FAQs - firearms

Decorative image


  1. As a certificate holder, what do I do if I move address?
  2. Can I shoot my Air gun in my garden?
  3. What is an 'antique' firearm?
  4. Do I need a certificate for an air weapon?
  5. How can I take my licensed weapons abroad?
  6. What should I do if I unexpectedly come into possession of firearms?
  7. What is a firearm permit?
  8. How do I import or export firearms?
  9. How can a visitor to this country possess firearms or shotguns?
  10. How do I apply for a visitor's permit?
  11. What is a 'prohibited person'?
  12. Can I try shooting without holding a certificate?
  13. What is a 'restricted' shotgun?
  14. What are 'deactivated' weapons?
  15. How do I get rid of a weapon I no longer want?



Question 1: As a certificate holder, what do I do if I move address?

It is your responsibility to ensure that your weapons are secure during the moving process.

The easiest way to do this is to store your weapons with a registered firearms dealer.

Shotguns can be temporarily stored with another shotgun certificate holder - providing the holder has secure accommodation. The holder cannot, however, store the shotguns for more than 72 hours without adding them to his or her certificate.

If you are unable to temporarily store your weapons elsewhere, you should immediately secure your cabinet, with rawl bolts, to a solid brick wall inside your house.

If you are moving within the area of your current firearms authority you must inform them immediately, in writing, and return your existing certificate for amendment, ensuring that you include a daytime contact number.

A firearms enquiry officer will then contact you and arrange for a security inspection at your new home. If you have returned your old certificate, you will be provided with a new one.

If the security at your new home requires upgrading you will be given the full details on an official form and allowed 28 days to make the improvements.

If you cannot meet the deadline you must tell the officer who can arrange for a short extension.

If security is found to be totally inadequate you will be required to store your weapons elsewhere until the matter is resolved.

If you move to a new firearms authority area you should contact them immediately and they will inform you of their procedure. You must also inform your current firearms office of your intended move so that your files can be passed to the new authority.

back to top


Question 2: Can I shoot my Air gun in my garden?

In a word... Yes you can...HOWEVER..

Providing that you follow some sensible rules then you should be able to enjoy your Air gun in the confines of your own property!

You need to make sure you have enough space. A garden of over 20m is going to be best.

Check your backdrop... that means you should be aware of what is in the area behind where you are shooting. A wooden garden fence is not going to stop your pellet leaving your boundary.

Think of others! Try not to upset the neighbours or make them feel intimidated and inform anyone who has access to your garden that you are shooting. If you have family pets, keep them indoors.

If your pellets go outside of your property boundary then you have committed an offence.

Think - Safety, Safety, Safety...


back to top

Question 3: What is an 'antique' firearm?

The word "antique" is not defined anywhere within any of the Firearms Acts or Regulations, so how do we know what is acceptable as "antique"?

Dictionary definitions include "not of our time" and "a relic of former times".

Consequently it must be accepted that modern reproductions, even of very old flintlocks, etc., cannot be antique.

Many people use the old maxim that over 100 years old means it is antique. To a great extent this will prove to be true, but there are always the exceptions to the rule. There are some old weapons which are still capable of firing a modern centre fire cartridge, and are therefore not classified as antique.

It may be easier to understand what is acceptable as antique, if we first establish what is "modern". Modern, in relation to firearms, has now been established as: manufactured since or during the Second World War. The following tables are a guide as to what may or may not be antique. In reality every case will need to be judged on its own merit.


  • All muzzle loading firearms, except those of "modern" manufacture.
  • Breech loading firearms capable of discharging a rim fire cartridge exceeding .23" calibre (or its metric equivalent), but not 9mm.
  • Breech loading firearms using ignition systems other than rim fire or centre fire. (e.g. pin-fire and needle-fire).
  • Breech loading firearms incapable of firing a centre fire cartridge.

Not Antiques:

  • Breech loading firearms capable of firing either:
  • a centre fire cartridge,
    a rim fire cartridge not exceeding .23" (or its metric equivalent),
    a 9mm rim fire cartridge.
  • All firearms of "Modern" manufacture.
  • All ammunition

If a firearm falls within the accepted definition of antique, then it is no longer subject to the provisions of the Firearms Acts, providing it is kept as a curio or ornament. It will be seen above that no ammunition can be classified as antique and the possession of suitable ammunition, for use with an otherwise antique firearm, may indicate that the firearm is not possessed as a curio or ornament.

Please note that as of 22 March 2021, new legislation came into force regarding Antique Firearms. Please see the Changes to the Law section on the Licensing home page.

