The UK is said to have some of the toughest laws on firearms in the world, with the law repeatedly tweaked and tightened after tragedies such as the Dunblane school massacre in 1996. However, shooting remains a popular hobby and, after our success in the event at the London 2012 Olympics, many are expected to attend shooting clubs looking to try out shooting for the first time.
In UK law the ownership and possession of shotguns, rifles and hand guns are all regulated differently. Shotgun licences are the easiest to obtain and handguns the hardest.
How many guns are there in the UK?
According to official figures there are 138,728 people who have firearms licences in England and Wales and the average licence holder owns between three and four weapons. Shotgun certificates are more common, with around 600,000 certificates issued and the average owner possessing two to three shotguns.
In Scotland there are more than 26,000 firearms-licence holders possessing three weapons each on average and 50,000 shotgun certificate holders possessing two to three weapons each on average.
Shotgun, firearms and handgun laws
To own a shotgun in the UK you must apply to your local police force for a shotgun certificate. The law requires shotguns to have a minimum barrel length. You must also own a firearms licence for any gun which fires bullets or pellets in single rounds.
Certificates for shotguns and licenses for firearms are only issued after a visit from a police-approved firearms liaison officer, who must attest that the applicant is a fit and proper person.
Handguns are now almost unobtainable in the UK. They are classed in the same category as machine guns and semi-automatic weapons and are therefore only available to organisations such as the police.
Barred from possessing a firearm
Anyone who has been sentenced to three years or more is prohibited from owning a gun of any type for life. A prison sentence of three months or more precludes a person from owning a gun for five years. If you own a gun licence and later gain a criminal record your licence is automatically revoked.
Police can revoke a certificate if they conclude that a certificate holder can no longer be trusted to own a shotgun. There are around 1,300-1,500 certificates revoked each year, which represents around 0.25% of certificates held.
Do gun laws work?
Despite our status as a leading nation on gun laws, the law does not always prevent tragedy. In 2010 Derrick Bird went on a rampage in Cumbria, shooting dead 12 people and injuring 11 others. Mr Bird was a taxi driver who had held a firearms licence for more than 20 years. He was deemed a fit and proper person and in the review of the case the senior firearms licensing officer for the UK stated that he fulfilled all the necessary requirements for owning a firearms licence.
How can I get a gun licence or certificate?
The process begins with an application form available from your local police force. This form asks details about you and specifically asks why you would like a gun. Firearms licences are harder to acquire than shotgun licences and are only available for specific purposes such as deer stalking and sports shooting.
Shotguns are more widely used in farming and in general rural circumstances for pest control; as a result the application process is less strict.
Your application form will need to be signed by independent referees who attest to your character and they may have to answer questions about your temperament, home life and your attitude to firearms.
An example of a question from the form is: "Do you have any knowledge of any significant difficulties the applicant has in relationships with his or her immediate family, given that a firearm or ammunition may be available in the household?"
Before approving your application the police will check the Police National Computer (PNC) and will also speak to your GP. You will receive a visit from a police-approved firearms liaison officer who will check where you intend to store your gun. This must be a secure location. Your certificate when issued will last for five years.
UK gun owners (The Telegraph)
Gun control and ownership laws in the UK (BBC News)
UK's gun laws are among the toughest in the world (The Independent)