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The Right to Possess Firearms in the UK – who has it and how to get it

The UK has some of the strictest firearms laws in the world. Access to all firearms is heavily restricted, with licences for handguns only available from the Home Office. Individuals, shooting clubs, museums and firearms dealers can apply for licences for rifles, shotguns and some air-powered weapons through their local police station. As the regulations around firearms can be very complex and can create problems for people looking to purchase or renew licences for legitimate and legal purposes, getting legal advice is advisable when applying or appealing decisions.



UK firearms laws are so strict that the definitions of different types of weapon, and which are covered by which licence, are very specific. There are two types of weapons licences which are available for members of the public to apply for. They are firearm certificates and shotgun certificates.

Firearms are defined as any lethal barrelled weapon, which isn’t a shotgun, air gun or ‘prohibited weapon’. Large military type weapons, automatic weapons and guns with a barrel shorter than 30cm or an overall length less than 60cm are classed as prohibited weapons. Air guns only require a licence if they shoot a projectile at a force of 6 foot lbs for pistols and 12 foot lbs for rifles. Shotguns are characterised as smooth barrelled guns, which discharge pellets rather than a single projectile.

Who can apply

Individuals are not allowed to use firearms if they have a criminal record, which states they have received a prison sentence of three years or more. Anyone who received a sentence of less than three years is banned from using them for five years after their sentence expires. The police take many more factors into consideration when deciding whether to grant a firearms or shotgun certificate.

To apply for a firearms certificate, you must be at least 14 years of age but, even if you are given one at that age, you cannot buy a firearm until you are 18. However, people of any age can apply for a shotgun certificate. Anyone applying must be able to prove that they have a valid reason for possessing a firearm or shotgun, such as for work, sport or leisure. Each application is judged on its individual merit, so it is worthwhile seeking legal advice before applying if you have unusual circumstances.

How to apply

To obtain a shotgun or firearm certificate, you will need to be assessed by your local police. They perform a number of checks, such as interviewing you, visiting your property, finding out if you have a criminal record, seeking references from your friends and, in some cases, contacting your GP. You will be required to prove that you can securely store your weapon so as not to allow unlicensed people to have access to it. With a firearm certificate, each weapon you have will require a separate application but with a shotgun certificate you only need to apply once to have as many shotguns as you wish. Both certificates are valid for five years.

This is only a rough guide to applying for a firearms or shotgun certificate and in complicated situations, or if you wish to appeal a decision, it is advisable to seek appropriate legal advice.

At Edward Hayes, we have extensive experience in helping people when problems arise concerning firearms regulations. Contact us now to talk about how we can help you.

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