Guidance

Guns and offensive weapons: UK border control

This guidance summarises the requirements, controls and sanctions that Border Force applies to firearms and offensive weapons when they are imported into the UK.

Introduction

Border Force works alongside other government departments and agencies to prevent the import of illegal firearms (including their component parts), ammunition and offensive weapons into the UK.

What counts as a firearm

Firearms are lethal barrelled weapons and other weapons including:

  • rifles
  • shotguns
  • handguns
  • automatic and semi-automatic firearms
  • CS gas canisters, pepper sprays and other self defence sprays
  • high voltage electric stun guns
  • high-powered air rifles and pistols
  • items that have the appearance of being a firearm and can be readily converted into a live firearm

Importing firearms and ammunition into the UK

You must meet certain legal requirements in order to lawfully import firearms and ammunition into the UK.

For ammunition and live firearms, you must hold:

  • the relevant import licence or certificate from the Department for International Trade (DIT)

  • Home Office permission for handguns, pistols, revolvers and automatic or semi-automatic firearms

  • permission from your UK regional police authority for other firearms

For deactivated firearms you must hold the relevant import licence from DIT and the firearm must be physically accompanied by an EU deactivation certificate.

Realistic imitation firearms, which are imitation firearms that appear so realistic that you cannot easily tell that they are not real, can only be imported into the UK in certain circumstances. See further information for more details.

Offensive weapons that can be imported

Offensive weapons which are designed to kill or inflict serious injury and do not have a legitimate use are totally banned or restricted from being imported into the UK.

Flick and gravity knives, which are items with blades that are spring-loaded or can be opened using gravity or a flick of the wrist, are totally banned.

Restricted offensive weapons may be imported but only in very limited, specific circumstances, this includes:

  • knuckledusters, handclaws and push daggers
  • footclaws, which are spikes designed to be strapped to the foot
  • weapons with a concealed or disguised blade or sharp point, for example swordsticks, stealth knives, butterfly knives and belt buckle blades
  • martial arts weapons such as death stars, hollow kubotans and kusaris
  • batons and telescopic truncheons
  • blowpipes or blowguns, expect for use by vets or registered animal handlers
  • stealth knives which is a knife or spike with a blade, or sharp point, made from a material that is not easily detectable by apparatus used for detecting metal and is not designed for domestic use or for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food or as a toy
  • curved blade swords with a blade over 50cm in length

Other offensive weapons are not restricted from being imported, this includes:

  • antique weapons – generally over 100 years old
  • lock knives which are items with blades which fold into the handle that can be opened manually and locked into place
  • crossbows except for use by unsupervised persons under 17 years old
  • swords, bayonets, machetes except for concealed swords or swordsticks and curved blade swords with a blade over 50cm in length
  • axes, hatchets, tomahawks
  • throwing knives
  • replica medieval weaponry such as spears, lances, pikes maces, caltrops and halberds
  • blowpipes and blowguns for use by vets and registered animal handlers – souvenirs that are incapable of inflicting injury are also exempt
  • in England and Wales, a zombie knife, zombie killer knife or zombie slayer knife, which is a weapon with a blade that has all of the following a cutting edge, a serrated edge and images or words (whether on the blade or handle) that suggests that it is to be used for the purposes of violence

Whilst these weapons are not restricted from being imported, they may be seized if you do not have a legitimate reason for having the weapon or are suspected of planning to use it violently.

Circumstances where restricted offensive weapons can be imported

Some organisations are allowed to import and hold restricted offensive weapons for specified purposes, this includes:

  • museums, galleries and universities to present, display, research or interpret material of historic, artistic or scientific interest, such imports may also qualify for relief from duty and VAT
  • HM forces
  • visiting forces
  • police forces and the prison service for example direct imports of batons and truncheons
  • those making commercial imports solely for onward supply to the police or prison service or trade samples to be evaluated - evidence must be produced including a contract stating quantities, where applicable

Restricted offensive weapons may also be imported:

  • for theatrical performances
  • for rehearsals of theatrical performances
  • for the production of films
  • for the production of television programmes
  • if they are stealth knives designed for domestic use or for use in the processing, preparation or consumption of food or are a toy

Swords with a curved blade of 50cm or more may be imported where the weapon:

  • was made before 1954
  • was made by traditional hand sword making methods
  • is only available for the purposes of use in religious ceremonies or for martial arts
  • is for use in a historical re-enactments or sporting activity for example a martial arts demonstration for which public liability insurance is held

If you are importing a restricted offensive weapon you should have evidence to demonstrate why you require it.

Controls and sanctions

Border Force monitors and controls imports of firearms (including their component parts), ammunition and offensive weapons into the UK across all modes of transport and international mail.

If you fail to meet the relevant legal requirements, the item will be liable to forfeiture and will be seized by Border Force. You may also be arrested and prosecuted for importing the item illegally into the UK and/or possessing the item illegally in the UK. The maximum prison sentence is up to 10 years.

Further information about importing firearms

You can find your local police force on the UK police website.

Information about Home Office licensing of firearms is available at Firearms Licensing.

You can enquire about Home Office firearms licensing requirements and legislation by emailing firearms.enquiries@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk.

Information about DIT import licensing for firearms can be found at Import Controls.

You can apply for a import license for firearms on the DIT Import Licensing Branch’s Import Case Management System.

You can enquire about DIT import licenses by emailing enquiries.ilb@trade.gsi.gov.uk.

Guidance for ferry staff and operators about imports of firearms into the UK from the EU.