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Firearm in United Kingdom

The Firearms Act 1968 Section 57 (1) defined a firearm as a “lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged (and includes any prohibited weapon, any component of such a lethal or prohibited weapon.”

The Act also created a number of offences, which are described below.

Definition of Firearm

In accordance with the work A Dictionary of Law, this is a description of Firearm :

For the purposes of the Firearms Act 1968, any potentially lethal weapon with a barrel that can fire a shot, bullet, or other missile or any weapon classified as a *prohibited weapon (even if it is not lethal). The Act creates various offences in relation to firearms. The main offences include:

  • buying or possessing a firearm without a licence;
  • buying or hiring a firearm under the age of 17 or selling a firearm to someone under 17 (similar offences exist under the Crossbows Act 1987 in relation to crossbows);
  • possessing a firearm under the age of 14;
  • supplying firearms to someone who is drunk or insane;
  • carrying a firearm and suitable ammunition in a public place without a reasonable excuse;
  • trespassing with a firearm;
  • possessing a firearm with the intention of endangering life;
  • using a firearm with the intention of resisting or preventing a lawful arrest;
  • having a firearm with the intention of resisting or preventing a lawful arrest;
  • having a firearm with the intention of committing an indictable offence;
  • possessing a firearm or ammunition after having previously been convicted of a crime; and
  • having a firearm in one’s possession at the time of committing or being arrested for such offences as rape, burglary, robbery, and certain other offences.

The term ‘discharge’ is not defined in Statute, but the dictionary definition is ‘sends out, disburden, send forth, emit’ – a definition accepted in Flack V Baldry (1988).

The Firearms Act 1982 extends the provisions of the 1968 Act to imitation firearms that can be easily converted to firearms and a 1988 Act strengthened controls over some of the more dangerous types of firearms, shotguns, and ammunitio The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 bans all handguns above calibre. The public may own and use less powerful pistols in secure gun clubs. The pistols may not be removed from the clubs without prior permission of the police. The Act also provided for the establishment of licensed gun clubs, tightened police licensing procedures, and introduced stronger police powers to suspend or revoke certificates. Anyone who uses a handgun must have a licence. The police have powers to revoke certificates when good reasons for possessing the gun no longer exist. Illegal possession of a prohibited weapon carries a maximum sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. The government proposes to extend the ban to include all privately owned handguns; legislation is expected to be in force by the end of 1997. Under the Theft Act 1968 someone who has with him a firearm or imitation firearm while committing *burglary is guilty of aggravated burglary. For the purposes of this Act, a firearm may include an airgun, air pistol, or anything that looks like a firearm.

Firearms Policy

The Police issues firearms and shotgun certificates, and statistics gathered by the Home Office indicate that 122,076 firearm certificates were on issue at the end of March 2004 in England and Wales covering 342,213 firearms. There were also 569.948 shotgun licences covering 1,372,712 shotguns (Home Office 2005).

Crimes involving firearms in the UK are on the increase – rising by 35% in England and Wales in 2002, with the number of firearm related homicides rising by 32% to 97. There are regional differences, with London accounting for 4,192 offences, followed by Greater Manchester and the West Midlands (Tendler 2003).

Following public concern in the UK about the extent of handgun related crime, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 amended the Firearms Act 1968 S. 5 and prohibited all handguns, except low powered airguns, certain small-calibre pistols and revolvers (.22 or smaller rimfire cartridges), muzzle loaded pistols, antiques and flare guns i.e. small firearms.

The ownership and use of firearms in the United States is on an altogether different and massive scale. In 1992, 37,776 Americans were killed by firearms, with a further 134,000 victims of gunshot wounds survived. This compared with a total of 4095 Americans killed by sharp force trauma, and 3,100,000 injured by knives etc. Annual deaths by gunshot per capita stands at 70 times that of the UK (Miller et al 1997 and Patterson 2003).

The estimated costs of gunshot wounds to the US economy are $126 billion, or $154,000 per gunshot survivor, or $495 per capita. The costs related to sharp force trauma were $46 billion or $11,000 per survivor.


See Also

    • Offensive weapon
    • Repeat offender
    • Wound
    • Shotgun Wound
    • Gun Law
    • Forgery
    • Offences
    • Fraud


    • Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003 C. 38
    • Crown Prosecution Service (2003), ‘Firearms – Code for Crown Prosecutors’, April 2003
    • Firearms Act 1968 C. 27
    • Firearms Amendment Act 1988
    • Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 C. 5
    • Flack V Baldry (1988) 1 ALL ER 412
    • R V Bentham (2005) UKHL 18, (2005) 2 ALL ER 65

Further Reading

  • Home Office (1997), ‘Firearms: Changes in the Law’, Guidance leaflet on the Firearms (Amendment Act 1997), July 1997
  • Home Office Statistics (2005), ‘Firearm Certificates – England and Wales 2003 and 2004’, Sept 2005
  • Home Office (2002), Firearms Law – Guidance to the police, The Stationary Office, London
    Miller T.R., Cohen M.A. (1997), ‘Costs of gunshot and cut/ stab wounds in the US, with some Canadian comparisons’, Accident Analysis and Prevention 29(3):329-341
  • Patterson R.N. (2003), ‘The nation with a gun to its head’, The Times 18th October 2003 p.4
  • Tendler S. (2003), ‘Guns in Britain’, The Times 18th October 2003 p.4
  • Mason J.K. (2001), ‘Forensic Medicine for Lawyers’, Butterworths

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Schema Summary

  • Article Name: Firearm
  • Author: Agostino Von Hassell
  • Description: The Firearms Act 1968 Section 57 (1) defined a firearm as a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, [...]

This entry was last updated: November 4, 2020


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