When is an antique firearm not an antique firearm?

8th June 2021

When is an antique firearm not an antique firearm?

A change in the law on possession of antique firearms came into force in March this year. Owners of antique firearms may need to act quickly to avoid breaching firearms legislation.

Due to concern over the rise in use of antique firearms in criminal activity, the Government has acted to define “antique firearms”. This will make the position much clearer than the previous test which required an owner to demonstrate that the firearm was kept as an ornament or curiosity.

Up until March of this year there was no statutory definition of “antique firearm” and antique firearms that were sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity or ornament were exempt from most firearms controls under the Firearms Act 1968.

The position now is that for a firearm to be classed as “antique” and therefore exempt from much of the regime imposed by the 1968 Act, a firearm must:

  • Have been manufactured before 1 September 1939, and
  • Either have a propulsion system of a type specified in the 2021 Regulations (for example, muzzle loaders, pin fire or needle fire) or the chamber(s) are those which the firearms had when it was manufactured (or a replacement that is identical in all material respects) and it is chambered for use with a cartridge specified in the 2021 Regulations, and
  • Be sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity or ornament.

The Regulations also sets out seven types of ammunition which have been removed from the Home Office obsolete cartridge list and so must now be licensed. The reason for this is because these types of ammunition have been used in a number of crimes. The effect is that any firearm chambered for use with these cartridges which are no longer obsolete will also need to be licensed after 21 September 2021.

In addition, some 23 types of ammunition have been added to the obsolete list which means that from March 2021 firearms which are chambered for use with these cartridges (and which otherwise meet the definition of “antique firearm”) will be exempt from licensing control and can be possessed without a Firearms Certificate.

It is likely that the vast majority of firearms affected will be handguns which, once brought under licensing control, also become prohibited weapons. Mandatory prison sentences apply to the possession of a prohibited weapon without a licence. It will be possible to possess such a reclassified firearm with a firearms certificate (and without needing to apply for a Section 5 prohibited weapons authority).

If the owner of a firearm which is no longer classified as an antique firearm needs to make an application for a firearms certificate then it will be necessary to show that they are fit to be entrusted with a firearm, not a prohibited person and will not represent a danger to public safety or to the peace. However, they will not be required to show that they have a good reason for possessing the firearm, which otherwise would be the case on application for a firearms certificate. Appropriate security measures will need to be put in place to prevent unauthorised access to the newly licensed firearms.

It seems likely that any firearms certificate granted for the category of firearm which had previously been treated as antique, and is no more by virtue of the 2021 Regulations, will contain conditions that ammunition for that firearm should not be kept and that the firearm should not be fired.

The transition period lasts until 21 September 2021, but no offence will be committed by the possession of a firearm which is no longer defined as antique as long as an application has been made for a firearms certificate and the application remains outstanding or is the subject of an outstanding appeal.

Owners of historic handguns possessed under Section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 can apply for a firearms certificate relying on that Section of the Act but will not be required to apply for a Section 5 authority (as historic handguns in this context are not considered to be prohibited weapons).

Museums which already hold a museum firearms licence can rely on that licence for the possession of any firearm which ceases to be regarded as antique as a result of the new regulations. Firearms held under a museum firearms licence will not be treated as prohibited weapons and are exempt from Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968.

Any owner of a firearm that no longer comes within the definition of “antique firearm” and who chooses not to licence it will need to dispose of it before the transition period ends at 23:59 on 21 September 2021. No compensation is payable on the surrender or disposal of such firearms.

The Regulations permit up to two transfers of ownership, but no more before 21 September, although it is anticipated that there is unlikely to be more than one.

For any firearm which was once classified as an antique firearm but is no longer classified as such after March 2021 when the new Regulations came into force, it will be an offence under the Firearms Act 1968 to carry such a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse and also to trespass with such a firearm. It will still be an offence for a newly defined “antique firearm” to be in the possession of someone who has previously been convicted of a crime.

If you have an interest in old firearms then it would be very sensible to have your collection checked to ensure that you deal with firearms in that collection appropriately during the transition period up to 21 September 2021.

If you require any further information contact Hugh Rowland on 01473 298141 or email hugh.rowland@gotelee.co.uk.

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