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Alcohol, guns and the law

A sober look at the facts by David Frost

We’re asked whether we abuse alcohol when we apply for a shotgun certificate or firearms licence. I was reading this and I started thinking about drinking alcohol and guns. All responsible shooters should protect the reputation of their sport and think carefully about the mix of alcohol, guns and the law.

Alcohol, guns and the law – the guidelines

But what is the advice? What is abusing alcohol in terms of numbers? Is it 10 drinks a week or 40?

The definition of alcohol abuse is “habitual excessive use of alcohol”. But what does that actually mean? You could be rightly be considered an alcohol abuser if you go out most days a week and get drunk.

But what if you stick to a glass a day? Or maybe two. If you are out in the field what is an acceptable level of drinking? (Read Giles Catchpole on why a shoot lunch should always be light.)

Official Government guidelines

These are 14 units per week for both men and women. The medical advice is given because of concerns about health risks such as cancer and heart disease, not in the context of social behaviour or gun safety. (Read more on the shooting safety rules.)

The drink-drive limit in England and Wales —it is lower in Scotland and on the Continent — is 80 milligrams for every 100 millilitres of blood. Between 7-8 per cent of your bodyweight is blood and the average man has about a third more blood than the average woman. It follows that the larger you are the more you can drink before going over the limit. If you spread your 14 units evenly over six or seven days, you would be unlikely to go over the limit as men can typically consume up to four units and women up to three while remaining in the safe zone. These figures are for guidance only as individuals vary widely in weight, height and build.

alcohol, guns and the law

A responsible shooter will wait until the shooting has finished before indulging

Can you get a shotgun licence with a drink driving conviction?

If you have a conviction for drink-driving, the police will take that into account when assessing suitability to hold a shotgun certificate. 
A conviction may be seen as demonstrating impaired judgement or loss of self-control. One conviction on an otherwise unblemished record may not matter but get two or three and your judgement will certainly be questioned. (Read more on how to avoid having your shotgun certificate taken away.)

Drunk in possession of a firearm

The Licensing Act 1872  makes it an offence to be drunk in charge of a loaded gun. The Firearms Act 1968 makes it an offence to transfer a firearm or ammunition to anyone believed to be drunk. So what does a loader do if he thinks his Gun has overindulged? The loader could potentially be charged under the Firearms Act but be stone cold sober himself.

loader on a shoot

What should a loader do if he thinks his Gun has overindulged?

If the loader is right and he hands a gun over at the start of the first afternoon drive both parties commit an offence. If you use a loader don’t embarrass him by overindulging. (Read more on why loaders are the hidden experts of gameshooting.)


Drunkeness is not clearly defined, it is really a matter of perception and case law is of limited help. Essentially, if your faculties are impaired you may be deemed to be drunk. If your eyes are glazed, your speech slurred and you are unsteady on your feet, you are certainly in no fit state to be shooting. You are in no fit state to drive home either.

It is an offence to be drunk in charge of a loaded gun

Can I lose my firearms licence because I drink over the recommended weekly limit?

Q: I have applied for the renewal 
of my licences and have been told by my firearms enquiry officer (FEO) that because I drink more than the Government weekly limit, he will refuse to renew the licences because 
I am intemperate. I go to the local pub three days a week and I either walk home or my wife gives me a lift. I have never been in trouble with the police. Can I lose my firearms licence because of this?

A: FEOs are not decision-makers in the licensing process; they do not have the Chief Officer’s delegated authority. This may be vested in the firearms licensing manager, a senior police officer or some other decision-maker. FEOs are there to make enquiries and recommendations.

The Chief Medical Officer’s (CMO) Low-Risk Drinking Guidelines are just that; they are guidelines rather than tramlines and have no force in law. Simply because you choose to ignore the CMO’s advice does not automatically mean that you have an alcohol problem. The FEO is not entitled to assume that you have one either.

This article on alcohol, guns and the law was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.