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Trinity Licensing Barrister Examines Definition of “Antique Firearm”


Shada Mellor, Licensing barrister at Trinity Chambers explores the statutory definition of “antique firearm” in the light of recent regulatory changes and their wide-ranging implications for gun owners.

What may come to mind when you think of an “antique firearm”, is Jack Sparrow’s English Flintlock Pistol, or a World War I Trench Shotgun. Those are obvious examples, but until now, the legal distinction between “antique firearm” and “firearm” has been contentious and unclear.

This is due to the Firearms Act 1968 (“the 1968 Act”) failing to define “antique firearm” and the Courts considering it inappropriate to define what parliament had not. Guidance was provided through The Home Office Guide on Firearm Licensing Law (2015); however, it is not legally binding, and it is reported that reliance placed on the Guidance in Court is minimal. Effective from 22 March 2021 a statutory definition of “antique firearm” has been inserted into the 1968 Act.

The definition of an antique firearm is central to the operation of section 58(2) of the 1968 Act. The provision exempts antique firearms which are sold, transferred, purchased, acquired, or possessed as a curiosity or ornament from most of the controls in the 1968 Act, including the need for certification and being able to trade in them without being registered with the police as a firearms dealer.

The Antique Firearms Regulations 2021 (“the Antique Regulations”) and the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Commencement No.11 and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2021 (“the Commencement Regulations”) brought into effect section 126 of the 2017 Act. Section 126 of the 2017 Act inserted into section 58 of the 1968 Act a statutory definition of “antique firearm”. There are now two routes in which a firearm can be classified as an “antique firearm”, in both, the firearm must have been manufactured before 1 September 1939 (Regulation 4, Antique Regulations).

  1. Firearms Chamber

Firstly, the firearm’s chamber or chambers is the chamber it had when it was manufactured or if it has been replaced, the chambers are identical in all material respects to the one at the point of manufacture. Each of the chamber(s) must also be designed for use with a cartridge of a description listed in the Schedule of the Antique Regulations.

  1. Firearms Propulsion System

Secondly, the firearms propulsion system is listed in Regulation 3 of the Antique Regulations. These are:

a) any propulsion system which involves the use of a loose charge and a separate ball (or other missile) loaded at the muzzle end of the barrel, chamber or cylinder of the firearm and which uses an independent source of ignition. This covers muzzle-loading firearms;

b) any propulsion system in a breech-loading cartridge firearm which uses an ignition system other than rim-fire or centre-fire. For example, pin-fire and needle-fire ignition systems, as well as lip fire, cup-primed, teat fire and base fire systems;

c) any propulsion system which involves the use of rim-fire cartridges (other than .22 (5.58 mm), .23 (5.8 mm), 6mm or 9mm rim-fire cartridges) in a breech-loading firearm; or

d) any propulsion system for an air weapon (England and Wales only). This does not include prohibited air weapons or air weapons of a type declared specially dangerous

In terms of the exemption in section 58(2) of the 1968 Act being classified as an “antique firearm” is only one limb of the test, the others still need to be satisfied.

Firearms that are no longer exempt

The new statutory definition brings into scope some firearms which had not previously been classed as “antique firearms,” as well as removing other from the protected classification. The Commencement Regulations and 2017 Act provide for transitional arrangements by allowing all existing owners to retain on a firearm certificate (or shot gun certificate, if applicable) any firearm they possess that were previously held as antiques but no longer fall within the definition.

Owners have until 21 September 2021 to make an application to their local police force for a firearm or shotgun certificate or a variation to an existing certificate.

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