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What is classified as a ‘firearm’?
The law defines a firearm as follows
“A firearm is ‘a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged’ (section 57 (1) Firearms Act 1968), it includes:
any prohibited weapon, whether it is such a lethal weapon as aforesaid or not; and
any component part of such a lethal or prohibited weapon; and
any accessory to any such weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon.”
Does the Firearms Act only cover the above?
No. Also covered in this legislation are air weapons, imitation firearms, realistic imitation firearms and readily convertible imitations as well as the Olympic BBM.
Is the possession of a firearm, by an adult, a criminal offence?
The following are offences under the Act:
- Section 1 – Possession of a firearm/specially dangerous air weapon and certain ammunition without a certificate, (Archbold, 24.3);
- Section 2 – Possession of a “shotgun” without a certificate (Archbold, 24.9); NB: Shotguns can fall within various sections;
- Section 5 – Possession of a prohibited weapon (Archbold, 24.19).
(There are some exceptions to the above.)
How is a charging decision made by the Crown Prosecution Service?
The following factors are considered when a charging decision is made:
- Admissions or explanation given by the defendant in interview;
- Whether the weapon was real;
- Whether the weapon was loaded;
- The imminence of any probable use;
- Whether the victim or any other person present believed that the weapon was real; and
- Whether the weapon was associated with other criminal activity.
- Whether the subject was in possession (constructive or otherwise) of relevant ammunition, whether loaded or not
These considerations are important, but the above list gives an indication only and is not exhaustive.
What sentencing powers to do the courts have?
In sentencing a person convicted of a firearms offence, the court uses the following questions to help determine an appropriate sentence:-
- What sort of weapon was involved? Genuine weapons are more dangerous than imitations, loaded firearms than unloaded, unloaded for which ammunition is available than those for which none is available. Possession of a firearm which has no lawful use, such as a sawn off shotgun, is more serious than possessing a firearm capable of lawful use;
- What use, if any, was made of the firearm? The more prolonged, premeditated and violent the use, the more serious the offence is likely to be;
- With what intention, if any, did the defendant possess the firearm? The more prolonged, premeditated and violent the use, the more serious the offence is likely to be;
- What is the defendant’s record? The seriousness of any firearms offence is increased if there is an established record of committing such offences or crimes of violence.
An adult convicted of a firearms offence could be looking at a sentence ranging from a 3 month custodial sentence, or a fine, or both – up to a 10 year custodial sentence depending on the nature of the offence and other relevant factors.
Firearms offences, depending on the nature of the offence and other relevant factors, can be summary only (heard in the magistrates’ court) or triable either way (the magistrates’ court will decide after hearing the initial facts of the case if it should be tried on indictment (at the crown court) or summarily. This will depend on the seriousness of the offence.
What makes a firearms offence more likely to be committed up to the crown court?
Those offences for which trial on indictment is more suitable include the following factors:-
- the weapon was real as opposed to an imitation;
- the weapon was used;
- the weapon was visible in a public place;
- the firearm was loaded;
- the weapon was used or produced whilst committing another offence;
- the defendant was in possession of more than one weapon;
- damage, injury or fear of injury was intended or caused;
- the weapon was carried for self-defence;
- the weapon was intended for unregistered sale or transfer;
- the weapon was recovered in connection with drug dealing, gang association or any other organised criminal activity; and
- the weapon was a sawn off shotgun (falling short of a prohibited weapon).
Firearms offences are taken very seriously by the courts and for that reason you should seek the advice and representation of expert firearms offences solicitors as soon as you can.