Select Committee on Northern Ireland Affairs Fourth Report

Annex A: Principal Differences between Firearms Legislation in Northern Ireland and Great Britain[169]

NI Order/Art. No

Article title

Equivalent GB Act/section no.

Principal Differences

1981 Art. 2


1968 s57
1997 s48
1988 s8

No distinction, as in GB, between kinds of air weapons in NI (unless subject of GB distinction as GB visitor to NI).
GB legislation extends to rifles etc. powered by compressed carbon dioxide.
In Northern Ireland 'Firearm' covers shot guns ; in GB shot guns are treated separately from other firearms.
'Firearms club' as such not defined term in GB legislation (though GB legislation recognises approved rifle, miniature rifle and muzzle loading pistol clubs). The Northern Ireland definition is a club established for the purpose of promoting and practising skill in the use of firearms (other than shot guns) and includes a cadet corps.
Definition of imitation firearm in GB, but not NI, excludes an object with the appearance of a firearm which is capable of launching a noxious substance.
Definition of shot gun was refined in 1988 for GB, not NI.
GB legislation includes provision about deactivated firearms (which thus cease to be firearms). NI Order makes no equivalent provision.

1981 Art 3

Requirement of firearm certificate

1968 s1, 2

Requirement of a firearm certificate in NI Order applies to any firearm. No separate provision for shot guns or general exemption for air weapons as in GB.

1981 Art 4

Business and other transactions with firearms and ammunition

1968 s3
1988 s5

NI Order applies to sales etc of any firearm or ammunition. GB legislation applies to sales etc of 1968 s1 firearms and ammunition and of shot guns (1968 s3), and of other ammunition for shot guns or smooth bore guns in certain cases (1988 s5).

1981 Art 5

Conversion of weapons

1968 s4
1988 s6

GB legislation makes it an aggravated offence under s.1 to have or acquire a converted firearm or shot gun which has been shortened, without a certificate (1968 s4); and includes an offence of shortening certain smooth bore s1 firearms (1988 s6). Neither in NI Order.

1981 Art. 6

Weapons subject to general prohibition

1968 s5

NI l Order does not incorporate amendments made to GB law by Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and Firearms (Amendment) (No.2) Act 1997 (notably in respect of small calibre pistols which as a result are prohibited weapons in GB but not in NI).

1981 Art. 6A

Exemptions from requirement of authority under Art. 6

1968 s5A

GB legislation contains exemptions for museums licensed under 1988 Act but NI Order contains no comparable museum provisions.
NI Order does not include amendments made in GB by 1997 Act.

1981 Art. 7

Power to prohibit movement of arms and ammunition

1968 s6

In GB legislation, removals of firearms from GB to NI require the consent of the police at both ends of the journey; in NI Order only the Chief Constable's consent for removals to GB is required.

1981 Art. 8

Possession of certain explosive instruments
1968 s7
NI Order provides for a person to hold certain explosive tools or instruments without a firearm certificate.
GB legislation provides for an individual to possess any firearm without a certificate, under permit from the Police

1981 Art. 9

Permitted dealing in firearms

1968 s8

GB legislation covers dealer's possession etc. in ordinary course of business somewhere other than dealer's place of business.

1981 Art. 10

Auctioneers, carriers and warehousemen

1968 s9

NI Order expressly allows Chief Constable to issue permits for more than one auction, and expressly provides for permits to be subject to conditions (which are listed in NI Regulations) including that the auctioneer furnish the Chief
Constable with a record of all firearms transactions

1981 Art. 12

Sports, athletics and other approved activities

1968 s11
1988 s15

GB legislation gives exemptions from shot gun certificate requirement where shot gun is borrowed from person on whose private premises and in whose presence the borrower is and at police approved target shooting events. No NI exemption from NI firearms certificate requirement in comparable circumstances.
The NI certificate exemption in relation to miniature rifle ranges and shooting galleries only extends to certain air weapons, where the GB Act also exempts certain miniature rifles. The GB exemption benefits the operator of the range or gallery as well as the shooter whereas the NI exemption only benefits the shooter and then only where the operator has a firearm certificate for the weapon he is using.

1981 Art. 14

Equipment for ships and aircraft

1968 s13

Certificate exemptions covering removal of firearms from or to a ship and of signalling apparatus from or to aircraft or aerodrome require Chief Constable's permit under article 14(1)(c) of NI Order but permit of any constable suffices under GB equivalent. NI regulations prescribe conditions subject to which permit held.

