This information should not be relied upon as legal or professional advice. Read the disclaimer.
In the UK gun ownership is heavily regulated. Not all guns can be licensed and individuals seeking to own guns for legitimate reasons are vetted and approved by the police.
The principal piece of legislation which regulates the possession of firearms and ammunition in Great Britain is the Firearms Act 1968 (as amended), however there are a further 34 pieces of legislation that contain provisions relating to firearms. The Home Office has detailed guidance on firearms licensing in their guide to firearms licensing law.
Who can obtain a firearms licence?
Only those with a firearms licence issued by the police can legally possess a firearm.
Once granted, firearm and shotgun certificates are valid up to five years after which time the certificate holder must reapply to renew their licence.
The police will only issue a licence to those they are satisfied are fit to be intrusted with a firearm and have good reason to own one. The police must consider public safety when issuing firearms licences. They will not issue a licence when they think that doing so poses a risk to public safety.
The police use their discretion to decide whether or not to grant a firearms licence. The Home Office Guide to firearms licensing law (PDF) and the College of Policing Authorised Professional Practice on firearms licence provide them with guidance.
How to apply for a licence
The GOV.UK Shotgun and firearm certificates provides information on applying for a firearms licence. Most police forces also have information on their website. You can find your local police force website through Police UK.
What information do applicants have to provide?
The information applicants have to provide may vary form depending on the police force responsible for issuing the licence. In general applicants are checked against all national and relevant local police databases, have their home inspected, must provide two referee statements and submit relevant medical information.
The current fee for a firearm certificate is £88. A shotgun certificate is set at £79.50.
Children under 18 cannot apply for a firearms licence. However, some exemptions allow children above the age of 15 to possess certain firearms in certain circumstances. These are set out in Appendix 4 of the Home Office guide to firearms licensing law (PDF).
Conditions for holding a firearm
Certificate holders must follow certain conditions as set out in the Firearms Rules 1998. They include a rule that requires certificate holders to store their weapon:
Securely so as to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, access to the firearms or ammunition by an unauthorised person.
The Home Office has issued guidance on firearms security to help gun owners with storing their equipment securely.
The police can revoke a licence at any point if they no longer think the person is fit to own a firearm.
The Library’s briefing Firearms: licensing and safety provides more information about the regulation of firearms in the UK.
The Commons Library does not intend the information in this article to address the specific circumstances of any particular individual. We have published it to support the work of MPs. You should not rely upon it as legal or professional advice, or as a substitute for it. We do not accept any liability whatsoever for any errors, omissions or misstatements contained herein. You should consult a suitably qualified professional if you require specific advice or information. Read our briefing for information about sources of legal advice and help.