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Basic Gun Laws



What is a shotgun?

·      A firearm is defined as a ‘lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged.’ This includes airguns.

·      The Firearms Act break guns down into four categories:

o   Firearms

o   Shotguns

o   Prohibited Weapons

o   Uncertified Firearms such as low-powered air weapons or antiques

·      No one under the age of 18 may purchase a firearm or ammunition of any kind. No one under the age of 18 may purchase airguns and airgun pellets.

·      Many types of firearms, including handguns, automatic and most semi-automatic rifles are prohibited under UK law.

·      With only a few specific exceptions, airguns above a set power limit, shotguns and rifles can only be owned and used by someone who has successfully applied to the police for a shotgun or firearm certificate.

·      The police have wide discretion in considering applications for firearm and shotgun certificates. A chief constable must refuse a certificate or withdraw one from anyone he thinks is unfit to possess a firearm, or who he thinks may be a danger to public safety or the peace.

Young People and Guns

·      No one under the age of 18 may purchase a firearm or ammunition of any kind. No one under the age of 18 may purchase airguns and airgun pellets.

·      Young people who do not have their own firearm certificate may only borrow a rifle from the occupier of private premises if they are 18 or over. The certificate application process is the same, regardless of age.

·      Anyone under 14 can use firearms when engaged in target practice as members of an approved club.

·      Except in Northern Ireland, a shotgun can be given or lent to someone aged 15 or over, provided they have a certificate or when they are at an approved clay pigeon shoot.

·      Anyone aged under 15, who holds a certificate, can use a shotgun which has been lent to them, provided they are under the supervision of someone aged 21 or over.

·      With the exception of Northern Ireland there is no lower age limit for obtaining a shotgun certificate (although a condition is that the counter signatory must have known the applicant for at least two years).

Shotgun and Firearm Certificates

Shotgun and firearm certificates must be renewed every five years and are subject to stringent checks, including home visits by the police, background checks and where applicable, medical checks.

The police can request medical history at any time during the application process and at any time when a certificate is held.  The applicant or certificate holder must give police permission to request this information from their doctor.

Guns covered by either certificate must be stored securely. The most common type of gun storage is a heavy-gauge steel cabinet bolted to the wall and secured by at least two five-lever mortice locks.  Shotguns and/or firearms must also be out of sight of visitors. Home security must also be stepped up when guns are present and police will visit the applicant at home to inspect security.

All convictions in both the UK and abroad, including motoring offences must be declared and anyone who has been in prison for more than three years is prohibited for life from possessing an airgun, shotgun or firearm and/or ammunition.

A five-year ban applies to anyone who has served a prison sentence for more than three months but less than three years. Certificates will be revoked from certificate holders who are sentenced to imprisonment.

Applications must be supported by an independent counter-signatory and passport photographs.  Applicants must prove that he or she has a good reason to own and use a firearm and that he is fit to be entrusted with one, and that he can use it safely without danger to public safety or the peace.

The police will refuse anyone who they consider to pose a threat to public safety or peace.

The police must be notified in writing every time a licence holder acquires or disposes of a shotgun. Shotguns can only be transferred between authorised people, including registered firearms dealers.

Where you do not need a shotgun certificate

·      Clay pigeon shooting grounds, clubs or shooting schools or events such as game fairs which have police approval.

·      When using a gun belonging to the occupier of private land, if it is used in his/her presence on that land.

·      If a gun is being carried for a licensed owner. The carrier must be accompanied by and under direct instruction from the certificate holder. The carrier may load, but cannot use the gun.

·      If you are a foreign visitor who has a police-issued Visitor’s Shotgun Permit or in Northern Ireland a Temporary Visitor’s Certificate. The application must also be sponsored.

Age Limits

In the UK there is no lower age limit for a shotgun certificate but there are restrictions on ownership and unsupervised use. In Northern Ireland a person must be 16 years or older and obtain a firearm certificate for a shotgun, and no one under the age of 18 can borrow a shotgun.

What is a Shotgun?

The legal definition of a shotgun is as a smooth-bored gun, with a barrel at least 24 inches long and a bore not exceeding two inches in diameter. It has no magazine or one permanently fixed in place and cannot hold more than two cartridges.

 Shotguns come in a variety of sizes and are classified by the ‘bore’ or ‘gauge’.  The most common size is the 12 bore.

 A ‘double-barrel over and under’ is the most common and modern type of shotgun configuration. Whereas a traditional English game gun is a ‘double-barrel side by side’ and only one shot can be fired from each barrel before reloading.

 Single-barrel pump or semi-automatic shotguns are subject to much stricter control because they are allowed to hold up to three cartridges at any time (two in the magazine and one ready to fire).

A shotgun is mainly used for shooting birds, small mammals and clay targets. Its maximum effective range is between 35 and 40 yards.

The most popular shotguns for game shooting are the Browning, Miroku and Beretta shotguns with the 12 and 20 bore being the most popular gauges.

For larger quarry, for example, deer, the most popular rifles are the Winchester, Brno, Sako and Browning, with the Remmington, Winchester and Sako being the most popular bullets.




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