Possession of a Firearm/ Offensive Weapon

What is a ‘Firearm’?

A firearm is defined in section 57 (1) of The Firearms Act 1968 as ‘a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged’. It includes any prohibited weapon, any component part of such a weapon and any accessory to such weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon.

Possession of a Firearm

It is an offence under section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 to possess a firearm, certain air weapons and certain ammunition without a certificate. It is an absolute offence and this means that the prosecution only has to show that the defendant knew he has something in his possession. It is irrelevant what he knew or thought it was.  However there is a defence under section 1 (5) of the Firearms Act 1968 that he did not know and had no reason to suspect that the imitation firearm was able to be readily converted into a firearm.

When does the Five Year Minimum Mandatory Sentence Apply?

Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 defines certain weapons in respect of which it is an offence to purchase, acquire, manufacture, sell or transfer. Such weapons are subject to the Mandatory Minimum Sentences.  Such mandatory minimum sentence is five years imprisonment for an offender aged 21 and over and five years detention in a young offenders institute for those aged 18, 19 and 20 at conviction. There is a lesser mandatory sentence of 3 years for those aged 16 and 17.

The weapons are defined in section 5 (1) of the Act and include machine guns, burst fire weapons, short barrelled rifles, handguns, revolvers,  self-loading shotguns and more. If you are not sure whether a weapon would be contained within the minimum mandatory sentence offence contact us for specialist firearms advice.

The minimum sentence is not to be reduced for a guilty plea and whilst the sentencing judge will consider mitigation, only in ‘exceptional circumstances’ will the judge depart from the minimum sentence.

Possession of a Firearm with Intent to Endanger Life

In addition to offences involving just possession of firearms there are also a number of offences under the Firearms Act 1968 relating to the actual use of firearms including:

  • Section 16 – Possession of a firearm or ammunition with intent to endanger life;
  • Section 16 A – 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;
  • 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;
  • Section 20 – Entering a building or part of a building as a trespasser without reasonable excuse whilst having with him a firearm or imitation;
  • Section 21 – Possession of a firearm by persons previously convicted of crime.

Ballistics Experts

Firearms will always be examined initially by a trained firearms police officer. Full measurements should be taken to identify the type of firearm and consequently which section of the Firearms Act it falls under.

It is often the case that other forensic lines of enquiry will follow such as :

  • Quasar testing
  • Fingerprint analysis
  • DNA testing
  • Forensic Discharge residue (FDR)
  • Compatibility of firearm together with any recovered ammunition

It is crucial that if you have been charged with any type of firearms offence you contact a specialist firearms lawyer who will be able to instruct the correct ballistics expert to prepare a report for the defence.

What is classified as an offensive weapon in law?

The law recognises three categories of offensive weapon:

  1. Those where objects are made for use for causing injury to the person. These items are legally classified as ‘offensive weapons per se’ and include flick knives, kitchen knives, butterfly knives, pepper sprays, knuckle dusters and nunchucks
  2. Those where objects are adapted for such a purpose, i.e. to cause injury to a person. This includes items that would otherwise be incapable of causing injury but have been changed so that they now can, for example a sock containing a snooker ball, a sharpened stick or a sharpened snooker cue, or a water pistol filled with acid
  3. Those where objects are not so made or adapted but carried with the intention of causing injury to the person, for example a cup of bleach carried with the intent of throwing it into someone’s face to cause injury, sharpened nail scissors or a baseball bat

When is the possession of an offensive weapon permitted?

In terms of potential defences in law, the defence of lawful authority is a reference to those people who from time to time carry an offensive weapon as a matter of duty, such as a soldier with a rifle or a police officer with a truncheon. Whilst they are carrying an offensive weapon, they are doing so under lawful authority.

Under certain circumstances, individuals in positions of authority and protection such as security guards or door staff may be permitted to carry offensive weapons, but this will very much depend on the surrounding facts of the alleged offence.

The question of the defence of reasonable excuse is a complex mixture of law and fact and often a lawyer will be required to explain where a certain set of facts will lie.

What is the sentence for carrying an offensive weapon?

The possession of an offensive weapon is an extremely serious offence which normally carries a term of imprisonment. The maximum sentence which can be handed down in the Magistrates’ court is 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine (for a single offence). At the Crown court, the maximum sentence is four years imprisonment and/or a fine.

Contact Us now if you or someone you know has been charged with any of these offences.

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