Pistol ammunition
Pistol ammunition

Changes to the law on antique firearms

Section 58 of the Firearms Act 1968 and the Antique Firearms Regulations 2021 set out in law which firearms can be regarded as antique, and therefore exempt from licensing.

The definition closely follows the model used previously in Home Office guidance and will therefore be familiar to collectors, dealers and museums. To be regarded as an antique, 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 that the firearm 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

Following their use in crime, seven cartridges which previously appeared in the Home Office obsolete cartridge list have been omitted from the equivalent list in the 2021 Regulations.

These cartridges are:

  • .320 British (also known as .320 Revolver CF, short or long)
  • .41 Colt (short or long)
  • .44 Smith and Wesson Russian
  • .442 Revolver (also known as .44 Webley)
  • 4mm Dutch Revolver
  • 6mm German Ordnance Revolver
  • 11mm French Ordnance Revolver M1873 (Army)

This means that from 22 March 2021 all firearms chambered for use with the above cartridges became subject to the controls in the 1968 Act, including licensing.

As long as a person has applied for a firearm certificate, they will remain in lawful possession of their firearm even if their application remains outstanding or is the subject of an outstanding appeal when the transition period ends.

Should a firearm meet the criteria for a historic handgun under section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, the owner can apply for a certificate on this basis.

If the owner of a firearm that no longer falls within the definition of ‘antique firearm’ chooses not to licence it, they will need to otherwise dispose of it. Disposal could include selling, exporting or deactivating the firearm, donating it to a museum or surrendering it to the police.

To enable this, owners will be able to freely sell or transfer the firearm to another collector or to a museum without requiring a firearm certificate, section 5 authority or a museum firearms licence. Owners can also sell or transfer the firearm to a dealer, but only one who is registered with the police and who has a section 5 authority.

Dealers must be registered and hold a section 5 authority before they can purchase or acquire any such firearms.

Where a museum purchases or acquires such firearms, they  must possess either a museum firearms licence (with the authority of the Secretary of State or Scottish Ministers to possess any which are prohibited weapons) or a firearm certificate.

Further details about the changes to the law in 2021 were set out in this HO circular.

Got a question? Email us on firearms@basc.org.uk or call 01244 573 010.

© BASC July 2023