For further information please visit The Home Office guidance on Antique Firearms What you need to know?

back to top


Question 4: Do I need a certificate for an Air weapon?

Conventional air weapons do not fall within the remit of the Firearms Enquiry Team, as they do not, except in certain circumstances, require certification. However many people are interested in this subject and have asked for information.

An air weapon differs from a conventional firearm by the fact that it, and the pellets discharged, do not contain any explosive substance.

When the trigger is pulled the pellets are forced from the barrel by the discharge of compressed air or other gas.

Most air weapons are of such limited power that they do not require to be licensed, however there are exceptions to this rule.

The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 require that certain air weapons can only be held legally on a firearm certificate. It is possible to measure the velocity of pellets, discharged from an air weapon, by the use of an electronic chronograph. From these measurements the kinetic energy of the pellet at the muzzle can be calculated. Air weapons deemed especially dangerous have a muzzle energy in excess of:

  • In the case of an air pistol: 6 ft/lbs (8-13 Joules)
  • In the case of an air weapon other than an air pistol: 12 ft/lbs (16-27 Joules)(and metric equivalents)

Such weapons are classified as Section 1 firearms and are required to be held on a firearm certificate. These weapons are subject to all the controls and regulations pertaining to Section 1 firearms, although the "ammunition" (pellets) is not.

These rules do not apply to an air weapon designed for use only when submerged in water, e.g. harpoon gun.


BB Guns/Air Soft Guns

BB guns or ball bearing guns, also known as soft air guns are legally sold in shops and on the Internet for people to use in organised 'Skirmish Clubs'. These clubs organise combat games between clubs. Generally this type of recreation if properly organised does not cause concern at all to the police or general public, however when these types of weapons are used irresponsibly by people in public places these types of incidents give the police grave concerns.


It is an offence to be in possession of an imitation firearm in a public place

back to top


Question 5: How can I take my licensed weapons abroad?

Due to the UK leaving the EU on 31 January 2020 we are no longer able to issue a European Firearms Pass (EFP). If you wish to take your weapons to any other country, whether in or outside the EEC, you should seek advice from the embassy or consulate of that country. 

Northern Ireland:
Holders of British firearm and shotgun certificates wishing to take their firearms to Northern Ireland will need a valid certificate of approval from the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland in addition to their usual certificates.

Air weapons also require licenses in Northern Ireland and approval, as above, is necessary to take them there.

back to top


Question 6: What should I do if I unexpectedly come into possession of firearms?

There have been many incidents where unlicensed people, through no fault of their own, have suddenly found themselves in "possession" of firearms or shotguns. The first criterion is not to panic into doing something silly or even illegal.

Such an incident could be, for instance, when a certificate holder dies and the widow or widower is left with their firearms or shotguns. In such circumstances the police are empowered to issue a temporary permit to allow lawful access to them, to allow time for the firearms or shotguns to be disposed of properly.

If you find unlicensed firearms or shtguns in your "possession", for instance discovering them in your loft having just moved into a new address; do not handle them, they could be loaded and in a dangerous condition. Immediately call your local police who will make them safe and dispose of them for you.

Should you find yourself "inheriting" firearms or shotguns you have a number of choices. If you are a certificate holder then you can request that they be added to your own certificate. This would depend on them not being lost or stolen and you having capacity to store them and, in the case of a firearm certificate, the authority to possess that type of firearm. You could also request the required authority but would need to satisfy good reason.

If you are not a certificate holder you could first request a permit allowing you access to these, this would give you the time to get them to a Registered Firearms Dealer for storage, whilst you decided what to do next. You could then apply for a certificate yourself to allow you to keep the firearms or shotguns, but remember you would need to satisfy good reason.

Another alternative is to have them deactivated which would remove them from all legislation relating to firearms. They would still retain the original appearance but would be incapable of discharging a missile.

In all case of doubt, contact your local police or the Firearms Enquiry Team covering your area. They will deal sympathetically with your problem and help you find the right solution. The last thing anybody wants is for unlicensed firearms or shotguns to get into the wrong hands

back to top


Question 7: What is a firearm permit?

A permit can be issued by the Chief Officer of Police, as a temporary authority, for the possession of firearms or shotguns. It is not normally issued to a certificate holder, but to someone who, unexpectedly, finds the need to have legal access to weapons (see example above).

The authority is usually of a restrictive nature and may not allow use of the weapons for shooting. The permit, by nature of the fact that it is temporary, has a limited life span, probably about thirty days. This can be extended in exceptional circumstances.

The idea of the permit is to allow the holder to transfer or transport weapons, perhaps to a Registered Firearms Dealer or another certificate holder. It is not designed as a legal authority in place of a normal certificate.

