Firearms Offences

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Closes 14 Jan 2020



Although relatively low volume, firearms offences are regarded as serious with several offences carrying maximum sentences of 10 years or life. Firearms legislation is complex with 35 statutes governing the use of firearms as well as numerous pieces of secondary legislation.  The Law Commission reviewed firearms legislation in 2015 and recommended codification, due to the complexity and volume of the legislative provisions. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 made some clarifying amendments to the main legislation, but there were no plans to pursue codification.  The Council sought the views of sentencers and concluded that in the absence of steps to codify the law, sentencing guidelines would provide some helpful clarification in this difficult area of sentencing.

In the absence of sentencing guidelines courts rely on previous decisions of the Court of Appeal to give guidance on sentencing firearms cases. The leading firearms sentencing case is R v Avis (1998) 1 Cr. App. R. 420. Avis gives guidance on which offences will generally merit a custodial sentence and sets out a series of questions to consider in determining the appropriate level of sentence. Subsequent guideline decisions have covered possession with intent to endanger life (R v Wilkinson (2009) EWCA Crim 1925) and transfer of prohibited weapons and ammunition (Attorney-General’s Reference (Nos. 128-141 and 8-10 of 2015) (R v Stephenson) [2016] 2 Cr. App. R. (S.) 12).  

In developing these guidelines the Council has had regard to the purposes of sentencing and aims to provide sentencers with a structured approach to sentencing firearms offences that will ensure that sentences are proportionate to the offence committed and in relation to other offences.

Which offences are covered by the draft guidelines?

The eight draft guidelines cover the following offences under the Firearms Act 1968:

  • Possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited weapon or ammunition – sections 5(1), 5(1A);
  • Possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition/shotgun without a certificate – sections 1(1), 2(1);
  • Possession of a firearm or ammunition by person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition – sections 21(4), 21(5);
  • Carrying a firearm in a public place – section 19;
  • Possession of firearm with intent to endanger life – section 16;
  • Possession of firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence – section 16A;
  • Use of firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest/possession of firearm or imitation firearm while committing a Schedule 1 offence/carrying firearm or imitation firearm with criminal intent – sections 17(1), 17(2), 18; and
  • Manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition – section 5(2A).

It should be noted that the firearms offences above relate to matters such as possessing, carrying, making or transferring firearms but not causing injury (although this may be a consequence of the offences).  Where a firearm is used to cause death or injury, other charges would be brought in addition to the firearms offence – such as murder, attempted murder, or causing grievous bodily harm.

Which other offences did the Council consider including?

There are numerous firearms offences spread across at least 35 pieces of legislation some of which are rarely, if ever, prosecuted. In addition to the offences covered by the eight draft guidelines the Council considered including the following offences, but concluded that the low volumes did not justify doing so:


Offence description

Statutory maximum

Volumes (2018)1

Firearms Act 1968, s4(1)

Shorten shotgun barrel - less than 60.96 cm / 24 ins

7 years

MC 0

CC 1


Total 1

Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, s6(1)

Shorten smooth-bore gun barrel of section 1 firearm

5 years

Firearms Act 1968, s4(3)

Convert thing / imitation firearm into a firearm

7 years

Total 0

Firearms Act 1968, s4A(1)2

Possession of articles for conversion of imitation firearms

5 years

Total 0

Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, ss50(3), (4), (5A)(a)

Import prohibited weapons / ammunition with intent to evade a prohibition / restriction



MC 14

CC  5

Total 19

Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, ss170(1)(b) and (3), 170(2), (3), and (4A)(a)

Fraudulent evasion of prohibition / restriction



MC 1

CC 10

Total 11

1 Number of adult offenders sentenced in 2018 (principal offences) in magistrates’ courts (MC) and Crown Courts (CC). Source: Court Proceedings Database, Ministry of Justice.

2 New offence inserted by the Policing and Crime Act 2017; came into force 2 May 2018.

When sentencing a firearms offence not specifically covered by a sentencing guideline courts will be able to refer to any analogous guideline for assistance in sentencing in accordance with the General guideline.

When issued as definitive guidelines these guidelines will apply only to offenders aged 18 and older. General principles to be considered in the sentencing of children and young people are in the Sentencing Council’s definitive guideline, Overarching Principles – Sentencing Children and Young People.

Responding to the consultation

Through this consultation process, the Council is seeking views on:

  • the principal factors that make any of the offences included within the draft guidelines more or less serious;
  • the additional factors that should influence the sentence;
  • the approach taken to structuring the draft guidelines;
  • the sentences that should be passed for firearms offences; and
  • anything else that you think should be considered.

In the following sections each of the proposed guidelines is outlined in detail and you will be asked to give your views. You can give your views by answering some or all of the questions below or you can respond by email to

1. What is your name?
2. What is your email address?
If you enter your email address then you will automatically receive an acknowledgement email when you submit your response.
3. What is your organisation?
4. Do you agree that the proposed guidelines cover the relevant firearms offences? If not, please state which other offence(s) you think should be covered.