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The proposals, unveiled by the Law Commission last week, were partly prompted by an increase in the criminal use of antique firearms. 

The commission, which proposes legal reforms on behalf of the Government, is recommending the Firearms Act 1968 include a definition of what constitutes an antique firearm.

The act currently gives a special exemption to ownership of antique guns but does not define what 'antique' means in this context.

The commission, which consulted with Scotland Yard, believes the exemption is being "exploited" by criminals but stresses it is not seeking to restrict legitimate trade in antique guns.

"We want to hear from the antiques trade about these proposals," Law Commissioner Prof David Ormerod QC says. "We're aiming to make the law less ambiguous about what constitutes an antique firearm, which will provide clarity for dealers."


Q&A - Gun Laws

Proposals to reform firearms legislation, unveiled by the Law Commission last week, will involve the trade in antique firearms. 


Q What prompted the review?

A Several issues, including an increase in the use of antique firearms by criminals. Scotland Yard revealed that three murders were among 31 shootings in London in the past three years using supposedly 'obsolete' antique weapons. There are also practical difficulties in having firearms regulation spread over several pieces of legislation.


Q What is the current legal position regarding antique gun possession?

A The 1968 Firearms Act gives a special exemption to ownership of antique guns, including, for instance, the requirement for possessors' certificates. However it does not define what 'antique' means, leaving it to the courts to decide. Experts agree this leaves grey areas for the trade and possession of antique firearms.


Q What effect has such 'grey areas' had on antique firearm ownership?

A The commission's 'Scoping Consultation Paper' (see lawcom.gov.uk) says: "The current regime poses difficulties for legitimate collectors. Someone who acquires a firearm he or she genuinely believes to be an antique cannot conclusively know whether the firearm … is in fact an antique until they have been prosecuted and a jury has delivered its verdict."

Laura Saunsbury, a firearms law specialist at solicitors Lewis Nedas Law, and co-author of The British Firearms Law Handbook (2011), said she was representing someone "who collects military items, with no evidence of criminal intentions, but who faces prosecution on 14 offences under the Firearms Act".


Q What is the commission proposing?

A Four solutions are proposed, two focusing on the age of the firearm and two on the firearm's functionality around loading mechanisms and ignition systems. "Antiques experts tell us functionality is the better test," Law Commissioner Prof Ormerod said.


Q Should we expect restriction of trade in antique guns?

A Legal experts say the reforms will inevitably affect antiques firearms trading, but it still could be for the better, "because they will give greater certainty to legitimate dealers and collectors of firearms," Saunsbury said.


Q How can I submit my views to this consultation?

A: Send submissions by  September 21 to: firearms@lawcommission.gsi.gov.uk.  Readers can download the report below.

PDF: Firearms law consultation paper, Chapter 4: Antiques

PDF: Firearms law consultation paper, full version