You could look on a permit as a temporary "cover-note".

back to top


Question 8: How do I import or export firearms?

To permanently import or export firearms will normally require the grant of a licence from the Department of Trade and Industry. The import and export of firearms is a complex subject and advice should be sought from the following:

Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
Import Licensing Branch
Queensway House
TS23 2NF

tel: 01642 364333
fax: 01642 364269
email: enquiries

Department for Business Enterprise & Regulatory Reform
Export Licensing Unit
4 Abbey Orchard Street

tel: 020 7215 8070
fax: 020 7215 0558
email: eco-help

back to top


Question 9: How can a visitor to this country possess firearms or shotguns?

Under section 17 of the 1988 Act a visitor to Great Britain may, if he is granted a visitor's permit, have in his possession firearms, shotguns or ammunition without holding a certificate.

The holder of a visitor's firearm permit may have in his possession any firearm (but not purchase one), and purchase, acquire or have in his possession any ammunition, to which section 1 of the 1968 Act applies.

The holder of a visitor's shotgun permit may have in his possession, purchase or acquire shotguns and is exempt from the requirement to produce a shotgun certificate when purchasing cartridges. Both permits are valid for a period of up to 12 months and must show the full details of weapons covered and, in the case of a firearms permit, show details of the quantity of ammunition to be purchased/acquired and held. Similarly, territorial and other conditions as would appear on a firearm certificate, will normally be imposed on a firearm permit.

Separate permits for each police area are not required as both permits will cover the visitor throughout Great Britain.

back to top


Question 10: How do I apply for a visitor's permit?

Applications for visitor's permits must be made on behalf of the visitor, to the Chief Officer of Police, by a person resident in that area. In most cases a private sponsor will himself be a certificate holder, but this is not a requirement.

Applications must be made on Form 107 (Firearm), or 109 (Shotgun).

The sponsor may be a private individual, or may make the application in the capacity of a club, shooting syndicate, country estate or shooting organisation.

Group applications can be made for parties of between 6 and 20 people provided they are all shooting at the same location and at the same time, or are participating in the same event or competition. In such circumstances a reduced fee is payable. See Fees and Charges.

Applications should be made well in advance of the required date, to allow the proper enquiries to be made. The information necessary will be provided by the sponsor to whom all enquiries will be made.

Criteria for granting a permit:
A Chief Officer of Police must not grant a permit to any person in respect of whom he has reason to believe:

  • That his possession of the ammunition or weapons in question would represent a danger to public safety or to the peace; or
  • That he is prohibited from possessing such weapons or ammunition.
  • If the grant is not precluded on the above grounds, the Chief Officer of Police must be satisfied that:
  • The applicant is visiting or intends to visit Great Britain;


  • In the case of a visitor's firearm permit, the applicant has good reason for having each firearm and the ammunition to which the permit relates in his possession, or, as respects ammunition, for purchasing or acquiring it whilst a visitor to Great Britain;


  • In the case of a visitor's shotgun permit, the applicant has a good reason for having each shotgun to which the permit relates in his possession, or for purchase or acquiring it, whilst he is a visitor to Great Britain.

When a permit is granted it will be sent to the sponsor who should forward it to the visitor in his country of origin, for presentation to customs on his arrival in Great Britain. The visitor's permit will be accepted in lieu of a Department of Trade & Industry import licence. Failure to produce the permit at the time of importation may render the firearms/shotguns liable to detention or seizure.

Members of EU countries must be in possession of a European Firearms Pass which should be forwarded with the application for the permit.

Should an application for the grant of a visitor's permit be refused there is no right of appeal. However notification of such refusals will, circumstances allowing, be detailed by letter in good time to prevent any unnecessary travel costs.

back to top


Question 11: What is a 'prohibited person'?

A prohibited person is:

  • Anyone who has been sentenced to preventive detention or to imprisonment or corrective training for a term of three years or more
  • Anyone who has been sentenced to be detained for a term of three years or more in a young offenders' institution in Scotland

Prohibited people are banned for life from having in their possession all firearms - including air weapons.

Anyone who has been sentenced to:

  • Borstal training
  • Corrective training for less than three years
  • Imprisonment for a term of more than three months but less than three years
  • Detention for more than three months but less than three years in a detention centre or young offenders' institution in Scotland

- shall not at any time during the five years after their release, have a firearm or ammunition in their possession.

It is also an offence for anyone to sell or transfer a firearm or ammunition to, or repair, test or prove a firearm or ammunition for a person who they know, or have reasonable grounds for believing, to be prohibited from having a firearm or ammunition in their possession.

back to top


Question 12: Can I try shooting without holding a certificate?

