A puffin on here has written a series on firearms and their technology up to the 20th century, but what about owning a firearm in the modern day in the UK? What are the laws and how difficult is it? For this article I will focus on the simpler option, shotguns and the shotgun certificate (SGC) aka the section 2 certificate.
Shotguns are in a separate class of legislation to most other firearms, and the law on them has been changed in the light of shooting incidents such as Hungerford. They are the general purpose firearm and issued in quite large numbers, the UK has 1.3 million licenced shotguns (and 535000 firearms). Farmers use them for pest control and hunters use them for quarry such as pheasants. There are also other sporting disciplines using shotguns, the most being common being clay pigeon shooting.
So you’ve decided you want to own a shotgun, you just turn up at your local gunsmiths and hand over the cash, right? Not so fast Tex, there are a few hoops to jump through first! You need a SGC issued by your local police force to buy a firearm, and this involves some form filling. But not just anyone can own a shotgun, there are two major grounds for the police to refuse you, a criminal record or a history of mental illness.
The first is fairly obvious, if you have a record then don’t waste your time, it is unlikely to happen. The form you fill in asks for everything, including speeding/driving convictions, so lying about a GBH isn’t going to help as they will check.
The second is mental health issues, such as depression, anxiety problems etc (they are laid out in more detail on the application form). This is the next bit of paperwork, you will need a report from your doctor saying you are free from these conditions. This is fairly obvious, again they don’t want a mentally ill person running around with a shotgun who just “wants to end it all”
OK so lets assume you are a law abiding, balanced member of the public (yes, I know!), the next step is security. You are expected to keep your shotgun in a secure locked cabinet that is bolted to a brick wall of some sort. It must meet certain standards but any gunsmith will sell the appropriate equipment. Keys must also be kept securely and no-one else must know where they are kept.
Lets just have a quick cost check at this point. The application cost is around 70 quid, the cabinet (depends on size) but starts around 100 quid, the medical note from your doctor is up to 50 quid. In total, you’re looking at around 225 quid ish.
Next up, you need a friend (don’t we all – ed), or more accurately, a referee. This cant be a family member, police man or certain other groups and they have to have known you for at least 2 years. Their details will be put on the form and later on, will be asked whether you are a suitable person to own a shotgun. Don’t just put anyone, ask them first before you put their name down!
So you have now got to the stage of a filled in form with your application fee, a doctors note, details of a referee, a passport sized photo, and off it all goes to the firearms unit of your local constabulary. Some are better than others, we are talking a few weeks to many months before you get a response. The response will be from a firearms enquiry officer (FEO) who will contact you and arrange a visit. They will be interested in seeing and inspecting your cabinet (not a euphemism!). You can have the visit before it is installed, but they will need to see it before your ticket is issued so you’re wasting time if its not ready for the visit frankly.
Once they have tugged on your cabinet (stop that at the back!) they will sit down to a chat. Here they want to suss out whether you are a risk or not, so behave! They will probably ask what you want the shotgun for. Now here comes the interesting part, they cannot refuse you a SGC on any grounds apart from criminal record and mental health, IN THEORY. HOWEVER, it is good practice to be reasonable and tell them a legitimate reason such as pest control, sporting use etc. If you don’t have land to shoot on with written permission and you are claiming to want it for pest control in your 2 up 2 down in a built up area, it will raise eyebrows. Similarly saying you want it for self defence will also be a MAJOR red flag. Having a legitimate reason is down to you and being able to back it up is wise.
All being well after your interview, and after a period of time that ranges from a few weeks to absolutely fucking agonisingly ages, a brown envelope lands on your mat with a SGC inside. Yippeee, you are now authorised to go to the gunsmiths!
What can you buy and how much are you allowed you may ask. s2 shotguns are limited by law to hold a maximum of 2 in a magazine and 1 more in the breech (2+1). Most traditional bird hunting guns also fall into this category, the typical break action dual barrel side by side or over and under type, but also pump action and semi automatic with a small magazine are also available as s2 guns. Cost wise, second hand break actions can be around 250 quid, pumps 350, and semi autos 500 plus. Shotguns come in gauges ie how big (in diameter) is the barrel. Most common sizes are 20 gauge (narrower) or the more common 12 gauge (larger barrel).
When you buy a shotgun its serial number is entered on your form and you have 7 days to notify the police with the details as well. If you don’t, you will be illegally holding a firearm, that’s an imprisonable offence so you are incentivised to do the paperwork!
The next interesting question is how many shotguns can I own, and the interesting answer is, as many as your lockable storage allows! What about cartridges I hear you ask, and again, as many as you want and they don’t have to be locked up, although it is good practice that they are.
Finally what type of ammunition can you buy? In the UK, there are rules on this too, and with a SGC you can typically buy anything from tiny No.9 birdshot (2mm diameter shot) cartridges up to SG buckshot which are 9 balls of 8.4mm diameter shot for larger game. Larger single slugs are restricted s.1 ammunition and hence you cannot purchase these with a SGC. A typical slab of cartridges (250) is about 55 quid.
There are other factors in owning a shotgun, such as transporting it and using it safely, but those are for (maybe) another day.
© MutzNutz 2019
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