Gun control

Classifications of firearms


UK law defines a “rifle” as a rifled firearm with a barrel longer than 30 cm, and a total length longer than 60 cm that does not fall under the classification of long-barrelled revolver or pistol. Single-shot, bolt-action, Martini-action, lever-action (also called under-lever action) and revolver rifles and carbines are permitted, with certificate, in any calibre. Self-loading (also known as semi-automatic) or pump-action rifles are only permitted in .22 rimfire calibre.


UK law defines a “pistol” as a firearm with a barrel shorter than 30 cm or a total length of less than 60 cm16 (this definition encompasses revolvers, revolving pistols). Only muzzle-loading pistols—including muzzle-loading revolvers—are permitted; in practice all such firearms use black powder—a Class 1 explosive—as the propellant. All other pistols are prohibited on the UK mainland, with some exceptions such as pistols used for the humane dispatch of injured animals (such as deer) and some historical firearms.


Single-barreled, double-barreled shotguns, or those with a lever-action or, pump-action, or semi-automatic and fixed magazine capacity of no more than two cartridges are permitted on a Shotgun Certificate. Shotguns with a detachable magazine or larger fixed magazine are permitted on a Section 1 Firearms Certificate. Certain types of shotgun ammunition, such as rifled slugs and larger shot sizes can only be bought following the grant of an FAC (firearms certificate). There is no limit on the amount of ammunition that a SGC (shotgun certificate) holder can acquire or possess at one time.


Explosive, incendiary, noxious (biological, chemical) and armor piercing ammunition types are prohibited for civilians, although this ban created a problem for the authorities as expanding ammunition is needed for hunting and vermin control. Expanding ammunition is not only permitted but a legal requirement for deer stalking. Holders of a FAC for the purpose of (game) shooting or deer-stalking are required to have authorization to acquire and possess expanding ammunition noted on it. The amount of ammunition allowed to be purchased and possessed is determined by conditions stated on an FAC.

Prohibited firearms

The following are prohibited for civilian use:23

Fully automatic or burst-fire weapons, including air guns. Firearms disguised as another item (e.g. walking sticks, mobile telephones, etc.) Rockets and mortars. Air guns chambered for self-contained gas cartridges.


To obtain a firearm certificate, the police must be convinced that a person has “good reason” to own each firearm, and that they can be trusted with it “without danger to the public safety or to the peace”. Under Home Office guidelines, firearms licences are only issued if a person has legitimate sporting, collecting, or work-related reasons for ownership. Since 1968, self-defence has not been considered a valid reason to own a firearm. The current licensing procedure involves: positive verification of identity, two referees of verifiable good character who have known the applicant for at least two years (and who may themselves be interviewed and/or investigated as part of the certification), approval of the application by the applicant’s own family doctor, an inspection of the premises and cabinet where firearms will be kept and a face-to-face interview by a Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) also known as a Firearms Liaison Officer (FLO). A thorough background check of the applicant is then made by Special Branch on behalf of the firearms licensing department. Only when all these stages have been satisfactorily completed will a license be issued, which has to be renewed every 5 years.

The penalty for possession of a prohibited firearm without a certificate is a maximum of ten years in prison and an unlimited fine. The penalty for section 5 category’s of firearm is subject to a mandatory minimum of five years.

Gun control

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