If you are found to be in possession of a prohibited firearm in the UK, you could face a minimum sentence of five years in prison, regardless of your previous convictions or explanation for possession.
Our criminal defence solicitors can advise you on whether you have an available defence, how to seek the help of a firearms expert and whether you can avoid the mandatory prison sentence.
What is a firearm?
Legislation defines a firearm as “a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged” (section 57 (1) Firearms Act 1968).
This includes prohibited weapons such as a machine gun or revolver, any component part of a prohibited weapon, any air gun which has a self-contained gas cartridge system or even a realistic imitation firearm which can be converted into firing a missile.
Simply put, it is illegal to own any sort of firearm without a certificate. There are some exceptions for short term possession of a shot-gun on registered or private premises.
What if I have a licence?
If you own a valid certificate for possession of your firearm, you have not committed an offence. However, you may be committing a separate offence if you breach any of the conditions of that certificate.
You may have your licence revoked or suspended. This can be challenged if you do not accept the reasons.
Can I challenge whether it is a prohibited firearm?
We regularly instruct experts to demonstrate that a seized firearm is not a prohibited weapon. For example, some firearms have been deactivated, meaning they are no longer capable of discharging a missile.
- You will have a defence, if you are able to show that the firearm has been deactivated.
- You will also have a defence if you are able to show that the firearm was possessed as an antique for “ornament or curiosity”.
If you possess an antique firearm, you may have a defence.
There is no legal definition of what an antique firearm is, however its age, purpose and use will all play a factor when the court considers whether it is an antique. We are able to instruct experts on your behalf to demonstrate these points to the court.
It is extremely important that you are able to show the firearm is possessed as a curiosity or ornament.
It is common that families inherit old firearms from grandparents who may have served in a war. If these remain unused and purely as a keepsake, this is considered to be an “ornament or curiosity”.
Unfortunately, if you fire the firearm at any point, it is no longer just an ornament or curiosity and the antique defence is no longer available. This would also apply if you removed an antique firearm from somebody, to protect them.
What if somebody gave me the gun?
For possession to be proven the prosecution must show that you knew you had “something” in your possession. This means that if somebody gave you a bag which contained a gun, however you were unaware that the item in the bag was a gun, this would still be possession.
Possession includes if you have it on your person, or in your custody, such as a firearm found in your house or your car.
Unfortunately, if somebody gives you a firearm, this would still be an offence, unless the absolute defences of duress or modern slavery applies. For example, you were compelled to hold the firearm by another who was threatening you or somebody you knew.
Avoiding the mandatory 5 year prison sentence
The mandatory starting point on the sentencing guidelines for possession of a firearm is five years in prison. This means that the court are not able to pass a sentence of less than five years, even if you have no previous convictions.
The starting point increases if the prosecution are able to prove that you intended to use the firearm to injure another, or cause fear of violence.
However, if we are able to persuade the court that there are ‘exceptional circumstances’ the court are able to impose lower sentences, including a suspended sentence or a community order.
What are ‘exceptional circumstances’?
The court considers that the circumstances are exceptional if the passing of a sentence of five years would be disproportionate to the facts of the offence.
For example, if a firearm had been removed from a family member who had threatened to use it to harm themselves, this is likely to be considered an exceptional circumstance in which a five year prison sentence would not be proportionate.
If the court finds that there were exceptional circumstances, the court may then impose a shorter prison sentence or an alternative sentence such as a community order.
What should I do if I am arrested for possession of a firearm?
Possession of a firearm a serious offence. It is therefore essential you seek legal advice on whether you have an available defence, how to seek the help of a firearms expert and whether you can avoid a prison sentence.
Our experienced Criminal Defence solicitors are widely recognised as one of the leading criminal defence practices in the UK. If you need legal advice you can call us 24 hours a day on 0808 274 8226 or get in touch online.