In Depth

UK gun laws: who can own a firearm?

Britain has some of the world’s strictest gun control legislation

New Zealand’s decision to ban semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles in response to the deadly shooting spree at two mosques in Christchurch has cast fresh attention on gun control laws across the globe.

Earlier this week, the UK’s Security Minister Ben Wallace said the Government would consider new controls if necessary, but stressed that “the gun laws in this country make it much harder for people to acquire weapons that could wreak mass murder in a very quick time”.

“While I see many people considering those type of attacks, they have been unsuccessful in this country because they have simply not been able to get their hands on the type of weapons system we saw deployed in New Zealand,” he said.

“Our law enforcement will continue to target both legal acquisition of weapons by unsuitable people and illegal acquisition through smuggling.”

The UK has strict gun laws that make acquiring a legal firearm a rigorous process. The National Ballistics Intelligence Service (Nabis) told The Independent that a combination of strict gun licencing and border controls has made shootings rare in the UK.

What kind of firearms are legal?

Members of the public may own sporting rifles and shotguns, subject to obtaining the appropriate permit. Some firearms, shotguns and rifles “may be licensed and are held on a firearm or shotgun certificate”, says Newsweek

Handguns were effectively banned after the Dunblane school massacre in 1996, with one exception.

Northern Ireland is also the only part of the UK where personal protection is accepted as a legitimate reason to obtain and own a firearm.

Low-powered air weapons are legal in England and Wales unless they are of a type banned under the Firearms (Danger Air Weapons) Rules 1969, but there are still restrictions on their sale.

Can anyone apply for a firearm certificate?

Permission to possess or to purchase a firearm can only be granted to an individual after they have been assessed by their local police force. Organisations such as shooting clubs, museums and firearms sellers must also apply for licences.

How do the police decide who can own a firearm?

Police checks on an individual or organisation wishing to own a firearm involve criminal record checks, as well as interviews and reports from a GP. A permit cannot be granted unless police are satisfied both that the applicant has a good reason to own the firearm and that they do not pose a threat to public safety. 

Prohibited weapons, such as handguns, can be authorised by the Home Office on behalf of the Secretary of State in exceptional circumstances.

Recommended

How the 2011 London riots unfolded
London riots
Why we’re talking about . . .

How the 2011 London riots unfolded

Why codeine deaths have reached a record high
Codeine
Getting to grips with . . .

Why codeine deaths have reached a record high

‘Third wave in retreat’
Today's newspaper front pages
Today’s newspapers

‘Third wave in retreat’

Will the UK avoid a second year of A-level results chaos?
Exam results
Getting to grips with . . .

Will the UK avoid a second year of A-level results chaos?

More on gun control

Instant Opinion: no room for nuance in the ‘age of self-righteous identity politics’
JK Rowling
In Depth
12 Jun 2020

Instant Opinion: no room for nuance in the ‘age of self-righteous identity politics’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 12 June
New Jersey shooting: what happened?
Jersey City Shooting, Police
In Depth
11 Dec 2019

New Jersey shooting: what happened?

Six killed including one police officer in four-hour stand-off in kosher supermarket
Instant Opinion: men ‘getting away with murder’ using ‘rough sex defence’
gettyimages-1080511732.jpg
In Depth
15 Nov 2019

Instant Opinion: men ‘getting away with murder’ using ‘rough sex defence’

Your guide to the best columns and commentary on Friday 15 November
Gun violence: why does the US have so many mass shootings?
The scene where a gunman opened fire on a crowd of people in Dayton, Ohio.
In Depth
6 Aug 2019

Gun violence: why does the US have so many mass shootings?

Attack rate has increased to average of more than one every day this year
Can the world learn from Switzerland’s gun culture?
Man with a gun
In Depth
24 May 2019

Can the world learn from Switzerland’s gun culture?

The Week Unwrapped looks at the Alpine nation where firearms ownership is high but mass shootings are low
What happened at Dunblane?
Dunblane
In Depth
15 Mar 2019

What happened at Dunblane?

