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Statistical Bulletin: Crime and Justice Series: Firearm Certificates Statistics, Scotland, 2009



5. Notes on statistics used in this bulletin


1. The following definitions apply to this publication:

Firearm - a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged.

Shot gun - a smooth-bore gun (not being an air gun) which (i) has a barrel not less than 24 inches in length and does not have any barrel with a bore exceeding 2 inches in diameter; (ii) either has no magazine or has a non-detachable magazine incapable of holding more than two cartridges; and (iii) is not a revolver gun.

Accuracy of the statistics

2. The statistics in this bulletin are provided by each of the eight Scottish police forces in an annual aggregate return to Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services Division.

Regulations on the issue of firearm and shot gun certificates

3. All persons acquiring or in possession of a firearm or shot gun must have a certificate issued by the Chief Constable for the police force area in which the person lives, unless they are otherwise exempt. Persons sentenced to any form of custody for a period of three years or more may be prohibited from possessing firearms for a period of up to life, depending upon the sentence.

4. There are certain conditions applicable to weapons covered by Section 1 of the 1968 Act and Section 2 of the 1988 Act (which includes rifles, large magazine smooth bore guns, and especially dangerous air weapons). In particular, the Chief Constable must be satisfied that an applicant has good reason for wanting a weapon, is fit to be entrusted with it, and that the public safety or the peace will not be endangered. The certificate lists the number, type and serial number of each weapon held and any conditions attached (a standard condition is that weapons and ammunition are held in a secure place when not in use).

5. A certificate is only required for air weapons that are of a type declared, by the Secretary of State under the Dangerous Air Weapons Rules 1969 (as amended), to be specifically dangerous. The vast majority of air weapons held in Scotland do not require a certificate. Since 20 January 2004 the sale, manufacture and import of Self Contained Gas Cartridge ( SCGC) air weapons has been banned. Individuals had until 30 April 2004 to surrender these weapons or apply for a licence. This has had the result of significantly increasing the number of air weapons possessed on certificate compared to previous years.

6. Shot gun certificates, covered by Section 2 of the 1968 Act and Section 2 of the 1988 Act, permit the holder to possess any number of shot guns, which can include pump-action and self-loading weapons which have a magazine which is incapable of holding more than two cartridges but excluding large magazine smooth bore guns. Applications may not be granted or renewed if a Chief Constable has reason to believe that the applicant is prohibited by the Firearms Acts from possessing a shot gun. Nor may applications be granted or renewed unless the Chief Constable is satisfied that the applicant can be permitted to possess a shot gun without danger to public safety or to the peace (Section 3 of the 1988 Act). The certificate specifies the description of the shot guns including, if known, the identification numbers of the guns.

7. Certain types of weapons (e.g. machine guns) are prohibited under Section 5 of the 1968 Act, as amended by Section 1 of the 1988 Act; their possession can only be authorised by the Secretary of State or Scottish Ministers after careful enquiries by the police.

8. Following the Dunblane incident in 1996 changes to the existing firearms legislation were introduced to enhance public safety. As a result, the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 was implemented and thereafter the Firearms (Amendment)(No.2) Act 1997. Under these Acts, all pistols (otherwise referred to as "handguns") were banned. A number of types of handgun were exempted from the Act including muzzle-loading guns, shot pistols, slaughtering instruments, firearms used for the humane killing of animals, trophies of war etc.

9. A firearm or shot gun certificate permits the holder to possess one or more weapons, thus changes in the number of certificates will not necessarily reflect changes in the number of weapons held legally.

10. It is accepted that the total number of firearms covered by certificates will include an element of double counting: two or more individuals may each hold a certificate that allows them to possess the same actual firearm. A certificate allows the holder to either possess or authorises them to purchase or acquire a weapon or a number of weapons.

Regulations on the renewal, cancellation and revocation, and variation of firearm and shot gun certificates

11. In 1995 firearm certificates were valid for three years and required renewal in 1998, but with effect from January 1995 firearm certificates were valid for five years and therefore did not require renewal until January 2000. Certificates can be renewed on application for a further five years. This meant that for the years 1998 and 1999 no certificates required renewal as these were in effect 'missing' years in the regulations. Consequently, the number of certificates due for renewal in 2003 and 2004 was based primarily on the number of new certificates granted in 1998 and 1999. This meant that the number of renewals for 2003 and 2004 was very low compared to previous years. Similarly, the number of cancellations made in any year appear to be linked to the number of certificates requiring renewal or not. Therefore the number of cancellations for 2003 and 2004 was also low. Now in 2008 and 2009, a further five years on from 2003, a knock-on effect is perhaps evident with the number of renewals and cancellations falling once again.

12. To alter the number and type of weapons held on a firearm certificate, an application for a variation must be made to the Chief Constable. A fee is charged where the variation increases the number of firearms authorised by the certificate. The expiry date of a shot gun certificate can be aligned with the holder's firearm certificate (Section 11 of the 1988 Act).

13. Following Lord Cullen's Inquiry into the Dunblane incident in 1996, there was a review of information requirements in relation to both firearm and shot gun certificates. As a result, a revised return was introduced with effect from 1 January 1998. This was sent to Chief Constables for completion. The main changes to the form included the addition of new categories on the reasons for revocation and the collection, for the first time, of information on the number of firearms and types of weapon held on certificates.

Regulations on firearm dealers certificates

14. Section 13 of the 1988 Act increased the registration period for dealers from 1 to 3 years. The grounds for refusal for new applications for registration were extended and a register of transactions must be retained for at least 5 years. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 introduced a requirement, for anyone selling or transferring air weapons by way of trade and or business, to register with the police as a firearms dealer. This requirement came into effect on 1 October 2007, although businesses were able to start the registration process from 6 April 2007.

Regulations on visitors' permits and European firearm passes

15. The Firearms Act (Amendment) Regulations 1992, which came into force on 1 January 1993, amended firearms legislation in Great Britain to meet the requirement of the EC Weapons Directive, which controls the acquisition and possession of weapons in EC Member states.

16. There is no charge for a variation to a Visitors' Permit for a firearm or shot gun when an amendment is made to the existing conditions specified on the permit (excluding numbers of firearms authorised and expiry date). If a change is required which increases the number of firearms or shot guns authorised on the permit, or which extends the expiry date of the permit, then this should be treated as a new application.

17. From January 1993 any EC resident who wants to buy or acquire a category B firearm (e.g. short and semi-automatic rifles, carbines and smooth bore guns, including repeating) in another EC State must, unless they are exempt under the EC Firearms Directive, be able to show that they have the agreement of the authority within their state of residence to purchase or acquire a firearm in another EC State. This agreement is obtained from the local Chief Police Officer for the area in which they reside, and is called an Article 7 Authority. Information relating to the authority of a person to purchase or acquire a firearm/shot gun when in another EC State, was first collected centrally in 1994.


18. The following figures were included for contextual purposes and do not appear in the tables included in this bulletin:

  • number of applications for shot gun certificates refused in 2008;
  • number of requests for renewal of registration from firearm dealers granted in 2008;
  • number of applications for Visitors' Permits from both EC and non- EC residents in 2008 for firearms and shot guns;
  • number of European firearm Passes on issue in 2008.

The figures were taken from Firearm Certificates Statistics, Scotland, 2008.

19. The following symbol is used in the tables in this bulletin.

- = nil