There is wide understanding within the shooting community of the two most commonly relevant parts of firearms legislation governing our ownership and use of shotguns and rifles. Section 1 covers ‘firearms’, essentially the type of shotgun we cannot have on a Shotgun Certificate (5-shot magazine pump-actions for example) and arms with rifled barrels, from the humble, bunny-bagging .22 rimfire to the mighty .577 nitro for elephant hunting overseas. Section 2, as all readers know, regulates the ownership of the shotguns we use for our sporting activities.
Rather more obscure and off the radar of many shooting people is Section 58. This explains what legislators refer to as ‘obsolete calibre’ weapons and mechanisms of various types. If a gun meets the criteria, it can be held without any kind of licence. Furthermore, it does not need to be kept in a safe, but can be hung on the wall and openly displayed.
Most people are vaguely aware that muzzle-loaders can be displayed and don’t need a licence. Nor do you need one for rimfire rifles above .22 calibre or pinfire guns of any type. Just be careful that all your muzzle-loaders pre-date 1939, or Section 58 does not apply!
Collectors, interested in amassing an array of revolvers or rifles, can work within the guidelines of Section 58 to to exactly that, the wider ban on handguns does not affect them. You could, for example, go and buy a Smith & Wesson .44 Russian six shot single action revolver or a military rifle, like a straight-pull Model 1889 Swiss service rifle in 7.5×53.5mm. Both these chamberings are on the official ‘obsolete calibre’ list and are free to own as curios.
Most of the big bore black powder express rifles, like this Alex Henry .500, no longer need a certificate.
If classic double rifles are more your thing, you can build and display a fantastic collection of black powder express rifles, in calibres like .577 BPE or .450 (3 ¼”) BPE because they too are exempt from licence requirements.
Section 58 can be a bit counter intuitive. For example, many wild-fowlers still take their old big-bore hammer guns to the marsh and hold them on a SGC. Holt’s sold a nice E.M Reilly 10-bore (2 ⅝”) double hammer gun a few sales back. It was sold as ‘obsolete calibre’ but could well be in service today.
This is where ‘intent’ and ‘application’ muddy the legal waters. If you took the Reilly home, hung it on the wall in the dining rom and looked at it as an ornament, you would be perfectly free to do just that. If P.C plod came knocking, he would have to lump it that you had a big gun on the wall!
However, if you wanted to take the same gun out and shoot the occasional duck, you would have to put it on your shotgun certificate and lock it in a safe. I guess it made sense to someone when they were drafting the law but I’m not sure it makes much sense to me!
So, how can the police know what you intend to do with the gun on your wall? The common test is whether you have any ammunition. If you want it for display, better that you don’t have any, or they may decide you want to use it. A funny case of it being perfectly legal to display a box of 10-bore ammo on the shelf and also to have a working 10-bore hammer gun on the wall, just not both at the same time!
I’m not a lawyer, so don’t take my musings as a legal opinion; you would be much better advised to read Laura Saunsbury’s The British Firearms Law Handbook. She IS a lawyer and knows this stuff inside out. You can see the Home Office ‘obsolete calibre’ list on line at www.vintageguns.co.uk/articles/obsolete-calibre-list
As I write this, I have a nice obsolete calibre Cogswell & Harrison .400/450 BPE double rifle on the wall, alongside a William Powell 12-bore muzzle loader to look at when the fancy takes me. Everything else is securely locked away – until my gunroom is finished, then it is a different story!
Published by Vintage Guns Ltd on (modified )