When did the UK ban guns and what are the laws on gun ownership?

Gun laws in the UK were tightened after the Dunblane shooting of 1996 (AFP via Getty Images)
Gun laws in the UK were tightened after the Dunblane shooting of 1996 (AFP via Getty Images)

A school shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, on Monday killed three children and three adults.

There have been around 130 mass shootings in the US so far in 2023, according to the Gun Violence Archive, which counted 647 in 2022.

There have also been 376 school shootings since the 1999 Columbine High School massacre, which killed 12 students and one teacher, according to the Washington Post.

Despite the number of mass shootings that occur in the US every year, the government has been reluctant to introduce stricter gun laws.

In contrast, a school shooting in the UK 27 years ago resulted in tightened firearms laws and a firearm amnesty that involved thousands of guns being turned in.

Laws around gun possession in the UK

Government guidance says that the firearms policy is based on the fact that “firearms are dangerous weapons and the State has a duty to protect the public from their misuse.”

It says: “Gun ownership is a privilege, not a right. Firearms control in GB is among the toughest in the world and, as a result, firearms offences continue to make up a small proportion of recorded crime.”

In the UK, it is an offence to possess a firearm with intent to endanger life, carrying a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

It’s also an offence to carry a firearm with intent to commit an offence or resist arrest.

Furthermore, it’s an offence in the UK to have a firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

When were guns banned in the UK?

Handguns were banned in the UK in 1997 following the 1996 Dunblane school shooting, which killed 16 children and their teacher.

A man named Thomas Hamilton invaded Dunblane Primary School in Scotland, killing 17 and injuring 13 other children and three adults.

A national firearms amnesty three months after the school shooting involved around 23,000 firearms being surrendered.

Then in 2003, following the killing of Charlene Ellis and Letisha Shakespeare, around 43,000 firearms were surrendered.

There was also a firearms amnesty in 1987 following the Hungerford massacre, which killed 16 people. Around 48,000 firearms were given up.

Who can own a gun in the UK?

To own a gun in the UK, you must be assessed by the licensing authority (the police) as “not posing a threat to public safety and having good reason to own the firearm”.

A good reason to own a firearm can include needing one for “a regular, legitimate basis for work, sport or leisure.”

This can include shooting game such as pheasant and partridge, or vermin that could damage crops or livestock such as foxes, rabbits, and rats.

In England and Wales, applications for prohibited weapons such as handguns are determined by the Home Office on behalf of the Secretary of State.

How many mass shootings have there been in the UK?

Since Dunblane, there have been seven mass shootings in the UK, which collectively have killed 24 people and injured 41.

In 2021, the UK experienced its worst mass shooting in more than 10 years when Jake Davison shot and killed five people in Plymouth.

It was the deadliest shooting since 2010, when Derrick Bird shot and killed 12 people and injured 11 others in Cumbria.

More recently, six people were injured in London in January 2023 when a drive-by-shooting took place in Euston. In December 2021, a woman named Elle Edwards was killed when a gunman opened fire at a pub in Merseyside on Christmas Eve.