1. This circular sets out changes to the controls on antique firearms made by the Antique Firearms Regulations 2021 (“the Antique Regulations”) and the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (Commencement No.11 and Transitional Provisions) Regulations 2021 (“the Commencement Regulations”), which bring into effect section 126 of the 2017 Act, in so far as it is not already commenced, and contain relevant transitional arrangements. These changes come into effect on 22 March 2021.
2. Under section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, antique firearms which are sold, transferred, purchased, acquired or possessed as a curiosity or ornament are exempt from most of the controls in the 1968 Act, including the need for certification and being able to trade in them without being registered with the police as a firearm dealer.
3. Previously, the Act did not define “antique firearm” but section 126 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (which is commenced by the Commencement Regulations) inserted a statutory definition of “antique firearm” by inserting new subsections (2A) to (2H) into section 58, which define an “antique firearm” by reference to the type of cartridge it was designed to use, or by reference to its propulsion system. In addition, such a description can be refined to specify a cut-off date of manufacture after which a firearm cannot be considered antique. These descriptions are specified in regulations - and the Antique Firearms Regulations 2021 are the first such regulations.
4. The amendments made to section 58 by section 126 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017 come into effect on 22 March 2021. The Antique Regulations take effect the same day. Together, they provide the statutory definition of “antique firearm”.
The statutory definition
5. Section 126 of the 2017 Act inserts new provisions into section 58 of the 1968 Act which provide for a definition of “antique firearm”. The detail of that definition is set out in the Antique Regulations, as described below. It closely follows the model used previously in Home Office guidance and will therefore be familiar to law enforcement, collectors and dealers. This new definition comes into effect on 22 March 2021.
6. Please note that the requirement for an antique firearm to be sold, possessed etc as a curiosity or ornament, in order for the exemption in section 58 of the 1968 Act to apply, is unchanged and continues to apply in all cases.
7. Under section 58 of the 1968 Act (as amended by section 126 of the 2017 Act), an “antique firearm” is a firearm that meets the following conditions:
a) either its propulsion system is of a specified type (see paragraph 8 and section 58(2C) of the 1968 Act) or the chamber or chambers are those that the firearm had when it was manufactured (or is a replacement that is identical in all material respects) and it is chambered for use with a specified cartridge (see paragraph 9 and section 58(2B) of the 1968 Act); and
b) where an additional condition is specified in regulations in relation to date of manufacture, it was manufactured before a specified date (see paragraph 11 and section 58(2D)).
8. A firearm can be regarded as an antique if its propulsion system is of a specified description (see section 58(2C) of the 1968 Act). Regulation 3 of the Antique Regulations specifies the following types of propulsion system:
a) any propulsion system which involves the use of a loose charge and a separate ball (or other missile) loaded at the muzzle end of the barrel, chamber or cylinder of the firearm and which uses an independent source of ignition. This covers muzzle-loading firearms;
b) any propulsion system in a breech-loading cartridge firearm which uses an ignition system other than rim-fire or centre-fire. For example, pin-fire and needle-fire ignition systems, as well as lip fire, cup-primed, teat fire and base fire systems;
c) any propulsion system which involves the use of rim-fire cartridges (other than .22 (5.58 mm), .23 (5.8 mm), 6mm or 9mm rim-fire cartridges) in a breech-loading firearm; or
d) any propulsion system for an air weapon (England and Wales only). This does not include prohibited air weapons or air weapons of a type declared specially dangerous.
9. Under section 58(2B) of the 1968 Act, a firearm can also be regarded as an antique if:
a) its chamber (or each of its chambers, if it has more than one) is either the chamber it had when it was manufactured or it is a replacement for such a chamber that is identical to it in all material respects; and
b) its chamber (or chambers) is designed for use with a specified type of cartridge, whether or not it is also capable of being used with other cartridges. Regulation 2 and the Schedule to the Antique Regulations specifies those cartridges.
10. The cartridges specified in the Schedule to the Antique Regulations are arranged according to the type of firearm (longarm or pistol) for which they were designed. However, this is for ease of reference and it is possible that a cartridge listed under one firearm type was also designed to be used with another firearm type. The cartridges specified in the Schedule comprise a single list and provided the requirements of section 58 - read together with the Antique Regulations - are met and the cartridge appears somewhere in the Schedule, the firearm can be regarded as antique.
Date of manufacture
11. To be regarded as an antique, a firearm must have been manufactured before the date specified in regulation 4 of the Antique Regulations, which is 1 September 1939 (see also section 58(2D) of the 1968 Act).
