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Whether or not a firearm is legally an ‘antique’ should, they say, be determined not by age but by whether it uses an obsolete cartridge type or firing mechanism contained on a statutory list.

Antique guns occupy a designated section of a 52-page report published by the Law Commission in response to criticism of the 1968 Firearms Act by law enforcement bodies.

A scoping consultation involving a wide range of stakeholders, including specialist dealers and auctioneers, ran from July to September.

Agreeing with the CPS that a legal definition is now required, the commission say that only those old firearms that do not pose a realistic danger to the public ought to be considered ‘antique’ for the purposes of the law.

Rejecting any approach that would make the age of the gun the determining factor (such as a rolling 100-year cut-off), they instead recommend that the term ‘antique firearm’ should be defined in legislation by reference to functionality.

Concession to the Trade

The recommendation of a two-tiered approach – one that considers both the firing mechanism and the cartridge calibre of the gun – represented a significant concession to the antiques trade.

During the consulation, the Metropolitan Police Forensic Firearms Unit had suggested permitting only obsolete firing systems (matchlock, wheellock, flintlock and percussion) and excluding all centre-fire system weapons in the definition of an antique.

The commission says that a blanket ban on the centre-fire system (invented in 1860) “would significantly curtail the types of old firearm that can be possessed without a firearm certificate [and]… would have a significant impact upon the trade in antique firearms”.

The report also rejects plans to record or license the sale of all antique firearms – something the trade had feared would add red tape to a popular collecting area.