Gun rules: What farmers need to know

Gun law is never far from the news. A succession of tragedies involving weapons – many in the US – have thrust the debate on the issue centrstage across the globe.

Meanwhile, the UK’s rural community finds itself in the spotlight again after the Norfolk farmer Tony Martin, who was jailed after a fatal shooting in 1999, was arrested and subsequently released on suspicion of illegal firearm possession earlier this year.

See also: Opinion – UK and US farmers talk gun law

In recent months there have been calls to amend and tighten existing arrangements in the UK.

A Law Commission report dubbed laws on buying and owning firearms in England and Wales “confused, unclear and difficult to apply”, while Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) highlighted the current regime as “inconsistent and inadequate”.

The chief executive of the Countryside Alliance, Tim Bonner, suggested that farmers and rural shooters could lose out as they are an “easy target” for politicians who need to “be seen to be doing something” to crack down on gun crime.

The Countryside Alliance is opposing the introduction of any further legislation, but stresses it is “the responsibility of every shotgun owner to familiarise themselves with the law and ensure their activities are legal, for the sake of all gun owners”.

One thing is clear, however – the potential penalties for getting it wrong are huge.

Farmers Weekly has trawled the rules and regulations to provide some of the key points that farmers need to know.

Guns in the home

  • The Law states that you must not breach conditions on your firearm or shotgun certificate and that the firearms and ammunition or shotguns to which the certificate relates must at all times when not is use be stored securely to prevent, so far as is reasonably practicable, access by unauthorised people
  • Any other person who does not hold a firearm or shotgun certificate is included in the term ‘unauthorised’
  • The requirements for individual security arrangements can vary, but these are recommended options

A gun cabinet

This is the most widely preferred option of securing guns. There is a British standard for gun cabinets (BS 7558). Before you buy a cabinet you should ask the seller to confirm the cabinet meets the standard.

A gun clamp

This may be an option for one firearm.

  • For both of the above, there installation guidelines that should be followed. Your shooting organisation or firearms officer can advise on the storage method and installation.
  • It is not law to store your shotgun ammunition separately from your guns, but it is good practice to do so
  • You should always clean and dry your gun after use. You should never put a damp gun into a steel cabinet because it will rust and pit.

Guns and age


  • In mainland Britain, you can’t possess a shotgun on a firearm certificate – you will need a shotgun certificate. If your gun is not classed as a shotgun or low-powered air rifle or pistol, you will need a firearm certificate instead.
  • In Northern Ireland, however, a firearm certificate is required in order to possess a shotgun or airgun
  • There is no minimum age for a shotgun certificate. Under 14-year-olds can have a shotgun certificate with parental signed permission. However, a firearm certificate cannot be gained until the age of 14.


  • At 14 years old, someone can receive a gift of a section 1 firearm, such as a rifle, if authorised by the relevant certificate. Below the age of 14, an airgun can only be used under the supervision of someone over 21.
  • At the age of 15, you can borrow a shotgun or receive one as a gift from someone aged 18 or over and use it without supervision on private property
  • No firearms, shotguns or ammunition can be purchased until the age of 18

Sharing guns

  • If you give or sell a shotgun to anyone (or lend a gun for more than 72 hours) you must enter it on the other person’s certificate and also notify the police force that issued your own certificate within seven days by recorded delivery or by email to the specified address given by the police
  • A certificate holder may borrow a shotgun from another for 72 hours or less without notifying the police, or entering the details onto the borrower’s certificate
  • When acquiring a shotgun, you must also inform the police force which issued your certificate by recorded delivery or e-mail within seven days
  • It is an offence to sell or hire a shotgun to someone under 18 years of age
  • An individual without a shotgun certificate may borrow a shotgun from the occupier of private land and use it on that land in the occupier’s presence
  • For a borrower under 18 years old, the occupier must be over 18 years old
  • If the borrower is under 15 years old, they must be supervised by someone over the age of 21 years

Guns on the move

  • The security of the vehicle that the firearm is being transported in should be a consideration when assessing risk if it is to be left unattended for any time
  • Guns and ammunition should always be separated and placed out of sight, for example in the boot. When you leave the vehicle, it is normally sufficient to remove a vital component of the weapon and keep that on your person, so that the gun cannot be used, e.g. the fore-end from a shotgun. A security cable could also increase the security level.
  • If possible, the vehicle should be parked in a safe place and locked and alarmed. It should be parked where it can be seen or overlooked and up against a wall to make access to the boot difficult
  • Vehicle-mounted gun safes are available and are recommended if the transport of guns is necessary on a regular basis or if large numbers of guns or ammunition are being carried
  • If firearms are transported on public transport they should be covered in a suitable slip/case and remain with the holder at all possible times. The gun should, of course be unloaded.
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