What are the laws governing firearms and offensive weapons in the UK?

by ContactLaw on December 12, 2011

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In England and Wales, the sale, possession and use of firearms and offensive weapons is strictly controlled and sentences for convicted offenders are severe, ranging from fines to significant prison sentences. Legislation relating to firearms and other weapons is extensive and frequently amended – there is no single act governing the use of guns and weapons.

The sale, possession and use of firearms is governed by the Firearms Act 1968, amended in 1997. Essentially, this restricts the sale and handling of guns and ammunition to those who have a licence. It also includes provisions to prevent crime and protect public safety. The Offensive Weapons Act 1996 and certain sections of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 (amended in 2008 to include samurai swords) cover the possession and handling offensive weapons. These are defined as firearms and crossbows, and articles with blades and points. In fact, such a weapon can be anything made, adapted or carried with intent to cause injury.

The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 revised some elements of the existing laws on dangerous weapons and firearms. The 2006 Act:

  • Increases the sentences for having a knife or offensive weapon
  • Prohibits the sale of air rifles except by registered dealers
  • Makes it an offence to sell knives to under-18s
  • Makes it an offence to manufacture, import or sell realistic imitation firearms or to modify an imitation firearm to make it realistic.
  • Gives staff in schools and other institutions the power to search students/attendees for weapons

Sentencing is passed according to the seriousness of the crime, with imprisonment most likely when the offender:

  • has previous convictions
  • clearly intended to cause injury
  • was under the influence of drugs or alcohol
  • carried out a planned attack
  • clearly targeted an individual or group, or minority group

A criminal law solicitor can provide further legal advice on the likely sentence for a firearm or offensive weapon offence.

There are certain exemptions to the strict laws governing the handling of firearms. These may apply for certain sporting activities, theatre productions, and reenactments. A defendant may also be acquitted if they can prove that a weapon was held on religious grounds or as part of a national costume, used the article for work, or had good reason or authority to hold a blade or pointed article.

For further legal advice on the laws governing firearms and offensive weapons, you can speak to a local criminal solicitor. If you require legal advice on obtaining a licence for a weapon or firearm, a licensing solicitor can be of assistance.

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