Getting Started

To own a shotgun or firearm in the UK, you need the right paperwork.


Right to own

Every British resident has the right to own a shotgun, though needs first to get a certificate to do so. Provided you have always been without a criminal record, and are free from mental illness, your application should be straightforward.

Fill in the form

The first stage is to ask for an application form from your local Police Firearms Licensing department. Fill it in, then send it back with a cheque for £50 plus four passport-style photographs, one of which must be signed and dated on the back by yourself; a second one must have a counter-signatory write on the back “I certify this is a current true likeness of [your full name]” and then they must sign and date it.

Get counter-signed

The counter-signatory must be a person of standing in the community who has known you for at least two years and might be a solicitor, barrister, or justice of the peace, though they can’t be one of your family members. The permissible counter-signatories are specified on the form.

Police checks

You’ll need to give a reason why you want to have a shotgun. It’s not legally necessary to give details of land or a club to the police – they simply need to know that you want it for a specific purpose, such as clay pigeon shooting or vermin control, for example.

Most police forces are courteous and easy to deal with. A minority of officers tend towards officiousness and bureaucracy when processing certificate applications. Asking you to fill out supplementary forms and provide details of where you plan to shoot are above what’s required in law, and BASC recommends that you politely, yet firmly, decline. You will need to give permission to the police to access your medical records, however, so they can satisfy themselves that you are free from illnesses that might present a danger when using a gun.

Problem areas

The most common problem areas are applicants forgetting to mention a criminal conviction, as for the purposes of the firearms acts, no conviction is ever considered spent. Motoring convictions, whether still on the driving licence or not, must all be declared. Health problems are only an issue if likely to affect your safe possession of a shotgun. Remember that a semi-automatic shotgun with a capacity of more than one shot in the chamber and two in the magazine counts as a firearm.


You will need to secure your shotgun securely. See the security section in the box on page eight.

How long before I get my certificate?

It varies. Some forces take as little as two weeks, others two or three months. There’s no harm in engaging in polite dialogue with your local Firearms Licensing department if you are waiting for your certificate to appear but don’t pester them

What next?

Once granted, the police must be notified in writing every time a shotgun is bought or sold. This was, until this year, by registered post within seven days of the transaction, but nowadays email notification is accepted.


Good reason

A shotgun certificate gives the holder the right to buy pretty much whatever shotgun they like, but it’s different for firearms.

Although every British resident has a right to a firearms certificate, you need a good reason to own each firearm you want to use.

Each must be specified, along with a sound moderator, if required, and the amount and type of ammunition that can be purchased and stored. If you are planning on acquiring a new firearm, then you need to apply to the police to vary the certificate.

Your certificate usually specifies what each firearm may be used for. The police can revoke your certificate at any time if they think there is no longer good reason for you to possess the firearms on it.

You’ll need to apply for a form from your local Firearms Licensing department and fill it in, plus arrange for two independent referees to sign it. Supply four passport-style photos, three of which have one signature on the back (yourself, the first and second referees respectively – see below) and one left blank, and enclose your cheque for £50.

Two referees

Two independent referees are needed, who must reside in Great Britain, be of good character, and have known you for at least two years. Unlike for a shotgun certificate, they can be of any profession (except a registered firearms dealer) provided they are not a family member or police employee. They will, however, need to know you very well to be able to answer the police’s detailed questions about you. Good friends of the family make ideal referees.

Police checks

Getting a firearm certificate involves more police checks and conditions than for a shotgun. It differs in that you must show the police you have a good reason to own and use a firearm; that you are fit to be entrusted with one; and can use one safely without becoming a danger to public safety or the peace.

As well as examining your medical history, the police make extensive background checks, looking at domestic background and family circumstances; and investigating known associations with other people with criminal records or who are thought to be involved in crime. Anyone deemed of intemperate habits or of unsound mind may have their application refused, and any drug- or drink-related convictions will be taken into account.

Unlike for a shotgun certificate, you are required to provide evidence to the police that you have suitable land for the type of gun you want; that the quarry (if not targets) is present on that land; and that you have permission to shoot that quarry with that gun from the person who is able to give it. The police may inspect the land you want to shoot on to ensure it’s safe, though you don’t have to give details of every place you want to shoot – if you provide details of lots and lots of land, the police often spend weeks checking each individual plot.

Target shooting

If applying for a grant or renewal of a firearms certificate and any gun on it is solely for target shooting, you need to show that you are a full member of at least one Home Office-approved club. Many clubs permit newcomers probationary membership, during which you must go to the club and shoot under supervision regularly for three months before being allowed to join as a full member. This directory contains many clubs that cater for newcomers – see the flap on the back cover for a key for those that do rifle or muzzle-loading (muzzle-loading a pistol is fun!).

Open certificate

Most commonly with a beginner who has been granted a firearms certificate, there will be a restriction on where the firearm(s) may be used. Home Office guidance issued in 2002 allows such restrictions to be lifted “once the certificate holder has demonstrated competence. There is no set time for this and each case should be considered on its individual merits.” This means that once the police are happy with your level of competence with a specific firearm, you can shoot wherever you like. Typically this takes three years, and many firearms licensing departments allow it to be done by phone, or in some cases, letter – and it doesn’t count as a variation.


Be prepared for a home visit from the police to inspect your security before your shotgun or firearms certificate is granted. Shotguns must be stored securely, usually meaning a heavy-duty steel cabinet secured to a wall out of casual visitors’ way. There is no need to keep shotgun ammunition locked up, though rifle ammunition must be kept as securely as the firearm itself.

Most police forces take a lead from the Home Office’s Firearms Security Handbook 2005 as the guide for firearm and shotgun security (available only via the HO website). Broadly, you need a heavy-duty security cabinet fixed to a solid wall or floor. For rifle ammunition, you’ll also need a lockable ammunition box in which you may choose to keep a key working part of the rifle, usually the bolt.

As there is no strict uniformity of security arrangements, policies across forces can differ, so contacting your shooting organisation or the police to assess the visiting officer’s expectations before you order your security cabinet makes sense.


FAC grant £50

FAC renewal £40

FAC variation £26

Shotgun grant £50

Shotgun renewal £40