the police, which allows such an operation on a limited number of days per year.


Approved rifle and muzzle-loading clubs will allow you to shoot club guns providing you are a club member. There are normally provisions within the club rules which allow non-members to become "guests", sponsored by a club member, and to use club weapons to shoot on a limited number of days.


Another way to shoot shotguns and even rifles without a certificate is when you are accompanied by the landowner or his agent, (e.g. game warden), shooting on his land, using his weapons, within the limitations of the authorities on the certificate, for that weapon.


However, as a non certificate holder, you cannot borrow another person's gun, if he is not the occupier of the land you intend to shoot on.


What is a 'Restricted' Shotgun?


The Firearms Amendment Act 1988 removed "pump-action" and "semi-automatic" shotguns, which had a magazine capable of holding more than two cartridges, out of the hands of shotgun certificate holders.


They became Section 1 firearms and, since that time, can only be legally held on a firearms certificate.


However, many shotgun certificate holders already possessed such weapons, and consequently either had to dispose of them or have them "restricted".


Restriction is the adaptation of the shotgun magazine allowing it to hold no more than two conventional size cartridges. A third cartridge can still be held in the breech, and this is quite legal.


The adaptation must be done in a manner approved by the Secretary of State and should be carried out by a fully qualified gunsmith. The adaptation is not legal until the shotgun has been proved by one of the two Proof Houses, duly proof marked and a certificate issued by the Proof House.


If you plan to acquire a "pump-action" or "semi-automatic" shotgun on a shotgun certificate, you must ensure that the magazine is incapable of holding more than two cartridges by manufacture or adaptation. In the latter case the shotgun must be so proof marked and accompanied by a certificate from the issuing Proof House. The magazine must also be non removable.


Failure to ensure these points may expose you to being in unlawful possession of Section 1 firearms.


See also adaptation of shotgun magazines by the Proof House.


How do I get rid of an Unwanted Weapon?


If you possess a shotgun, legally held on a shotgun certificate, and you decide that you no longer wish to keep it, you have various options as to its disposal.


Firstly you can sell, give or transfer its ownership to another shotgun certificate holder who has adequate safe storage for the weapon. Similarly you can sell, give or transfer ownership to a Registered Firearms Dealer.


You can surrender it at any police station, from where it will usually go for destruction, unless it is deemed of particular historical interest. In the latter case it could be given to a museum or other interested official party.


You can have the weapon deactivated, after which it ceases to be a "firearm" within the meaning of the Acts. Consequently it no longer falls within the restrictions imposed on "firearms" by any of the Firearm Acts and Regulations.


Deactivation must be done officially and proved at one of The Proof Houses who issue the weapon with a deactivation certificate and also proof mark it. This renders the weapon incapable of being fired and, more importantly, incapable of being converted back to a firing condition.


See also "What are 'deactivated' weapons?" and "Deactivation of firearms".


You cannot "deactivate" a weapon yourself; for instance by filling in the barrel or filing off the firing pin. In such circumstances the weapon will still remain a "firearm" and require to be held on a certificate. Deactivation needs to be carried out by a qualified gunsmith in order to meet the standard necessary for proofing.


If you hold weapons on a firearm certificate, the scenario is slightly different with regard to selling, giving or transferring them to another firearm certificate holder.


Unlike shotguns, firearm certificate holders can only possess those firearms authorised on their certificate. Thus, before transferring firearms to another firearm certificate holder, you must ensure that their certificate carries the authority for the calibre and weapon in question. No such restrictions usually apply to Registered Firearms Dealers, except possibly in respect of Section 5 (prohibited) weapons. Even Registered Firearms Dealers need special authorisation from The Home Office to handle prohibited weapons.


The option to surrender weapons at a police station or have them properly deactivated, applies equally to firearms as it does to shotguns.


You should never destroy and/or dispose of a shotgun or firearm yourself. Every weapon needs to be accounted for and irrespective of what you do with a licensed weapon, you must inform the police authority which issued your certificate, exactly what you have done with it.


Unwanted Section 1 ammunition can be disposed of through another authorised firearm certificate holder, Registered Firearms Dealer, your target shooting club or surrendered at any police station.