Two Letters Re: Firearms Laws in England

Mr Rawles,
Regarding the recent letter from D.S. on security in the UK: while he is certainly correct on the current problems with politics, employment, and prepping in a high-rise, he is mistaken on firearms. I hope the
following details on UK law, gained over twenty years of shooting, will be of some use.

The licenses:

  • FAC – firearms certificate, the UK’s more permissive “gun licence”.
  • SGC – shotgun certificate, the UK’s less permissive “gun licence”.

A FAC will be granted if you can show “good reason” for wanting one. Pest control, deer hunting, target shooting, etc. all constitute “good reason” but you must be able to back up your reason with evidence. If
you’re hunting the cops will want to contact the owner of the land on which you hunt. If you’re target shooting the cops will want to see you’ve been a member of a club for a year or two.

You can ask the cops for a SGC without having to prove “good reason”, but they’re still going to ask some questions. Presumably demonstrating some knowledge of clay shooting would be enough to keep them happy.

These licenses are not common, and certainly not like a shall-issue US CCW permit, but if you have no criminal record or mental illness you should get one. Over 150,000 of us have FACs, and many more have SGCs.

Armed cops don’t show up at your door at 0300 unless someone has given them a very good reason to. If they want to check your stocks they’ll phone you to set a time, they’ll send a single unarmed cop, and he’ll
only be interested in whether you are within your limit on ammo and if you have guns lying around on the floor.

What you can have:

Air weapons – Pistols up to 6ftlb with no FAC, pistols over 6 prohibited. Rifles up to 12 with no FAC, over 12 with FAC.

Handguns – Essentially banned in the aftermath of the Dunblane shootings in 1996. You can have a “handgun” that is constructed to legally be a rifle in terms of overall length, etc. but a FAC is required since it’s legally a rifle. A few (“certain models”) starting pistols, air pistols, etc. may require a FAC or be prohibited outright – the cops try to restrict those that are easily converted to live ammo.

Shotguns – A single- or double-barrel, or mag-fed lever- or pump- or semi-auto-action with a fixed mag no larger than two shells can be owned on a SGC. Detachable magazines and magazines over two shell capacity require a FAC. You can keep as many guns and as much ammo as you wish on a SGC. I’m not a shotgunner so I don’t know much about the details of shotgun law.

Rifles – All require a FAC. Semi-auto- and pump-action in .22 rimfire only (aftermath of the Hungerford shootings in 1987), all others must be manual (and not pump-) action, though magazine fed is okay and there are no limits on magazine capacity. Calibre is officially unrestricted, though the biggest I’ve ever seen is .50, and the cops will examine an application for that calibre or larger very carefully. Each rifle must be individually
approved and added to your FAC. A limited amount of ammo may be stored, based on how much you shoot.

Suppressors – Legally the same as the firearm they’re suppressing i.e. a .308 suppressor requires a FAC just like a .308 rifle. Amusingly, these are less heavily regulated than in the US.

Access – Guns and ammo can be bought at gun shops, clubs, and ranges; of which there are plenty. Google them. I have a choice of at least six within an hour’s drive. Not every gun shop covers every type of
shooting: shotguns are common, biathlon rifles are rare, etc.

What you can’t have:

Roughly speaking any ammo nastier than plain old ball. Specifically: expanding ammo, unless you’re hunting animals for which it is legally required.
Disguised firearms, e.g. a gun in the form of a walking cane.
Full-auto, mortars, rockets, flamethrowers and other things more at home on the battlefield.
Also worth mentioning is that firearms law is where a lot of other banned weapons go; so cans of CS, electric stun guns, and other potential self defence tools are legally “prohibited firearms”.

What you can really have:

Anything you can convince the local firearms licensing officer to approve.

How to do it:

Let’s assume you want a .308 Winchester rifle. Find a local target shooting club that has a full-bore section, or a local(ish) range of 300+yards which will probably have at least one club on site. Join the club. Learn to
shoot with the club’s rifle, or rent one at the range. Seriously, learn to shoot. You’ll probably have an opportunity to shoot once a month, so take advantage of every one. After a year or two you should know your
way around a rifle and have a few ideas on who might be selling one.

Apply for a FAC. During the three month wait buy a gun cabinet and (carefully!) bolt it to your flat’s structure where it can’t be seen from outside. Your local firearms licensing officer will visit (unarmed!) to check out you and your security. If he’s happy with both you’ll get a FAC and can start buying guns and ammo.

That’s more or less how I did it, though I am not a survivalist and consider shooting to be a fun sport that might be useful in a dire emergency rather than the other way around.

How not to do it:

The obvious –
Don’t tell the club you’re a survivalist five minutes after you first walk in the door. Many of the members will agree with you, but every club in the UK knows it is one bad decision away from losing the sport
entirely and will be naturally cautious of new members.

Don’t broadcast the fact you have a FAC or own guns. Word gets around. Don’t mention “self defence”. To anyone. Even in jest. Ever. Club members will think you’re a crazy gun nut, despite many holding a
similar opinion. The cops will revoke your FAC and keep their eyes on you for the rest of your life.

Don’t carry. Your guns should be in your cabinet, at the range, or on their way between the two.

The less obvious –
If you break a law (including laws you don’t know about) while in possession of a firearm the crime becomes much more serious. For example, if you accidentally wander on to private property you’re committing “trespass” and you can get told to leave. If you do it with as much as a unloaded air pistol you are committing “armed trespass” and then you can get a £2,500 GBP fine or three months behind bars.

If you don’t use your guns enough the cops may revoke your FAC, though they should give you a warning first.

A FAC must be renewed every five years, and the cops might not remind you. You’ll still be guilty of possession an unlicensed firearm if it expires.

Final thoughts:

You must realise, and accept, that in the UK gun ownership by citizens is not popular with either the public or the powers that be. Behave accordingly. It’s not as easy or pleasant as it is in the US, but it can be done. – Ross


I’m in the UK and whilst I agree with Steve about our stupid laws and his living accommodation I would like to make a couple of points about his experience with Plod.

I have a Shot Gun Certificate (SGC) and a Fire Arms Certificate (FAC). As of this moment you do not need to give any reason to own a SGC in the UK. If asked and to save hassle you could say clay pigeon but you should not be asked. The onerous part is getting a referee from our class based approved groups.

For a FAC you need to have permission from a land owner to shoot on his land or be a member of a club. If you go the club route beware because they may stipulate you keep the weapons there. Best trek around the countryside asking farmers. Took me a while but it worked out. I bribed them with whisky. After all they get nothing really from the deal and potentially a lot of hassle. Compared to that search getting two referees from the approved groups is a doddle.

It really is designed as a tax gathering system as there are so many rules around and to add anything is a variation which costs £26.

I have had my certificates for ten years and Plod have not done any surprise visits never mind at 0300, nor have they visited anyone I know. You get checked at license renewal, every five years, but in my experience that is it.

I don’t now why he gets 0300 visits but suspect it is the area rather than the process. I also have no problem getting ammo but it is a lot more expensive in Rip Off Britain and we can’t even buy in bulk as ammo sold and held are defined numbers for firearms. You can buy X and hold Y of each type.

IMO it is worth getting the certificates you need, the more who do the more the point is made to our useless government. It is also my understanding that [the number of] gun owners is nearly two million. Mainly shotguns and with some duplication, I have a FAC and a SGC, but the trend is apparently up.

For info on ownership from 2010/2011 see this article. (I hate to use The Guardian for anything bar toilet paper but that is where the data is.) Regards, – Skean Dhude