Cartridges omitted from the obsolete cartridge list
12. Home Office guidance previously included the following cartridges in the obsolete calibre list, which made them acceptable as qualifying a firearm as antique:
- .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)
- 9.4mm Dutch Revolver
- 10.6mm German Ordnance Revolver
- 11mm French Ordnance Revolver M1873 (Army)
13. On advice from law enforcement that the above cartridges feature in crime, the Government decided not to include them in the list of obsolete cartridges in the Schedule to the Antique Regulations. This means that from 22 March 2021, all firearms chambered for use with the above cartridges will cease to be regarded as exempt antiques and will become subject to the controls in the 1968 Act, including certification and the need to be registered as a firearms dealer to trade in them (but see below for transitional arrangements for existing owners). No compensation is payable in respect of such firearms.
Cartridges added to the obsolete cartridge list
14. On advice from representatives of collectors and law enforcement, the Government decided to add the following cartridges to the obsolete list:
- .26 BSA (.26 Rimless Belted Nitro Express)
- .33 BSA (.33 Rimless Belted Nitro Express)
- .360 No 2 Nitro Express
- .40 BSA (.40 Rimless Belted Nitro Express)
- .400/360 2 ¾ in Nitro Express
- .425 Westley Richards Magnum
- .475 x 3 ¼ in Nitro Express
- .475 No 2 Jeffery Nitro Express
- .475 No 2 Nitro Express
- .476 Nitro Express (.476 Westley Richards)
- .50-90 2 ½ inch
- .50-110 2.4 inch
- .577 – 3 in (Black Powder & Nitro Express)
- .577 – 3 ¼ in (Black Powder & Nitro Express)
- 6.5 x 53mm R Mannlicher (Dutch/Romanian)
- 8 x 56mm Mannlicher Schoenauer
- 8 x 58 mm R Krag
- 8 mm Murata
- 9 x 56mm Mannlicher Schoenauer
- 9 x 57mm R Mauser
- 9 x 57mm Rimless Mauser
- 9.5 x 57mm Mannlicher Schoenauer
- 8mm Roth Steyr
15. From 22 March 2021, firearms which are chambered for use with these cartridges and which meet the other statutory criteria for antique firearms, will be exempt from licensing control and can therefore be possessed without a firearm certificate or, where relevant, a section 5 authority and/or the need to be registered as a firearms dealer.
16. The Commencement Regulations, and section 126(4) to (7) of the 2017 Act, set out transitional provisions for bringing into force the new definition of ”antique firearm” set out in section 58 of the 1968 Act (as amended) and the Antique Regulations.
Existing Owners of Former Antique Firearms
17. Section 126(4) to (7) of the 2017 Act and Regulation 3 of the Commencement Regulations make transitional provisions for existing owners of former antique firearms who want to continue to possess them.
18. Regulation 3(1) and (2) of the Commencement Regulations allow existing owners to retain on a firearm certificate (or shotgun certificate, if applicable) any firearms they possess that were previously held as antiques but which no longer fall within the definition of “antique firearm” as a result of the amendments to section 58 of the 1968 Act and the Antique Regulations. Existing owners are those people who possessed such a firearm immediately before the Commencement Regulations and Antique Regulations come into force on 22 March 2021. Under the Commencement Regulations, they will have six months (until 23:59 on 21 September 2021) – a transition period - to make an application to their local police force for a firearm or shotgun certificate or a variation to an existing certificate.
19. The vast majority of firearms affected are expected to be handguns and will therefore also become prohibited weapons under section 5(1)(aba) of the 1968 Act, from which they will no longer be exempt as a result of the changes. However, existing owners will be able to apply to possess them on a firearms certificate without needing a section 5 authority (under section 126(5) of the 2017 Act - but see below in relation to dealers). In the case of any firearms which do not become prohibited weapons - for example, rifles – owners will be able to retain them on a firearm certificate too (see above in relation to the transition period during which such application can be made).
20. In all cases, the usual requirements for being granted a firearm certificate (or a shotgun certificate, if applicable), or for such a certificate being renewed, will apply, except it will not be necessary to show good reason for possessing the firearm (section 126(6) and (7) of the 2017 Act). The police will need to be satisfied that applicants are fit to be entrusted with the firearm, are not a prohibited person, and will not represent a danger to public safety or to the peace.
21. Applicants will be required to put in place appropriate security measures to prevent unauthorised access to their firearm(s). The precise arrangements are for the police to determine based on the level of risk involved in each case, taking account of factors such as local crime rates and location of the property, as set out in the Firearms Security Handbook 2020. However, the typical level of security required for handguns will be the same as for firearms possessed under section 7(1) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997. This would normally mean level 2 security where no more than two such firearms are held in domestic premises, and level 3 otherwise.
22. The police will also need to determine what conditions to apply to firearm certificates they grant or vary. The key consideration is that these firearms should not be fired and we suggest a condition for pistols and revolvers along the lines of:
“In accordance with section 126 of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, the [calibre PISTOL/REVOLVER] shall be possessed only. Not to possess ammunition suitable for that firearm. Not to be fired.”
