This is the process you need to follow to get a firearms licence in the UK for the purposes of target shooting. These are the rules in the UK as they apply now.

First of all its worth noting that have a firearms licence is not a right, the presumption in the law is that no-one should have a firearms licence unless the have a 'good reason'. There are only two 'good reasons':

  • A firearm to be used in vermin control or hunting of designated wild animals
  • A firearm used for the sport of target shooting

For the purposes of this article we are detailing the sport of target shooting as the reason to have a firearms licence.

  1. You must join a Home Office Approved target shooting club.

Its worth noting at this point that the process to be a Home Office approved shooting club is a stringent exercise. The club needs to have suitable facilities which are inspected by the police and by the UK's shooting range organisation - the NRA UK or NSRA depending on calibre and certificated as a safe place to shoot. The organisers of the club must be 'suitable and proper' ie they are back ground checked by the police, the club must have suitable insurance and financial controls and operate to strict Home Office guidelines as to usage, registration and operation.

Once you apply to join a club the club has to send your details (including date of birth, place of birth etc) to the police within 24 hours to their local police force, failure to do so could render the club liable to lose its Home Office approved status.

2. Police background checks

Once the police have you details they undertake a background check, this includes checking for previous convictions, residential status, various anti terror watch lists, if you fail any of these the club is informed and you are immediately prevented from any access to any firearm and most likely will get a visit from the police, generally if you have any conviction for any serious offence you wont pass, indeed I wouldn't even bother applying.

3. You must spend a minimum of 3 months as a 'Probationary Member'

Most clubs (us included) actually run a 6 month probation but the legal minimum is 3 months. As a probationary member you are restricted to designated club rifles and shooting must only take place alongside an existing full member or member of staff. All clubs offer detailed training programs some informal and some formal where you are trained in safe handling of firearms and marksmanship, we offer formal training courses. Each time you visit the range your entry is logged, what firearms you shoot recorded and the number of rounds counted, this is shared with the police.

4.  Only once you have completed your probationary membership can you apply for a licence

Once you complete your probationary membership and the club have decided you are a safe and fit and proper person to possess a firearm your membership is converted to full membership and the police again informed in writing. At this point you can apply for a firearms licence which you do by downloading the 13 page application form, paying the £130 fee and sending the application along with photos to your local police. The firearms you apply for must be relevant to your club membership and the type of target shooting you wish to practice. Most clubs are limited in terms of calibre or muzzle velocity (we arent due to the design of the range) so your application must relate to what you are able to shoot - if your club doesnt allow .308 calibre then your membership does not allow you to obtain a firearm of that calibre as you cant actually use it - no 'good reason' exists.

No formal rules as to how many or what kind of firearms you can apply for but there are Home Office 'guidelines' the police work to and usually this means the first licence application is restricted to smaller calibres and lower quantities of ammunition, its not a hard and fast rule and is in effect controlled by the police and what they feel is justified and supported with 'good reason'. For example if you were keen to shoot long distance full bore target rifle then that discipline requires a larger calibre so you'd need to be a member of a club that shoots that discipline but it may be the police will ask for extra training to be undertaken before agreeing to an application for a larger calibre firearm for a novice shooter, there is no written law on this point, its something the police decide on a case by case basis.

When you apply for your licence you also ask for a specified amount of ammunition you will be allowed to buy and possess. Generally on a first application this is quite restricted, a few hundred rounds of .22 and 20-60 of larger calibres only, but again there is no rule and its determined by the police on a case by case basis.

5. Now you wait

Firearms applications are not overly fast, some police areas take weeks, some months, there are guidelines of course but bottom line it will take as long as it takes, be patient.

6. Police visit

At an agreed time the police (a designated Firearms Enquiry Officer - FEO) will come to your house and conduct an interview which typically takes between 2-3 hours. During this time the FEO needs to know enough about you to make a decision if you are both suitable to have a firearms licence and satisfy all the reasons for 'good reason'. The FEO must act reasonably of course but it does come down to their training and gut feeling which they obtain from the answers to the questions they ask. The FEO will typically want to meet you any all other residents at the property where the firearms are to be stored, they will inspect your security measures (more on this below) and ensure that only the firearm certificate holder has access to the firearms or ammunition, no one other than the licence holder must have access, period.

7. Medical check

As part of the background checks the police undertake they contact your GP and ask if there are any medical grounds that would render you unsuitable for firearms possession, if there are then the application will be refused, medical reasons can include being on certain prescription medicines, mental disorders (old or current) or physical issues. It used to be that if your GP simply ignored the police request then the answer was yes, but increasingly the police are now demanding GP's respond in the affirmative before carrying on with the application so its worth speaking to your doctor before you apply to make sure they are happy.

8. Security

You must store your firearms in a BSI approved safe which must be securely fitted to a solid wall in a location not easily accessible to a visitor to your home, typically this means under stairs cupboards, lofts, upstairs room, no where visible from the street or outside the property. Your firearms and ammunition must be stored separately and only the licence holder must have access. If the area in which you live is deemed a high risk then extra security maybe required (alarm) or even the application refused, its your job to make sure no-one else has access to your firearm so its a central part of the application.

9. Ok, I got the licence, now what?

When you receive your licence you will have designated 'slots' that entitle you to buy a firearm of that type. Lets say you were granted two .22 calibre slots and one .223 slot for different kinds of target shooting you want to take up. To buy a firearm you must attend a Registered Firearm Dealer (RFD) and hand over your licence to buy that firearm. The RFD will check you have the right to buy that firearm by inspecting your licence and record all the details of the gun on your licence, this needs to be reported within 7 days to the police. Whilst you may be able to buy a firearm on line the actual process of taking possession will still need that FAC check and the RFD confirming you have the right to purchase it.

10. Thats it?

Well, no, you have to retain your 'good reason' to have that firearm, that means using it, should you fail to make use of the gun then the police will deem you no longer have a good reason to keep it and it will be taken away. For the purposes of target shooting this means that all Home Office approved clubs record each visit and each firearm and the rounds shot.

Having a firearm is a responsibility, the rules and time to get a licence to have one are long and detailed and deservedly so but the sport of target shooting is great fun, highly rewarding and something to enjoy.

For details on the process take a look at the official HM Govt site for guidance here: