Firearms and the Law

SMQ Legal, based in Oxford, have solicitors who specialise in Firearms Appeals and work closely with Andrew Pote of 42 Bedford Row Chambers in considering these appeals.

Background

The law governing the handling, use, possession, and distribution of firearms in the UK can predominantly be found in the Firearms Act 1968. Over the years the act has been extensively amended; most significantly in 1988 after the Hungerford massacre, extending the class of prohibited weapons, and in 1997 after the Dunblane school massacre, which saw the banning of almost all handguns.
Strict Legal Stance on Possession of Firearms
Owning, handling, or possessing a Firearm as described by the 1968 Act in any circumstances other than that prescribed by Law is illegal. It is an absolute offence which means that a person could be in possession of a bag or item that they did not know was concealing or conveying a Firearm, as illustrated by R v Steele (1993), and be guilty of the offence of Possessing a Firearm which carries a maximum sentence of 5 years imprisonment, if convicted under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.
As stated above there are circumstances prescribed by Law that make it legal to possess and own Firearms in the UK. The more obvious examples would be specially trained Police officers, and Military personnel, however ordinary members of public are also allowed to legally own Firearms if they apply for a Firearms Certificate, (guidance can be found following this link www.gov.uk/guidance/firearms-licensing-police-guidance). If you are thinking of purchasing a Firearm you will need a Shotgun or Firearm Certificate for the particular Firearm or Shotgun you wish to purchase, which can be sought by applying to the local police authority and filling in a form; help to do this can be found by following this link www.gov.uk/shotgun-and-firearm-certificates. The process can be an arduous and complex one which is why it is recommended to seek either legal advice or speak with an expert from a shooting club.

Application Refusal and Licence Revocation

Shotgun and Firearm Certificates are sometimes revoked and applications can be refused for a number of reasons.

Refusals – can be made on various grounds which include and are not limited to the applicant having a criminal record; evidence of threats of violence being made by the applicant to others; evidence of getting into fights. It is prudent to note that concerns raised have to be linked to the use of the Firearm or Shotgun.

Revocation – can also occur on numerous grounds such as marital break down and domestic violence; these issues could lead to a ‘cooling off period’ in which the Certificate is revoked for a short period or potentially a complete revocation. Some revocations can be due to the actual breach of the Firearm code, adverse behaviour linked directly to the firearm, and/or behaviour that gives cause for concern such as acts of violence.

The test pertaining to revocations of Firearm, and Shotgun Certificates is different, in that if the chief officer of police believes; that

i). the holder is of intemperate habits or unsound mind or is otherwise unfitted to be trusted with a firearm; or

ii) that the holder can no longer be permitted to have the firearm or ammunition to which the certificate relates without danger to the public safety or to the peace: section 30A Firearms Act 1968

Whereas the test for a shot gun; is

A shot gun certificate may be revoked by the chief officer of police if he is satisfied that the holder cannot be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to the public safety or to the peace: section 30C (1) Firearms Act 1968

The initial decision maker in respect to revocations and applications lies within the jurisdiction of the chief constable for the force in which a person lives. However sometimes people who have a second home chose to have their Firearms Certificate in their second home in the country.

The test for a Firearm Certificate is different to a shot gun Certificate, and the presumption in the act is in favour of granting a shot gun certificate (shall be granted unless), and with respect to Firearms, it is not. Another difference between certificates is that a shot gun certificate has no discretion to add in conditions e.g. about storage, whereas Firearms can have limits put on them e.g. for use at gun club only, shooting deer only etc

Appeals

Should a Firearm or Shotgun application be refused, or certificate revoked a person has 21 days from notification to appeal the decision, and usually the appeal goes straight to Crown Court. At the first instance of revocation normal rules of evidence do not apply, and person would not have had the opportunity to put their case forward at interview and would not have been given full disclosure until the appeal stage.

At the Crown Court hearing a decision will be made on the merits of each case presented and not a simple review of the case stated. The Court will consider all evidence, including new evidence which was not available at the time the chief officer made his/her decision to revoke or refuse. Live evidence can be heard from both parties at the hearing, hence being one of the important reasons to be represented at the hearing. Given that cross examination of the chief officer will be crucial, as well as directing the applicant or aggrieved from the revocation in giving evidence.

On hearing an appeal the Court may either dismiss the appeal or give the chief officer of police such directions as it thinks fit as respects the certificate.

Considerations

Some directions and insight on whether a certificate will be granted or revoked can be gleaned from case law below:

In considering the grant, refusal or revocation of a certificate the chief officer is entitled not only to look at the applicant’s history in respect of the use or misuse of a shot gun but also the applicant’s irresponsibility, lack or self-control, general character and antecedents: Chief Constable of Essex v Germain 156 J.P. 109.D.C.

The chief officer of police should consider, whether there is a danger that the gun may be misused in such a way that good order is disturbed or that there is a risk of that happening: Ackers v Taylor [1974] 1 W.L.R. 405 D.C

Unlike in the US gun ownership in the UK is a privilege and not a right. The UK has some of the toughest Firearm controls in the world, which can make owning a Firearm rather trying. This is why it is important to seek professional advice from experts to traverse the legal complexities that can come with Firearm ownership, and applications.

We offer a free 20 minute appointment to provide legal advice and assistance concerning firearm appeals and the law around owning a firearm. Should you require any assistance, please do contact us.