The Home Office has launched a fresh consultation on what constitutes an ‘antique firearm’. The legal definition is being reviewed as part of the provisions for the new Policing and Crime Act 2017 – many of which came into force in May.
The ‘antique firearm’ consultation follows an initial study undertaken by the Law Commission in 2015. It concluded that an ‘antique firearm’ should be determined not simply by age but by whether or not it uses an obsolete cartridge type or firing mechanism.
At the time, the process and clarification were welcomed by the antiques trade and other stakeholders.
However, the government consultation, launched on October 19, will now revisit the process as it seeks to enshrine all of the Policing and Crime Act in law.
Section 126, which deals with the definitions relating to the Firearms Act 1968, will seek to define an ‘antique firearm’ in law for the first time by specifying the “types of cartridge or propulsion systems that render a firearm antique”.
The consultation will also consider a change to the automatic cut-off date of manufacture after which all weapons must be licensed. Currently this date is 1939 but this could shift to 1900.
The Home Office announcement comes at a time when police have again raised concerns regarding the use of old guns in crime.
The National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) has noted an increase in so-called antique firearms being used by criminals who manufacture ammunition to fit obselete calibres.
The deadline for responses to the consultation – available via the gov.uk website– is December 14.
In a separate development, local police forces have observed a rise in the sale of unlawful firearms at auction. Transgressions include offering deactivated weapons without EU certification or shotguns that have not been proof checked.
Under the Firearms Act (1968) and the Gun Barrel Proof Acts (1868 to 1978), it is an offence to sell an unproofed or out-of proof firearm. The proof checking is necessary to ensure the firearm is in shootable condition.
Since April 2016 it has been illegal to sell a deactivated weapon unless it has a current EU certificate. Previously issued UK certificates are no longer sufficient.
Both offences can be subject to substantial fines of £5000 or more but errors have been made by a number of salerooms.
One antique gun expert said it was not unusual for a saleroom to believe that police approval was sufficient due diligence when selling sporting guns.
“The police run a register but they are not ‘MOT-ing’ guns. A certificate gives an auctioneer the right to store firearms but you should only sell the gun if it has been proofed.”
Hamish Wilson at Thomson Roddick, who received a Registered Firearms Dealers certificate earlier this year, said: “Auctioneers must exercise caution and make sure they are clear on what can be sold. If it is not on the obsolete calibre list, then it needs to be proofed.”
Duncan Hypher, business development manager at shipping firm Mail Boxes Etc, said clearer knowledge of the firearms being sold will improve the entire auction process. “If auctioneers selling firearms include confirmation of the ‘section’ as defined by the Firearms Act 1968 act in the lot description, we can quote customers more accurately, he said.
"It would not be necessary to request additional information from the auction house selling the item and an additional benefit is that prospective buyers will have the opportunity to understand their responsibilities prior to bidding for an item.”