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Deactivated Rifles

The most common question I am asked is “How much is my gun worth?” The next frequent enquiry is some query about the legal status of one sort of ancient firearm, or another. There is much confusion in the ranks about what people can and cannot have, and what they can do with it. I have to say, confusion is often significantly present in the police personnel charged with operating the frameworks set in law and interpreting them in order to advise or direct the public.

One such case involved a retiring RFD who had an obsolete calibre rook rifle. While the police were happy for him to have it on his RFD authority, they threatened to have it confiscated and destroyed when he gave up his RFD, as their view was that, because it had been kept ‘on ticket’ as a firearm, it could not be moved ‘off ticket’ into the Obsolete Calibre ranking, under which he could keep it as a curio. They were wrong.

Another case, and quite a common one, is when a member of the public finds, often in a deceased estate, a firearm they cannot identify and they are terrified that it may get them locked up. Frequently, the item proves to be exempt from licensing. Sometimes, they may be convinced it is worth a lot of money and think that age alone will make it ‘Antique’ in the eyes of the law. It doesn’t. 

I’m not a lawyer, so please don not take this as concrete legal advice. however, what I’m about to cover, is, I hope, of some use to collector of older rifles who are confused about the legality of their hobby.

Section 58

In essence, Section 58 of the 1968 Firearms Act allows for a person to own certain types or chamberings of rifle or shotgun without the need to obtain a Section 1 or Section 2 Certificate (we’ll not get involved with pistols here, though Section 58 also allows pistol exemptions for licence-free ownership).

You can have a notionally ‘obsolete calibre’, such as .360 rook rifle and hand load ammunition so you can use it for its intended purpose. To do so, you need it to be put on your Firearms Certificate, lock it up in a  cabinet and record the ammunition you bought, owned and used.

If you happen to own three or four more rook rifles of the same calibre, as a collection, you can declare them ‘curios’ or ‘ornaments’ and hang them on the wall. There is no direction in the Act that precludes a person from ownership of antiques on the basis that he has the same calibre as a firearm. 

The licensing authorities will often try to construe that ownership of ammunition shows that the item is not, therefore, kept as a curio. They are wrong to do so and should be challenged when they do it. They would have to show that the owner either intended to use, or actually used the rifles and ammunition outside the terms of Section 58 exemption.

Take another example, you might collect pin-fire double rifles and shotguns, which are exempt under Section 58. You might, legitimately want to have some pin-fire shotgun ammunition as part of the collection. Shotgun ammunition does not require a licence to own. There is no automatic assumption that having a collection of pin-fire ammunition, as well as a collection of pin-fire guns cancels the Section 58 authority. The test is of the manner in which the gun is kept.

For owners of rifles, however, it is different, as no rifle or pistol ammunition is ‘obsolete’ under the Act. You may not own obsolete pistol or rifle ammunition, for example, .44 Russian or .577 Snider, without having Section 1 FAC authority to do so.

If you have an obsolete calibre firearm on your FAC, and decide you no longer wish to use it, you can tell the police your change of intent, surrender the ammunition and declare your ownership now conforms to Section 58. They have to accept that unless they can prove the reality to be otherwise.

The Home Office publishes a list of ‘Obsolete Calibre’ chamberings. You can read it here: https://www.vintageguns.co.uk/articles/obsolete-calibre-list/

If you have a rifle in that chambering, you can own it as a curio or ornament without a licence.

Deactivated Firearms

The current EU directives (March 2018) on the deactivation of firearms are here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:32018R0337&from=EN

They are multi-faceted and thorough and they dictate how each type of firearm must be deactivated to comply. Most de-activated weapons in the country at this time will not comply. This creates problems when a person inherits an estate that may have one or more deactivated weapons hanging on the wall.

Even if the de-activation complied with previous legislation, if it does not conform to the new specifications, the right to own it as a de-activated weapon dies with the owner. This means that the old-style deactivation certificate will be honoured during the ownership of the current owner but the minute he dies or tries to offer the item for sale or gives it away, it reverts, in law, to its original categorisation (for example, a deactivated Thompson sub-machine gun would be considered a Section 5 Prohibited Weapon) and any offences, such as sale or transfer, would be deemed Section 5 offences.

These areas of law are some of those which frequently cause arguments between the authorities and the fire-arm owning public.It is sensible to be cautious, to be knowledgeable and to be courteous when involved in such negotiations. However, the legal exemptions are there for their stated purpose. The government deliberately, and knowingly, allowed for licence-free firearms collecting, as right, when the 1968 Act was framed and we should not be afraid to exercise that right.

Anyone facing difficulties with the authorities in relation to these exemptions should refer to the Firearms Department at BASC in the first instance. If specialist legal advice is required, for example when discussions with the authorities have reached an impasse and a solid legal opinion needs to be laid out to strengthen your case, Laura Saunsbury at Lewis Nedas Law can be relied on to fight your corner.

I would recommend Laura’s ‘The British Firearms Law Handbook’ as a good addition to any shooting man’s library. For-warned is forearmed.