Sixteen school children and a teacher were massacred by a lone gunman 23 years ago this week
Dead tattoo artist’s skin to be preserved and framed
Tattoo artist Chris Wenzel’s skin will be preserved and framed
In Brief
15 Nov 2018

Dead tattoo artist’s skin to be preserved and framed

And other stories from the stranger side of life
Las Vegas shooting: why hotel is suing 1,000 victims
Las Vegas Shooting
In Depth
18 Jul 2018

Las Vegas shooting: why hotel is suing 1,000 victims

Lawyers for survivors of the massacre say decision to file claims is ‘utterly reprehensible’
Porn blamed for US school shootings
Protesters call for gun control in Florida in the wake of the Parkland school shooting
In Brief
31 May 2018

Porn blamed for US school shootings

Tennessee lawmaker saying pornography and video games ‘root causes’ behind school massacres
US gun violence in six chilling statistics
A pistol is fired at a US gun show
In Depth
18 May 2018

US gun violence in six chilling statistics

Santa Fe High School in Texas becomes scene of latest fatal school shooting
US school district arms teachers with miniature baseball bats
Baseball bats
In Depth
12 Apr 2018

US school district arms teachers with miniature baseball bats

Pennsylvania teachers issued the batons as ‘last resort’ defence against school shooting
US school pupils walk out in gun-control protest
Thousands of US school children walked out in protest about gun violence
In Brief
15 Mar 2018

US school pupils walk out in gun-control protest

One month after Parkland shooting, teenagers demand action by Congress
Dunblane families send letter of support to Parkland survivors
parkland shooting
In Brief
13 Mar 2018

Dunblane families send letter of support to Parkland survivors

Scottish community reaches out to Florida students on 22nd anniversary of UK’s last school shooting
Gun controls win over Republicans with small majorities
Anti-gun protests have rocked Washington since February's Parkland school shooting
In Brief
8 Mar 2018

Gun controls win over Republicans with small majorities

Lawmakers in swing states are giving up decades of party orthodoxy on gun ownership
Florida Senate votes to arm teachers, rejects assault weapon ban
Florida Senate
In Brief
5 Mar 2018

Florida Senate votes to arm teachers, rejects assault weapon ban

School shooting survivors in uproar as only two Republicans back ban plan
Donald Trump stuns lawmakers with call for tighter gun control
Trump
In Brief
1 Mar 2018

Donald Trump stuns lawmakers with call for tighter gun control

President appears to break from Republican Party line by opposing NRA
US gun control: celebrities donate millions to protest march
Oprah Winfrey
In Brief
22 Feb 2018

US gun control: celebrities donate millions to protest march

Oprah Winfrey matches George and Amal Clooney’s donation as Florida students push for action
Gun amnesty bid to get weapons off British streets
Stolen guns lead to teen's arrest
In Brief
13 Nov 2017

Gun amnesty bid to get weapons off British streets

National firearms surrender initiative follows 27% rise in gun crime in the UK last year
Texas shooting: Air Force ‘failed’ on gunman history
Texas shooter Devin Kelley was court-martialled by the Air Force in 2014
In Brief
7 Nov 2017

Texas shooting: Air Force ‘failed’ on gunman history

Missed data entry allowed Devin Kelley to purchase firearms despite court martial
At least 26 dead in Texas church shooting
26 dead following church shooting in small Texas town
In Brief
6 Nov 2017

At least 26 dead in Texas church shooting

Police say gunman shot himself following chase by local residents
Scout ‘asked to leave troop’ for quizzing senator
Scouts and cubs taking the scouting oath
In Depth
23 Oct 2017

Scout ‘asked to leave troop’ for quizzing senator

11-year-old Ames Mayfield’s questions on gun control deemed ‘too political’, mother says
NRA calls for regulation on ‘bump stocks’
NRA calls for regulation of bump stock sales in the US
In Brief
6 Oct 2017

NRA calls for regulation on ‘bump stocks’

‘Strategic’ move comes after modification was used in deadly Las Vegas shooting
Why gun violence is dropping as gun sales rise
160602-guns.jpg
In Depth
2 Jun 2016

Why gun violence is dropping as gun sales rise

US statistics tell a contradictory tale – but the good news is that murders are falling
iPhone 'can be unlocked with £120 high street device'
140716-apple.jpg
In Brief
5 Apr 2016

iPhone 'can be unlocked with £120 high street device'

Newspaper investigation reveals worrying flaw in Apple's security system
The Week Footer Banner