23. The Commencement Regulations provide that no offence will be committed under section 1(1)(a) or 2(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 (possession of a firearm or shotgun without a certificate) where someone has applied for a firearm certificate (or a shotgun certificate, if applicable) or a variation of one, during the 6 month transition period and their application remains outstanding or is the subject of an outstanding appeal. To evidence this, it is recommended that police forces issue acknowledgements of applications, and that applicants keep a copy of their application.
24. While the Government is content for existing owners of these firearms to retain them on a firearm certificate, it is not intended that those which are prohibited weapons should subsequently be traded. These weapons have been shown to be particularly attractive to criminals and often feature in crime. Selling or transferring them in the future will therefore not normally be permitted in order to minimise the possibility of them falling into criminal hands. Any future transaction involving such prohibited weapons would need to be authorised under section 5 of the 1968 Act in respect of both parties. While each case would be considered on its merits, a section 5 authority would not normally be granted for the public safety reasons set out above. The situation will be different where a firearm meets the criteria for a historic handgun under section 7 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and is licensed accordingly (see below) where the owner will, as now, be able to sell or transfer the firearm to other collectors with the relevant section 7 firearm certificate. See also the section below in relation to sale or transfer during the transition period.
25. Should a firearm meet the criteria for a historic handgun under sections 7(1) or 7(3) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997, the owner can apply for a firearm certificate relying on one of those sections (see chapter 9 of the Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law). In accordance with section 7, a section 5 authority is not required where such a certificate is held.
26. The onus will be on applicants to demonstrate that their firearm meets the relevant criteria under section 7 of the 1997 Act, but the Home Office will also reinstate the Historic Firearms Reference Panel to assist police forces, where necessary, with additional technical and historical advice in relation to such applications. Police forces should refer any applications where they require the Panel’s advice to Andy Arnell at HistoricFirearmsReferencePanel@homeoffice.gov.uk, attaching relevant supporting documents and clearly highlighting the specific advice they need.
27. The exemption from section 5 provided under section 126(5) of the 2017 Act does not apply in the case of firearms dealers who wish to retain such firearms for the purposes of their business. In such cases, dealers will need to apply to the Home Office or Scottish Government for section 5 authority before the end of the transition period (ie, 23:59 on 21 September 2021). Dealers who are not already registered with the police will also have to apply for registration.
28. The Commencement Regulations provide – in respect of firearms dealers who are “existing owners” - that no offence will be committed in relation to the possession of the former antique firearm under section 1(1)(a), 2(1), 5(1), (1A) or (2A)(c) of the 1968 Act where a dealer has applied for a section 5 authority (and, where applicable, registration with the police) during the transition period and their application remains outstanding (or, in the case of a dealer who is not already registered with the police, their application for registration is the subject of an outstanding appeal) (see Regulation 3(2)(c), 3(3)(c) and 3 (4)). This also applies to the servants of dealers.
29. Alternatively, a dealer could apply in an individual capacity to retain such firearms on a firearm certificate (or shotgun certificate, if applicable) for their own personal collection (see above).
30. In the case of major national museums which already hold a museum firearms licence under section 19 and Schedule 1 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, they will be able to rely on their licence to retain any firearms which cease to be regarded as antique, but they should consider whether the licence needs variation. In the case of former antique firearms which are prohibited weapons, the exemption from section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 in section s126(5) of the 2017 Act will apply to museums which are “existing owners” of the firearms. See paragraph 37 below in relation to museums which acquire former antique firearms during the transition period.
31. The Commencement Regulations provide – in respect of museums that are “existing owners” - that no offence will be committed under section 1(1)(a) or (2)(1) of the Firearms Act 1968 (possession of a firearm or shotgun without a certificate) where a museum has applied for a museum firearms licence, or to vary such a licence, during the transition period (before 23:59 on 21 September 2021) and their application remains outstanding. This also applies to the persons responsible for the management of a museum and their servants for which such an application has been made and remains outstanding.
32. Museums which are not eligible for a museum firearms licence can apply to their local police force before 23:59 on 21 September 2021 to retain the firearms in their museum collection on a firearm certificate. As with individual owners, the usual requirements for being granted a certificate will apply, except it will not be necessary to show good reason for possessing the firearm and, in the case of prohibited weapons, the Secretary of State’s/Scottish Ministers’ authority under section 5 of the 1968 Act is not required.
Surrender, Disposal and Acquisition
33. 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 before the transition period ends at 23:59 on 21 September 2021. No compensation is payable in respect of the surrender or disposal of such firearms.
34. Disposal could include surrendering it to the police in the normal way (see chapter 25 of the Home Office guidance). It could also include selling, exporting or deactivating the firearm or donating it to a museum.
