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To own a gun in the UK, you must first get a license. Members of the British public may be allowed to own sporting rifles and shotguns, subject to these licensing laws and conditions. Additionally, the use of firearms such as for clay pigeon shooting and sporting purposes is treated differently to ‘personal possession’ of firearms in the UK. In this guide, we will be discussing which guns and legal and which are not in the UK.

In the UK, the access the public have to guns is very tightly controlled by UK law. The law in the UK is much more restrictive than countries such as the USA and far stricter than the minimum requirements required by the European Firearms Directive. However, the rest of Britain is yet less restrictive than the gun laws in Northern Ireland.

The UK actually has one of the lowest rates of murder committed by firearms in the entire world. Despite this, there are still concerns about the number of illegal firearms and how available they appear to be. Office for National Statistics figures show that of the offences committed, 7,866 offences in which a firearm was involved was 2 per cent compared to the previous year. This was the first increase in over 10 years.

Rifles in the UK

According to UK law, a ‘rifle’ is defined as a firearm with a barrel which is longer than 30cm (12 in) and a length longer than 60cm (24 in) that does not fall under the classification of a long-barrelled revolver or a pistol. Single-shot, bolt-action, lever-action, and revolver rifles are legal in the UK, given you have a licence for it. Meanwhile, self-loading or pump-action rifles are only allowed in .22 rimfire calibre.


Pistols and Handgun Laws in the UK

UK law defines a ‘pistol’ as a firearm with a barrel shorter than 30 cm (12 in) or a total length of less than 60 cm (24 in). In terms of a pistol, only muzzle-loading pistols are legal. All other types of pistol are prohibited in Britain, with the exception of such pistols used for humane dispatch of injured animals and a number of (inactive) historical firearms and collectors’ items.

More specific models of blank-firing starting pistol which are deemed to be readily convertible to fire live ammunition are also banned. Pistols that have been used for sporting purposes have been banned since 1997.

Shotgun Laws in the UK

In the UK, single, double, and tripled-barrelled shotguns as well as those which have a lever action, pump-action, semiautomatic, and fixed magazine capacity of no more than three cartridges are legal with a valid Shotgun certificate and meeting the basic safety requirements for firearm possession in the UK. Types of shotgun ammunition, such a solid slug, can only be bought following the granting of a Firearm Certificate (FAC).

According to UK law, there is no actual limit on the number of gun or the total amount of ammunition that a Shotgun Certificate (SGC) holder can possess at any one time. You must be aware though, that each shotgun must be recorded on the certificates.


Prohibited Firearms in the UK

Part of what makes the UK’s gun laws as strict and effective as they are is the restriction of many types of firearms, otherwise available in many other countries, and getting a gun license in the UK is not easy. No matter the intended purpose of the guns listed below, they are all considered illegal and possession could lead to lengthy prison sentences. The following guns are totally prohibited by UK Law:

  • Fully automatic or burst-fire – this may include some airguns
  • Semi-automatic or pump-action rifles which fire centre-fire ammunition
  • Cartridge ammunition handguns, regardless of calibre
  • Firearms disguised as another item (such as a mobile phone or a walking stick)
  • Rockets and mortars
  • Any firearm which is designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid gas of other substance. This normally refers to stun guns, electric shock devices, tear gas, pepper spray, all of which are classified Section 5 Firearms
  • Air guns chambered for self-contained gas cartridges. If an existing owner has had one prior to 20th of January 2004, they are allowed to maintain ownership subject to obtaining a firearm certificate
  • Firearms which have previously fallen into a prohibited category, have been converted to an otherwise permitted form. This could be, for example, a pistol which is adapted by permanently fitting in a 60-centimetre-long smooth-bore barrel to it does not just become permitted

Firearms and Police in the UK

In many other countries across the world, you will see that the police are routinely armed, and they are particularly heavily armed in places like the USA. However, in the UK the police are not actually routinely armed. Fatal shootings committed under police order are extremely rare in Britain. To put this in perspective, there were only three in England and Wales in the eleven-year period from 2000/1 to 2010/11.

The UK does have special armed response units which will be called upon to deal with incidents. As of the 31st of March 2017, there were 6,278 armed officers who were serving in territorial police forces in England and Wales.


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