1981 Art. 15

Firearm certificates and shot gun certificates granted in GB

1968 s15

NI exemption for holders of GB certificates extends to all firearm and shot gun certificates but, additionally, holder must have Chief Constable's approval whereas GB exemption applies only in relation to NI certificates authorising possession of a shot gun and no GB police approval required.



1988 s16
Borrowed rifles on private premises

GB legislation allows persons over 17 to borrow and use a rifle in certain circumstances without having a firearm certificate for it. No NI equivalent.

1981 Art. 20

Carrying or discharging firearm in a public place

1968 s19

NI Order contains an additional offence, of discharging a firearm on a public road, or within sixty feet of the centre of a public road, or in a street or passage of a town, church, churchyard or burial ground except for a reasonable and lawful purpose.

1981 Art. 22

Possession of firearm by person previously convicted of crime

1968 s21

Prohibition from purchasing etc. firearm where sentenced to more than 3 months but less than 3 years is, in NI, for eight years from date of conviction. The equivalent prohibition in GB lasts for five years from date of release.
The GB legislation prohibits purchase, acquisition or possession of a firearm or ammunition by a person while he is under licence under s53 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Removal of prohibition under GB legislation possible on application to the Crown Court in England and Wales ; in NI such an application is to the Secretary of State.

1981 Art. 23

Possession of firearm or ammunition in suspicious circumstances


No equivalent offence in GB firearms legislation.

1981 Art. 26

Acquisition and possession of firearm by persons under eighteen

1968 s22, 23, 24

The treatment of minors is substantially different.
In NI, a person under 18 may not purchase, acquire or possess or be sold or given a firearm or ammunition except in limited circumstances.
In GB, there is a prohibition on the purchase or hire of any firearm or ammunition by, or sale or hire to, those under 17. Except in limited circumstances, there is a prohibition on those under 14 possessing a sl firearm or an air weapon, on those under 15, an assembled shot gun and, on those under 17, an air weapon in a public place. (There are similar prohibitions on sales, gifts etc. to these minors.)

1981 Art. 27

Application for firearm certificate

1968 s26A

GB rules require that two referees provide certain information about the applicant.

1981 Art. 28

Grant of firearm certificate

1968 s27, 1988 s11, s17
1988 s17

Under NI legislation provided the Chief Constable is satisfied as to certain matters he may grant a certificate. Under GB legislation, if he is satisfied as to certain matters, the Chief Officer must grant the certificate.
Generally speaking, NI Order (and regulations made under it) more prescriptive as to conditions in certificate than GB equivalents. GB legislation requires inclusion on the certificate of any identification or serial numbers of the firearms concerned.
In NI foreign visitors to have firearm certificate where in GB there are special permits for them.
NI Order provides that a certificate shall remain in force for three years unless revoked or cancelled; equivalent GB provision is for five years.

Art. 29

Variation of a firearms certificate

1968 s29

In NI the Chief Constable can later add new conditions to the certificate. In GB this appears not to be possible.

1981 Art. 30

Revocation of firearm certificate

1968 s30A-30D

The NI Order makes no provision, as the GB legislation does (since 1997), for the partial revocation of a certificate in respect of a particular firearm.
The NI Order allows the certificate to be revoked if the holder fails to comply with a notice requiring submission of the firearm for testing (under Art. 47): there is no GB provision equivalent to Art. 47.

1981 Act. 31

Consequences where firearm certificate is revoked or not renewed

1968 s30D
1988 s12

GB legislation expressly provides for return of surrendered firearms where holder's appeal against certificate revocation succeeds. NI Order is silent.
In GB, where appeal dismissed, court dealing with appeal can order disposal of firearms or ammunition. In NI, Chief Constable has initiative over their disposal.
In GB, where no appeal brought, Chief Officer of Police and holder may reach agreement on their disposal. No such explicit provision in NI Order.

1981 Art. 33

Fees for firearm certificate

1968 s32

NI Order provides an exemption for a resident of another jurisdiction requiring a firearm certificate for sporting purposes. (GB fee payable under 1988 s17.)
Fee level comparison below.

