QUESTION: What if I think it is not a prohibited firearm?

ANSWER: Your opinion may not be the only relevant issue, and may be wrong!

QUESTION: Can I not just explain that this is all an innocent mistake?

ANSWER: Risky, you might be admitting to committing an unlawful act


It is very common for a person to possess an item and think it simply does not qualify as a firearm. When caught with an object (or accused of possessing a firearm), many people engage with the police thinking they can just explain it all away. In their view, an item is not a firearm and, if they just explain, the police will simply go away and leave them alone. These people may well be putting themselves in legal difficulty by doing the wrong thing without realising!

The laws of firearms in England and Wales are complex. Many people find themselves charged with possession of a firearm simply because they never took any legal advice. Pardon the pun, but whether or not an item really is a firearm is a bit of a metaphorical minefield!

So What is a Firearm?

S57(1) Firearms Act 1968 defines a firearm as a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which a shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged (where kinetic energy is of more than one joule at the muzzle of the weapon).

An item may also be a firearm if it is:

• One which matches a list of prohibited weapons under the Firearms Act.

• a component part of a lethal barrelled weapon or a listed prohibited weapon.

• an accessory to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon.

Common Mistakes

Some perfectly intelligent people look at the above definition but still make mistakes.

A stun gun or taser for example is one that causes a lot of confusion. On a simple reading of the firearms act, it does not discharge a shot, bullet or other missile in the conventional sense. A great many people have possessed these items having looked at the Firearms Act and concluded that a stun gun or taser does not meet the definition of a firearm. These people would be wrong however!

S5 (1) (b) of the Firearms Act states that “any weapon of whatever description designed or adapted for the discharge of any noxious liquid, gas or other thing” is a prohibited firearm. That is not to say that the section makes it immediately obvious that such an item is a firearm.

Who would think that a taser emits a noxious liquid or gas? Not many people.

The court of appeal ruled in the case of Flack v Baldry ((1988) 1 All.ER 673 that such a device is a prohibited firearm because of the electrical discharge.

This is just one example of an occasion where a person may be innocently mistaken about whether an item is or is not a firearm.

But I Did Not Know It Was a Firearm?

When a person is confronted with the accusation that they have possessed a firearm, they commonly think that it will go away if they say that this was all an innocent mistake.

Many people are called down to a police interview (PACE interview under caution) and say that they feel they have a defence because they thought the item was not a prohibited firearm. This again can cause huge problems for the following reason:

It is no defence to say that you did not realise the item was prohibited. Offences under the Firearms Act are known as offences of strict liability. This means that it does not matter whether a person meant to do anything wrong. When questioned by the police, persons saying they have made an honest mistake are basically confessing that they did possess the firearm.

At the end of the day there is only one sensible way to make sure that an item in a person’s possession is not a prohibited firearm. That is to take specialist legal advice from a lawyer that deals with firearms law advice.

Farleys’ firearms specialists are on hand to advise on any matters relating to firearms law. Contact us today on 0845 287 0939 or send your enquiry online.