UK: To Hang Or Not To Hang (Guns That Is)?

Last Updated: 24 April 2002
Article by James Taylor

The debate on hanging is one which carries on and on. If you do hang, you might be making a mistake which can’t be corrected later, but if you don’t hang, you might regret it also.

I’m talking about antique firearms in this issue. If you hang something up on the wall which looks absolutely superb over the fireplace, and it is not on your certificate because it’s just a wall-hanger, you need to be sure that you are not going to fall foul of the law. It could get stolen, or your local Constabulary might pay you a call.

Your average police officer doesn’t have the same expertise in firearms matters. Because firearms training is given to so few, not all officers know the difference between prohibited guns, those subject to the two main licensing procedures, and those which can be kept without a licence.

Like many others, I started out with a hammergun. It was made in the 1950s, in the Gardone Valley in Italy. It weighed about the same as a modern O/U, and was choked full and extra-full, but it didn’t half bring down high pigeon, and when I started game shooting (high birds only), it always aroused great interest. One chap who asked to look at it practically dropped it straight away – he explained that he had never, on principle, touched any gun which wasn’t English, and this one had taken him in because the barrels bore the legend "Made in Sheffield – Whitworth Steel" or some such.

It was getting a bit loose a couple of years ago, and needed too much investment in lockwork too, so I tried without success to persuade my interior designer to let me get it deactivated and hang it up in a suitable spot. I part-exchanged it for an AYA No4 instead, and sort of regret not keeping it in my cabinet.

There remains in me, and if truth were told, in the heart of every shooting man, the desire to accumulate pieces of history around us relating to our wonderful sport. That gun, although just 50 or so years old, was something special because of its age. Many others have a grand collection of guns which they hardly use, but can’t bring themselves to dispose of due to sentimental reasons. Some go to the trouble and expense of getting a FAC just to hang onto the old short-barreled 9mm garden gun which Father used to start them out on.

There is no definition of "antique" in the Firearms Act 1968, so each item is assessed on its own merits. Certain general guidelines have been given about particular matters, however.

Not for Use

Antique firearms are exempt from certificate controls, either FAC or SGC, provided they are kept as curiosities or ornaments. The Home Office Guidance, and the approach of most police forces over the years has stated that that excludes any intent to fire the gun concerned, even with blank ammunition. If you wish to fire the gun, no matter how infrequently, it should be on the appropriate certificate. You should be allowed by your local licensing office to take it on and off your certificate to change its status from "antique" to "part 1 firearm" or "shotgun" as and when. Bear in mind, also, that the exemption does not cover live ammunition.

Normally exempted

You can usually keep : -

  • Muzzle-loading firearms
  • Breech loading rimfire guns (other than 4mm,5mm,.22 or .23, 6mm or 9mm chambers)
  • Pin-fire/needle-fire, or anything which is not rimfire or centrefire
  • Various obsolete calibre firearms and
  • Shotguns of certain unusual bores, i.e. 32 bore, 24 bore, 14 bore and certain larger bores in certain chambers

provided that it is not a modern reproduction (i.e. manufactured post 1939).

Not exempted

Certain guns which you or I might think of as antique cannot be exempt from certification. These include

  • Shot guns or pistols chambered for standard cartridges
  • Rifles & handguns chambered for 4mm,5mm,.22, .23, 6mm or 9mm rimfire
  • Other revolvers, single shot pistols and self-loading pistols unless of certain obsolete calibres
  • Modern reproductions modified to shoot modern standard shotgun cartridges
  • Extensively modified guns
  • Signaling pistols of certain calibres
  • Self-loading or pump centrefile rifles, subject to certain exemptions ref original chambering.

For specific guidance, I recommend calling the BASC if you are a member, or consulting the Home Office guidance yourself. The web address is:

So, if that old 12 bore ‘keeper’s gun which you see in so many country pubs takes your fancy you should make sure that it is legally de-activated. That means stamped by the Proof Houses and duly certified in writing as such. De-activation itself is a different topic and will merit another article in due course.

To summarise, if in doubt, seek advice from your gunsmith, the BASC or consult the Home Office guidance. These old guns can bring a lot of pleasure to their owners, but a mistake could result in loss of other, certificated guns if the Police chose to prosecute.

For further information on firearms law, please contact Mr James Taylor, firearms expert at Bevans solicitors.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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