Gun Types and Issues

This page outlines the major gun types in the UK and the issues associated with each type:

For expanded details of gun types and issues visit www.infertrust.org

 

Airguns

Airguns are real guns. They are cheap, accessible to buy on impulse, and no background checks are required. The power of airguns is measured in muzzle (or kinetic) energy. This is the energy at which the projectile leaves the muzzle of the air weapon. The vast majority of air pistols (muzzle energies of less than 6 foot-pounds), and the vast majority of air rifles (muzzle energies of less than 12 foot-pounds) are referred to as 'low powered' and can currently be held without a licence. From April 2016 airguns must be licensed in Scotland (see Gun Control in the UK).

The Law Commission Report on Firearms Law - Pressing Problems in December 2015 recommended that a lethal gun be defined as one with a muzzle energy of more than 1 joule (0.74 foot-pounds). If all lethal guns were licensed this would mean that most airguns and Airsoft weapons would be brought into the licensing regime as they have been in Scotland.

Problems with airguns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • ‘Boys' toys’ culture
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy airguns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy airguns
  • Criminal damage, vandalism, and animal cruelty
  • Capable of being converted/modified to higher power
  • Irresponsible storage – leading to child-on-child killings and theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of airgun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Airsoft guns

Airsoft guns are realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) capable of discharging 6 mm spherical plastic or metal projectiles by virtue of a spring/piston or compressed gas. They are exact replicas of prohibited guns and the most dangerous military weapons. They are collected and used in simulated military situations by gun enthusiasts who dress up and act out violent combat warrior fantasies.

The Law Commission Report on Firearms Law - Pressing Problems in December 2015 recommended that a lethal gun be defined as one with a muzzle energy of more than 1 joule. If all lethal guns were licensed this would mean that most airguns and airsoft weapons would be brought into the licensing regime as they have In Scotland. See Gun Control in the UK.

Problems with Airsoft guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy Airsoft guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy Airsoft guns
  • Criminal damage, vandalism, and animal cruelty
  • Capable of being converted into lethal guns
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • UK Association of Airsoft Retailers skirmishing - problems with planning permission, RIFs, and self-regulation
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of Airsoft incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Antiques

Antique guns are real guns. The provisions of the Firearms Act 1968 do not apply to antique firearms sold, transferred, purchased, acquired, or possessed as ‘curiosities or ornaments’. No licence is required. However, there is no definition of ‘antique’ or of ‘curiosities or ornaments’ in legislation. Home Office Guidance does provide a list of pre-1939 guns which are to be regarded as ‘antiques’. See Gun Control in the UK.

Issues with antique guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy antique guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy antique guns
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of antique gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

BB guns

BB guns look like real guns. They are designed to fire 6 mm spherical projectiles (BBs) of different weights using a variety of methods. Spring action guns usually fire plastic BBs. More powerful BB guns (used in Airsoft skirmishing) use compressed gas propellants or batteries and fire lead, steel plated with zinc, or copper projectiles. The Law Commission Report on Firearms Law - Pressing Problems in December 2015 recommended that a lethal gun be defined as one with a muzzle energy of more than 1 joule. If all lethal guns were licensed this would mean that most airguns and Airsoft weapons would be brought into the licensing regime as they have In Scotland. See Gun Control in the UK.

Issues with BB guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy BB guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy BB guns
  • Criminal damage, vandalism, and animal cruelty
  • Capable of being converted into deadly guns
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of BB gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Bolt guns

A gun used in the humane slaughter of animals: the gun fires a metal bolt into the brain of the animal. Captive bolt devices are powered by cartridges or compressed air, different strengths being required depending on the species of animal. Bolt guns had Section 1 firearm status in the UK until February 1998 when they were declassified. A valid slaughter licence is now required.

Issues with bolt guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy bolt guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy bolt guns
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of bolt gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Converted and de/reactivated guns

Converted guns - Guns modified by criminals converting imitation non-licensed guns into powerful guns capable of firing live ammunition.

Deactivated guns - Guns of any type having a proof house mark from either the London or Birmingham proof houses and issued with a deactivation certificate, and therefore presumed to be incapable of discharging bullets or shot.

Reactivated guns - Formerly deactivated guns brought back to live firing capability.

Problems with converted, deactivated, and reactivated guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy deactivated guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy deactivated guns
  • Deactivated guns can be reactivated
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of converted, deactivated, and reactivated gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Handguns

Handguns are designed to be held in one hand. Following the Dunblane gun massacre on 13 March 1996 when 16 children and their teacher were killed by a licensed handgun owner, an unprecedented public outcry and campaign resulted in The Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 banning handguns with a number of exceptions including antiques, those held as curiosities and ornaments, muzzle-loading black-powder guns, and guns of historic interest. See Gun Control in the UK.