Yes, under certain circumstances.

Many approved shotgun clubs and Registered Firearms Dealers hold open days, where people without certificates can fire club guns to test their interest in the sport.

The club or dealer must hold a section 11(6) permit, issued by the police, which allow these events on a limited number of days each year.

Approved rifle and muzzle-loading clubs will allow the shooting of club guns providing you are a club member. Clubs also allow non-members to use club weapons on a limited number of days as guests.

You may also shoot shotguns and rifles when accompanied by a certificate-holding landowner or their agent, such as a game warden. You must, however, shoot on the owner's land, using their weapons within the limitations of the certificate for that weapon.

You may not borrow another person's gun if they do not occupy the land you intend to shoot on.

back to top


Question 13: What is a 'restricted' shotgun?

The Firearms Amendment Act 1988 saw the removal of pump-action and semi-automatic shotguns - both of which have a magazine capable of holding more than two cartridges - from shotgun certificates.

These weapons are now classed as section 1 firearms and can only be held on a firearm certificate.

Many shotgun certificate holders had to either dispose of these weapons or have them restricted.

What is restriction?
Restriction adapts the shotgun magazine, allowing it to hold no more than two conventional cartridges. A third cartridge can still be legally held in the breech.

Restriction must be carried out in a manner approved by the Secretary of State and carried out by a fully qualified gunsmith. The shotgun must be proof marked and certified by a proof house.

What if I want to acquire a restricted shotgun?
If you plan to acquire a pump-action or semi automatic shotgun on a shotgun certificate, you must ensure that the magazine cannot hold more than two cartridges. Adapted weapons must be proof marked and carry a certificate from a proof house. The magazine must also be non-removable.

Failure to ensure these points may expose you to being in unlawful possession of section 1 firearms.

back to top


Question 14: What are 'deactivated' weapons?

A deactivated weapon is any firearm that has been converted so that it can no longer discharge any shot, bullet or any other missile. Deactivation is intended to be permanent and cannot be reactivated without specialist tools or skills.

Deactivation work carried out in the UK since 1 July 1989, will generally have been endorsed by a Proof House. The weapon will be proof marked and issued with a deactivation certificate.

There are stringent requirements before a weapon can be proofed as deactivated and such work should be left to a gunsmith. A registered firearms dealer is the best person to speak to about this.

Any weapon - including prohibited one such as a machine gun - can be deactivated and will no longer deemed a firearm under the Firearms Act.

Deactivated weapons may be possessed without a firearm or shotgun certificate and may be displayed in the owner's home without the need for a locked gun cabinet.

Buying deactivated weapons:
It is important that care is taken when acquiring any firearm that is described as deactivated. You should ensure that you are shown the proof house mark and certificate issued in respect of any gun deactivated in the UK since 1989.

back to top


Question 15: How do I get rid of a weapon I no longer want?

If you possess a shotgun, legally held on a shotgun certificate, and you no longer wish to keep it, you have various options as to its disposal.

You can sell, give or transfer its ownership to a Registered Firearms Dealer or another shotgun certificate holder or who has adequate and safe storage for the weapon.

You can surrender the weapon at any police station, where it will normally be sent away for destruction, unless it is deemed of particular historical interest. In the latter case it could be given to a museum or other interested official party.

You can have the weapon deactivated.

Other Firearms:
If you hold weapons on a firearms certificate, the scenario is slightly different when selling, giving or transferring them to another firearms certificate holder.

Unlike shotguns, firearm certificate holders can only posses firearms authorised on their certificates.

Before transferring firearms to another firearm certificate holder, you must ensure that their certificate carries the authority for the calibre and firearm in question.

No such restrictions apply to Registered Firearms Dealers, except possibly in respect of prohibited weapons.

The option to surrender firearms at a police station or have them deactivated applies to firearms as it does shotguns.

Weapons should never be destroyed or disposed of by their owners. Every weapon needs to be accounted for and the police authority that issued the certificate must be informed as to what has happened to the weapon.

Unwanted section 1 ammunition can be disposed of through another authorised firearm certificate holder, Registered Firearms Dealer, your target shooting club or surrendered at any police station.



Firearms Licensing Officer
Devon & Cornwall Police, Firearms & Explosives Licensing Department
Police Headquarters
Middlemoor, Exeter

Tel: 01392 225650

Non Emergency Directory (NED)

Current location: Change

There seems to be a problem, please refresh the page and try again.

©2015 Devon and Cornwall Constabulary

Content uploaded: |
Content correct on page at last modification date.
Devon and Cornwall Police are NOT accountable for the content of external websites