35. The Commencement Regulations allow for the sale or transfer of such firearms before the transition period ends, without requiring a firearm certificate, section 5 authority, registration as a firearms dealer or a museum firearms licence (see Regulation 4(3) to (7) of the Commencement Regulations), with the exception of acquisition by firearms dealers – see below. However, the new owner must apply to the police for a firearm certificate (or shotgun certificate, if applicable) or museum firearms licence in respect of the firearm before the end of the transition period at 23:59 on 21 September 2021 (Regulation 4(6) and (7) of the Commencement Regulations).
36. Dealers who are “existing owners” (see above) will be able to sell or transfer such firearms before the end of the transition period at 23:59 on 21 September 2021 without being registered with the police and without holding a section 5 authority. However, from 22 March 2021 firearms dealers will need to be registered and hold a section 5 authority before they can purchase or acquire a former antique firearm, even if that purchase or acquisition takes place during the transition period.
37. Museums can sell or transfer such firearms freely until the transition period ends at 23:59 on 21 September 2021. Where a museum purchases or acquires such firearms during the transition period, they must apply before the end of the transition period for 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 (or shotgun certificate, if applicable).
38. In most cases, there should be no need for an individual firearm to be sold or transferred more than once during the transition period. However, to provide additional flexibility for owners, the Commencement Regulations do allow for a second sale or transfer during the transition period, should the circumstances require it (see Regulation 4(2)). The exceptions from the offences made by the Commencement Regulations do not apply where the firearm is sold or transferred more than twice. Additionally, as set out above, any firearms dealer who wishes to acquire such a firearm will first need to be registered and hold a section 5 authority before they can purchase or acquire it; this is irrespective of whether that acquisition is during the transition period or relates to a first or second transfer.
39. To enable the sales or transfers set out above, the Commencement Regulations provide, in respect of existing owners (including existing owners who are museums or firearms dealers) who sell or transfer a firearm during the transition period (ie, between 22 March 2021 and 23:59 on 21 September 2021) that:
the offences of possession (for the period the firearm is held prior to sale or transfer) under section 1(1)(a), 2(1), 3(1)(b), 5(1) and (2A)(c) of the 1968 Act do not apply (Regulation 4(3) of the Commencement Regulations); and
the offences relating to sale and transfer under sections 3(1)(a), (b) and (2) and 5(2A)(b) of the 1968 Act do not apply (Regulation 4(4) of the Commencement Regulations).
40. In the case of sale or transfer by a firearms dealer, this also applies to the servants of that dealer. Where transfer is by a museum to which the Schedule to the 1988 Act applies, this also applies to the persons responsible for that museum’s management and/or their servants.
41. Additionally, the Commencement Regulations provide, in respect of persons who purchase or acquire such firearms from an existing owner during the transition period that:
the offences under section 5 of the 1968 Act do not apply in relation to the possession, purchase or acquisition of the firearm, unless the person is a firearms dealer possessing, purchasing or acquiring for the purposes of his business (Regulation 4(5) of the Commencement Regulations);
the offences under section 1(1)(a) and (2)(1) of the 1968 Act do not apply in relation to the possession, purchase or acquisition of the firearm provided an application is made for a firearm or shotgun certificate, or to vary such a certificate, or a museum’s licence, in respect of the possession of the former antique firearm before the end of the transition period and that application is still being processed (or, in respect of firearm or shotgun certificates, any appeal in respect of it has not been determined) (Regulation 4(6) and (7) of the Commencement Regulations).
42. As above, for acquisition by a museum to which the Schedule to the 1988 Act applies, this also applies to the persons responsible for the museum’s management and/or their servants.
Monitoring licensing applications
43. To help the Home Office monitor these transitional arrangements, police forces are requested to keep records of all firearms which come to their attention as having ceased to be exempt as antiques. It would be helpful to know:
a) the number surrendered
b) the number which are the subject of applications for certificates (both new and variations), and
c) the number of such applications refused.
broken down by the model/type of firearm and cartridge.
Monitoring the effectiveness of the Antiques Regulations
44. The Home Office will convene a review group on an annual basis to consider the latest developments in the criminal use of antique firearms. We will also carry out a review of the regulations every three years. Membership of the group will include representatives from law enforcement, the antique firearms trade, museums and collectors.
Offences relating to antique firearms
45. The Commencement Regulations also bring into effect section 126(3) of the 2017 Act, which applies additional offences in the Firearms Act 1968 to the misuse of antique firearms. The 1968 Act already applies section 21 and Schedule 3 to antique firearms. From 22 March 2021 the following additional provisions will also apply to antique firearms:
section 19 – offence of carrying a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse,
section 20 – offence of trespassing with a firearm, and
any other provision of the 1968 Act, so far as it applies to an offence under sections 19, 20 and 21.
Home Office, March 2021