Firearms Offence Solicitors
According to the Firearms Act 1968 (FA 1968), a firearm is defined as a handheld or portable barrelled weapon designed to expel a shot, bullet, missile or other projectiles by discharge at an explosive force.
Under s57 of the FA 1968, this can include:
- any lawfully banned or unauthorised weapons, irrespective of lethality;
- any constituting part of said prohibited weapon; and
- any accessory designed or modified to reduce the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon, e.g. a silencer.
According to FA 1968, a bullet or projectile must be discharged or adapted to fire from the weapon to prove that it is a firearm.
When referring to constituting parts, this could include the barrel, chamber or other mechanisms by which the pressure caused by firing is affected directly. A constituting part must also be such a part that if were removed, the weapon would not be able to function as a firearm without it.
As determining whether a weapon is “lethal” can be complicated, it is up to the court to decide whether the object in question is a firearm for the FA 1968. That being said, a Forensic Science Provider (FSP) will likely advise in cases where “lethality” is in question.
Weapons outside the scope of the Firearms Act 1968
According to s5 of the Firearms Act 1968, air weapons, including an air rifle, gun or pistol would not be especially dangerous; however, those adapted to be capable of discharging a projectile would fall within the definition of a firearm.
Self-loading or pump-action guns fall outside the scope of the FA 1968 unless the kinetic discharge energy is incredibly powerful.
Imitation and realistic imitation firearms
If the weapon used was an imitation firearm, which refers to something that has the appearance of a gun but may not be capable of discharging a bullet or projectile, the jury should consider how it was used at the time of the offence.
Under s1 FA 1968, an imitation firearm may only be treated as a real firearm if it resembles and could be converted into such a weapon, meaning it could be adapted to release a shot, missile or other projectiles.
Under s36 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, it is legal to manufacture, purchase or sell realistic imitation firearms in the UK, if you intend to use these in:
- museums, galleries and theatres;
- films and television productions;
- period dramas and historical reconstructions;
- pursuance of Crown duties;
- permitted activities such as airsoft skirmishing; or
- authorised events such as arms fair displays, providing regulations regarding the provision of use are followed.
However, those wishing to claim the defence must be able to prove that their possession of the realistic imitation firearm was for the purpose of one of the reasons specified above and that public liability insurance was also held.
When determining whether an imitation firearm falls within the scope of a realistic imitation firearm, the jury should consider how the weapon looked at the point of manufacture, import and sale, including details of its size, shape and colour in comparison to a real firearm.
However, if the jury finds it not to be a realistic imitation firearm, it may still be considered an imitation firearm.
Possession of firearms by adults
Under the Firearms Act 1968, the jury only needs to prove that the offender knew he had a firearm in his possession to pass sentence.
If the defendant is found guilty of possessing, purchasing, acquiring, manufacturing or selling a firearm without the appropriate license, they could find themselves subjected to life imprisonment.
While the prosecution should consider culpability and harm when determining the sentence, a mandatory minimum sentence must be charged for the following weapons:
- Firearms capable of discharging two or more projectiles successively without the need to repeatedly pull the trigger, for example, a machine gun.
- Self-loading or pump-action guns, e.g. shotguns.
- Firearms that contain a barrel less than 30cm in length or are no more than 60cm in its entirety, e.g. handguns and sixguns.
- Smooth-bore firearms, aside from those that are muzzle-loading or those chambered for 9mm rim-fire cartridges.
- Mortars, bazookas, and other rocket launchers.
- Air rifles, air pistols, air guns and other firearms which use spring-powered or pneumatic cartridge systems.
- Firearms that contain cartridges capable of forcing a missile, bullet or other projectiles to explode immediately before or on impact when discharged.
- Any gun adapted or designed to shoot grenades, explosives, rockets or shells that explode on or moments before forcible contact.
- Any firearm that is disguised as another object, including and not limited to, torches, mobile phones and walking canes.
Regarding the possession of air guns, air pistols or other pneumatic weapons, the jury should consider the date the defendant came into possession of that said firearm, as the prohibition of certain air weapons came into force on April 30th 2004.
Under s5 FA 1968, anyone that acquired an air weapon before this date would not be guilty of this offence providing they own a certificate.
Minors in possession of firearms and air weapons
Minors found to illegally use, intend to use or possess a firearm or imitation firearm can also be prosecuted for the offence.
Under the FA 1968, minors are prohibited from using or possessing a firearm or air weapon, unless:
- A person over the age of 21 supervises them, and the missiles fired remain within the boundary of those premises.
- Minors possessing an air weapon are a member of an approved shooting club and use the gun at a shooting gallery.
- Those over 15 years of age may be given or borrowed a shotgun providing that they obtain a shotgun certificate and are supervised at all times when firing.
- Minors over 14 years of age may be granted a firearm certificate and be gifted such a weapon but cannot purchase or hire a firearm.
Criminal use of firearms
Under the Firearms Act 1968, the penalty for the use, attempted use or possession of a firearm can be charged if:
- The defendant intended to endanger life, cause fear of violence or commit an indictable.
- Resisted or attempted to evade lawful arrest of himself or another.
- A loaded or unloaded firearm was brought into a public place without legal authority or reasonable excuse.
- The defendant trespassed on land without permission whilst having a firearm or imitation firearm on his person.
- Someone previously convicted of a crime is found in possession of a firearm without reasonable excuse.
Under s28 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (VCRA 2006), it is also an offence to have another person mind, hide or transport a firearm for unlawful purposes.
Sentencing guidelines for firearms offences
Firearms offences are severe and can carry life imprisonment in some cases.
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, an offender found guilty of possessing or purchasing a firearm or ammunition without a valid certificate could face up to ten years in prison.
A person charged with possession of a firearm or ammunition with previous convictions for this offence could face a maximum sentence of five years.
Offenders found guilty of carrying a prohibited weapon in a public place could be sentenced a maximum term of seven years in prison, depending on the type of firearm.
However, in cases where a firearm was carried with the intent to endanger the life of another, used to resist arrest; or sold, manufactured or transferred unlawfully, the court could impose a life sentence.
All firearm offences carry a minimum prison sentence of five years for an adult and three years for minors between the ages of 16 and 18 years-old.
Typically, the maximum sentence given by the court is ten years; however, if the intent to kill is proven, or the offender commits other crimes while in possession of a firearm, the court could issue much harsher sentences.
Mitigating factors for firearm offences
Under the Sentencing Council’s guidelines, when convicting an offender of a firearm offence, the judge should consider the following mitigating factors:
- Whether there are any previous convictions
- The level of remorse shown by the offender
- Cooperation with law enforcement during the investigation
- Whether the crime was initially legitimate
- Character and reputation
- That the offender is within a reasonably sound mind or has any severe medical conditions that would require intensive treatment or learning difficulties
- If the offender is a primary or sole carer of any related dependents
Other consequences of firearms offences
The court may issue ancillary orders, ranging from victim compensation to confiscation orders if the defendant is found guilty of a firearm offence.