UK's gun laws are among the toughest in the world

Lewis Smith
Thursday 03 June 2010 00:00 BST

Britain is one of the most regulated countries in the world when it comes to owning guns.

Shotguns, rifles and handguns are each treated differently under the law, with shotguns the easiest to obtain and handguns, after Thomas Hamilton's massacre in Dunblane, the most difficult.

Licences are needed to own either shotguns, which must have a minimum barrel length and which fire shot, or firearms, which shoot either bullets or pellets in single rounds. Shotgun and firearm licences will only be issued after a police-approved firearms liaison officer is satisfied that the owner is a fit and proper person.

Anyone who has been imprisoned for three years or more is banned for life from having a gun, and a prison sentence of three months or longer results in a five-year ban from licensed ownership. An owner who then earns a criminal record will have the licence revoked.

The licensing process requires applicants to undergo checks and interviews and police have wide discretion in deciding whether or not to approve them.

Bolt-action rifles are the only firearms which most gun enthusiasts can expect to be able to own. Handguns are classified in the same category as machine guns and semi-automatic rifles and are virtually unobtainable legally, except for organisations such as the police.

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