Criminal Use of Firearms

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The Firearms Act 1968 creates offences of:

  • Section 16 Possession of a firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life.
  • Section 16A Possession of a firearm or imitation with intent to cause fear of violence.
  • Section 17(1) Using a firearm or imitation to resist or prevent lawful arrest of himself or another.
  • Section 17(2) Possessing a firearm or imitation whilst committing certain offences which are set out in Schedule 1.
  • Section 18 Carrying a firearm or imitation with intent to commit an indictable offence or to resist arrest or prevent the arrest of another.
  • Section 19 Carrying a loaded shot gun, air weapon, (whether loaded or not), any other firearm (whether loaded or not) together with ammunition suitable for use in that firearm or an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Possession of an air weapon or an imitation firearm in a public place (section 19 Firearms Act 1968) is triable summarily only (see Schedule 6) and carries a maximum sentence of 6 months’ imprisonment prior to 1 October 2007. After that date section 41(1) Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 increases the penalty for possession of an imitation firearm but not an air weapon to 12 months and makes the offence triable either way.
  • Section 20 Entering a building or part of a building as a trespasser without reasonable excuse whilst having with him a firearm or imitation. Distinguish possession from “having with him” (R v Kelt [1977] 3 All ER 1099) (R v Pawlicki [1992] 3 All ER 92) (R v Bradish & Hall [2004] EWCA Crim 1340).
  • Section 21 Possession of a firearm by persons previously convicted of crime.

Prosecutors should check to see if a defendant commits an offence under section 21 Firearms Act 1968 whenever a firearm or ammunition is involved. A person commits such an offence if:

  • He has possession, of any class of Firearm (except imitations and deactivated weapons), or any ammunition, including shot gun and air weapon ammunition. From 14 July 2014, prohibited persons will commit an offence if they are in possession of antique firearm, irrespective of whether it is possessed as a curiosity or an ornament.
  • At the time of possession has been previously convicted of any offence and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment (including detention in a Youth Offender Institute (YOI) and Detention and Training Order (DTO). 
  • If the sentence was 3 years or more the prohibition is for life. 
  • If between 3 months and 3 years and is in possession within 5 years of release. 
  • This section does not apply to those sentenced to a Hospital Order.
  • (From 14 July 2014) a person who is sentenced to a period of imprisonment of 3 months or more whose sentence is suspended is prohibited for a period of 5 years commencing on the second day after the sentence was imposed. (Persons in possession of a firearm on a certificate on 14 July 2014 are entitled to continue to hold the firearm until the period of the certificate expires)
  • The release papers include an acknowledgement of this requirement. This offence should attract a consecutive sentence, although in practice it is usually concurrent and treated as an aggravating feature of the other offence. A memorandum of conviction or certificate of conviction and a signed copy of the release form should be obtained.

Section 28 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 creates an offence of using another person to mind a dangerous weapon on or after 6 April 2007. The offence is committed where a person uses another to look after, hide or transport a dangerous weapon for him and he does so under arrangements or in circumstances that facilitate or are intended to facilitate the weapon’s being made available to that person for an unlawful purpose (section 28(1)). 

A dangerous weapon is defined by section 28(3) as “a firearm other than an air weapon or a component part of or accessory to an air weapon or a weapon to which section 141 or 141A of the Criminal Justice Act 1998 applies (specified offensive weapons, knives and bladed weapons)“.