Ongoing problems with handguns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Identification and data collection, including imitation handgun crime being reported and recorded as handgun crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy antique deactivated and imitation handguns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy antique deactivated and imitation handguns
  • Irresponsible storage of antique deactivated and imitation handguns, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Shooting fraternity promoting entry to pistol shooting classes at the Olympic Games despite no UK pistol shooting medal winners since 1912
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of handgun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Imitation guns

Imitation guns are designed to look like real guns, regardless of whether or not they are capable of discharging a projectile. They are cheap, accessible to buy on impulse, and no background checks are required. The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 provides details of colour requirements for imitation BB guns which differentiates them from realistic imitation firearms (RIFs). See Gun Control in the UK.

Problems with imitation guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy imitation guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy imitation guns
  • Imitation guns can be converted to fire live ammunition
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of imitation gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Other

This category includes CS/tear gas and pepper spray projectiles; home-made guns; cannons; and other explosive devices. Issues with these include:

  • Violent crime
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of ‘Other’ gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page. 

 

Paintball guns

Paintball guns are imitation guns which look like real guns and use expanding gas or compressed air to propel paintballs through the barrel. Those firing at a velocity of not more than 300 fps (feet per second) used to ‘mark’ participants engaging in paintballing activities fall outside Section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 and do not require a licence. See Gun Control in the UK.

Issues with paintball guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy paintball guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy paintball guns
  • Irresponsible storage, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of paintball gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Rifles

Rifles are shoulder-fired long guns with rifling (spiral grooves cut into the bore to make the bullet spin, which improves accuracy). A Section 1 Firearm Certificate is required to possess a rifle. Rifles are used for target shooting and hunting foxes, deer, and other wildlife. Following the Hungerford Gun Massacre in 1987 in which 16 people were killed by Michael Ryan using legally-owned military style guns  The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, was introduced which banned semi-automatic, pump-action, and self-loading rifles. See Gun Control in the UK.

Problems with rifles include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy antique deactivated and imitation rifles
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy antique deactivated and imitation rifles
  • Deactivated rifles capable of being reactivated
  • Irresponsible storage of antique, deactivated, and imitation rifles, leading to theft from insecure locations
  • Licensing failures and £20 million annual subsidy to shooters from taxpayers
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of rifle incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Shotguns

Shotguns are shoulder-fired long-barrelled smooth bore guns designed to shoot a large number of small projectiles (lead shot) that are used for target shooting, clay pigeon shooting, and hunting birds, foxes and other wildlife. Shotguns require a Section 2 Shotgun certificate. See Gun Control in the UK.

Issues with shotguns include:

  • Death and violent crime, including use of licensed shotguns in armed domestic violence and gun massacres
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy antique, deactivated, and imitation shotguns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy antique, deactivated, and imitation shotguns
  • Deactivated shotguns are capable of being reactivated
  • Irresponsible storage of licensed shotguns leading to targeted burglaries
  • Antique, deactivated, and imitation shotguns stolen from insecure locations
  • Licensing inadequacies and £20 million annual subsidy to gun licence applicants from taxpayers
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of shotgun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Starting pistols/Blank firers

Hand held imitation guns firing blank ammunition which produce a gunshot noise but do not discharge any projectile from the barrel. They are used to signify the start of track races etc. and are used in re-enactments, theatre, and TV productions. No licence is required. See Gun Control in the UK.

Issues with starting pistols/blank firers include: 

  • Death and violent crime.
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy starting pistols/blank firers.
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy starting pistols/blank firers.
  • Capable of being converted to fire real ammunition
  • Irresponsible storage of starting pistols/blank firers - theft
  • Cost to the taxpayer.

For details of starting pistol/blank firer incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Submachine guns

Submachine guns are portable, automatic, magazine-fed air-cooled guns designed to be fired from the shoulder or hip. Submachine guns are prohibited in the UK. Problems with submachines include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Criminals banned from owning guns can still buy deactivated and imitation submachine guns
  • Those with mental health problems and alcohol and substance abuse issues can still buy deactivated and imitation submachine guns
  • Deactivated and imitation submachine guns are capable of being reactivated or converted to fire real ammunition
  • Irresponsible storage of deactivated and imitation submachine guns, leading to theft
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of submachine gun, deactivated, and imitation submachine gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Tasers/Stun guns

Tasers use compressed air to fire two darts that trail electric cable back to the handset and release an electric charge (up to millions of volts) causing the victim to suffer temporary paralysis, which can lead to complications and death especially in physically vulnerable individuals. They are prohibited, and carry a five-year minimum prison sentence for their possession except in 'exceptional circumstances'. Taser guns look like pistols but are often disguised as other items e.g. mobile phones, lighters, torches. Police use of Tasers (firing 50,000 volts) was approved in 2004 and has been increasing.

Issues with the use of Tasers/stun guns include:

  • Death and violent crime
  • Police use of tasers: inadequate training and inappropriate discharge
  • Tasers disguised as mobile phones and torches
  • Cost to the taxpayer

For details of Taser/stun gun incidents visit our Gun Incidents in the UK page.

 

Unidentified guns 

Victims of armed crime are traumatised and not surprisingly unable to identify the gun being used to assault them. Media reporting is unreliable and, unless fired or recovered, gun type cannot usually be identified.