Weapons and the law
The threat of violent crime with the use of weapons is becoming ever more prominent in modern society. Therefore, it is important that there are sufficient laws in place to deter and punish offenders.
Possession of an offensive weapon
Section 1 of the Prevention of Crime Act 1953 prohibits the possession in any public place of an offensive weapon without lawful authority or excuse. The term ‘offensive weapon’ is defined as ‘any article made or adapted for use to causing injury to the person, or intended by the person having it with him for such use’.
Section 139 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 prohibits the possession in a public place of any article that has a blade or is sharply pointed. Section 139A of this act extends the geographical scope of these offences to school premises.
The defendant is entitled to be acquitted of the above offence if he shows on the balance of probabilities that:
- he had good reason or lawful authority for having the bladed or pointed article; or
- he had the article for use at work; or
- he had the article for religious reasons; or
- he had the article as part of a national costume.
If you’re caught in possession of an offensive weapon
The punishments you might receive if you are caught and found guilty of carrying an include fines, imprisonment or both. For example, if you are found guilty of carrying a knife you could be liable to a fine of up to £1000 or a maximum of four years’ imprisonment. If you have used the weapon to threaten someone, or hurt them, you will find yourself facing even tougher sentences.
It is illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy a knife. Flick knives, butterfly knives and disguised knives are illegal to everyone. Swiss army knives are allowed, so long as the blade is less than 7.62cm; however, you must remember that this becomes an offensive weapon if it is used in a threatening way. It is an offence to carry a knife in public.
In August 2008, the Sentencing Guidelines Council strengthened the penalty for knife possession, making the ‘starting point’ for a first time offender three months in prison as opposed to three months’ community service.
You can only own a gun if you have a licence and it is not easy to get hold of one. Getting a licence is a long and complicated process, starting with an application form, which asks specific questions about why the individual wants one.
There are two types of certificate that can be applied for, the firearm certificate and the shotgun certificate. The criteria are tougher for firearms than shotguns because shotguns, by definition, can only carry two cartridges. Shotguns that are capable of carrying more rounds must be classed as firearms.
In order to gain a gun licence, two independent referees have to provide confidential character statements in which they are expected to answer in detail about the applicant’s mental state, home life and attitude towards guns. Prospective gun-owners must also prove they have good reason to own a gun, a secure place to store it and be willing to have an interview with the relevant police department.
Once the person is approved and given a licence, they must renew it every five years.
Under the Firearms Act 1968, a firearm is ‘a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged’. It is an offence to be in possession of a firearm or specially dangerous air-weapon and certain ammunition without a certificate; to be in possession of a shotgun without a certificate; or a prohibited weapon.
Depending on whether the offence is committed with intent to harm, the offence is punishable usually by up to five years’ imprisonment or a fine or both. There is a mandatory five-year prison sentence for possession of a handgun, which was imposed following the shootings in Dunblane.