1981 Art. 35

Grounds for refusal of registration

1968 s34

GB legislation allows the chief officer of police to refuse to register unless he is satisfied the applicant will engage in business as firearms dealer to 'substantial extent' or as essential part of another business; and to refuse to register a particular place if he is satisfied that the applicant cannot be permitted to carry on business there without danger to the public safety or the peace.
NI Order requires Chief Constable to be satisfied, before entering a place of business in the register, that there is a need for a firearms business at that place and that the applicant can be permitted to carry on business there without such danger.

1981 Art. 36

Fees for registration and renewal

1968 s35

Fee level comparison below.

1981 Art. 37

Conditions of registration

1968 s36

In NI, the power to impose or vary conditions expressly includes power to restrict types, numbers and quantities of firearms and ammunition. It also confers power on the Secretary of State to give the Chief Constable directions as to the conditions he is to impose or vary.

1981 Art. 38

Registration of new place of business

1968 s37

NI Order requires the Chief Constable, before entering a new place of business in the register, to be satisfied that the registered dealer can be permitted to carry on business there without danger to the public safety or to the peace and that there is a need for a firearms business there. In GB the chief officer may refuse to register if he is not satisfied on the public safety/peace criteria. There is no "business need" test.

1981 Art. 40

Special permits


Provision in NI Order for the Chief Constable to issue a special permit for ammunition trading on non-registered premises. No GB permit.

1981 Art. 42

Compulsory register of transactions in firearms

1968 s40
1968 s41
1968 s.42A

NI requirement applies in relation to sales etc of all firearms and ammunition. GB requirement excludes sales etc. of air weapons, their component parts and accessories, and certain ammunition.
NI Order requires that register be kept for ten years from the date of last entry; equivalent in GB is five years from each entry.
NI also requires that all documents relating to registered transactions (invoices, receipts, etc.) must be kept for at least two years, and made available for inspection on demand.
Particulars of transactions to be registered are listed for GB and NI but the Secretary of State has power to add to or vary the list by rules under the GB Act but not under the NI Order.
GB legislation allows Chief Officer of police to exempt from s40 requirement transactions in shot gun components. No NI equivalent exemption.
GB legislation makes provision for notice of transactions in shot guns with magazines with certain visitors; not in NI Order.

1981 Art. 43

Notification of transactions in, and repairs to, firearms

1997 s32, s33
1997 s32
1997 s34, 35
Notification of deactivation, destruction or loss of firearms; and of events taking place outside GB

NI Order requires dealers and other transferors of any firearms or ammunition to comply with instructions in a firearms certificate when selling etc. any firearm or ammunition, whether or not the purchaser etc is a registered dealer (unless transferee can purchase etc without a certificate), and to notify the Chief Constable within 48 hours of any firearm transaction.
The GB equivalent requires compliance with instructions in the certificate only where the purchaser etc. is not a registered dealer and not entitled to purchase etc without a firearms certificate. It applies to sl firearms and ammunition and to shot guns (but not when loaned for short period), not to all firearms and ammunition. The notification requirements applies to any certificate holder for the firearm in question, but does not cover sales etc of ammunition, and notification must given within 7 days.
NI Order also requires the Chief Constable to be notified of repairs or alterations to firearms if they have been tested under article 47 (for which no GB equivalent), within 48 hours of completion of the repair, etc.
GB legislation stipulates content of notice of transaction whereas NI Order does not.
GB legislation requires certain transfers of firearms and ammunition to be in person. No equivalent in NI Order.
GB legislation requires notification of deactivation, destruction or loss of firearm and of certain sales outside GB to Chief Officer of Police. No equivalent in NI Order.

1981 Art. 44

Consequences where registered dealer convicted of an offence

1968 s45

GB legislation does not apply on conviction for certain offences under it relating to shot guns and air weapons. NI article applies on conviction of any offence under Order.

1981 Art. 45

Power of search with warrant

1968 s46

GB legislation includes as ground for search warrant information pointing to a danger to the public safety or the peace from a firearm or ammunition. Not in NI Order.
GB legislation provides for a search warrant to authorise search etc by a civilian officer or a constable. In NI, only constable can be authorised.
GB legislation provides not only for the seizure of a firearm, prohibited weapon or ammunition during a search (as under NI Order), but anything the officer finds in circumstances set out. (These
circumstances are wider than in the NI Order.)
GB legislation (following amendment 1997 and 2001) provides for the seizure of electronically stored records, including power to require any such information to be produced in a readable and portable form.
GB legislation does not apply where suspected offence relates to possession by an under 15 year old of a shot gun or relates to air weapons.
NI Order does not provide a specific offence of obstruction, unlike the GB legislation.
NI Order includes power for constable, when authorised by Chief Constable, to enter, seize and detain and examine as if he had a search warrant.

1981 Art. 46

Powers of constables to stop and search

1968 s47

The NI Order makes wider provision than in the GB legislation for a constable to require that a firearm or ammunition be handed to him for examination (in GB there is no such power if constable suspects person of only having ammunition in a public place); and to search a person (restricted in GB to cases of reasonable cause to suspect a person of having a firearm in a public place; possession with criminal intent; or trespass with a firearm).
The provisions for stopping and searching a car are identically restricted; but the GB legislation does not include the offence in NI Order of failing to stop a car when required, or refusing to permit a vehicle search.

1981 Art. 47

Production of firearms for ballistic and other tests

Provision for the Chief Constable to require a firearm holder to submit a weapon (other than a shot gun or air weapon)for ballistic and other tests, unique to NI.

1981 Art. 51

Seizure and detention of firearms and ammunition

This provision appears to be unique to NI

1981 Art. 53

Forfeiture and disposal of firearms: cancellation of certificate by convicting court

1968 s52

NI Order gives a power to the Chief Constable to order the destruction or disposal of uncertified firearms (except antiques) or ammunition surrendered to or seized or found by a constable. No such power in GB legislation.
In NI Order the court has power, on convicting someone of certain offences, to order forfeiture of firearms or ammunition he owns even though he was not found in possession of them.
Where the court orders cancellation of firearms certificates in NI, though not in GB, the Chief Constable can extend the period for surrender of the certificate.
Power of court to act under this provision arises on conviction of someone for any offence under the NI order but, court has no power in GB on convicting of certain offences under the 1968 Act which relate to air weapons or shot guns.

1981 Art. 54

Firearms clubs

1988 s15 (amended by 1997 s45)

Offence in NI to operate or participate in unauthorised firearms club or to contravene conditions in S of S's authorisation. GB legislation concerned with rifle clubs, miniature rifle clubs and muzzle-loading pistol clubs only. No specific offences in 1988 Act of this kind.
GB legislation contains provision about S of S guidance on criteria for approval.
NI approvals last for period specified in authorisation. GB approvals last for 6 years.
No fee payable for approval in NI. Grant and renewal of approval subject to fee in GB.
Power to vary S of S approvals in GB legislation.
Fuller powers of entry and inspection in GB legislation.

1981 Art. 55

Appeals and applications to the Secretary of State

1968 s44

In NI appeals are to the Secretary of State, rather than to the courts, as in GB. Differences in extent of appeal rights reflect differences in respective legislation.

1981 Art 59

Delegation of functions of Chief Constable

1968 s55

The NI Order requires delegation to be in writing where the equivalent GB provision does not require written authorisation to act.

1981 Sch. 1

Offences to which article 18 (2) (Use of firearm to resist arrest) applies

1968 Schedule 1

There is variance GB-NI in the list of relevant offences but this reflects differences in respective criminal laws.

1981 Sch. 2

Table of Punishments

1968 Schedule 6

As a general rule, the maximum imprisonment on summary conviction is higher in NI (1 year rather than 6 months or, for some equivalent GB offences, 3 months) and fines on summary conviction aligned. Penalties on conviction on indictment are more closely in line though GB sometimes lower eg maximum imprisonment on conviction on indictment 10 years under 1981/20 and 21(1) and 7 years under 1968/19 and 20(1).



1988 s18
Firearms acquired for export

GB legislation contains provision enabling some purchases for export of firearms without a firearm or shot gun certificate. No equivalent provision in NI Order.



1988 s19 and Schedule
Firearms and ammunition in museums

GB legislation contains provision for museum firearms licenses not replicated in NI.



1988 s22
Firearms Consultative Committee

GB legislation establishes Firearms Consultative Committees. No equivalent NI body.

169   The Northern Ireland legislation is the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 1981 (S.I. 1981/155), as amended. Principal amendments made by S.I. 1983/1899, 1988/1845, 1989/1338, 1992/1723, 1992/3267 and 1994/3204. The Great Britain legislation is the Firearms Acts 1968-1997, as amended.  Back

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Prepared 4 February 2003