The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

Leaving guns in cars: What happens to my gun when I’m at the shoot lunch?

Can you leave your shotgun in your car? Is it legal? What about rifles?

There may be numerous occasions when shooters are tempted to leave guns in cars. Maybe they’re stopping for petrol on the way to a shoot. Maybe lunch is in a local pub and there’s no gun cabinet.

In 2010 a Worcester-based shooter was fined £3000 when his gun was stolen, which he had left loaded on the front passenger seat of his unlocked car. He was fined for failing to comply with the conditions of his shotgun licence, which states clearly that shotguns must be stored securely to prevent access by unauthorised persons. (Read our advice on the best gun safes.)

Strict rules

While leaving guns in cars is acceptable for a very short while if the vehicle is securely locked there are strict rules you need to follow.

Remember that if your shotgun is stolen the police will almost certainly view your behaviour as negligent. If this is the case you will lose your shotgun certificate. You may also be prosecuted. In addition we shooters need to be squeaky clean about following the law and having your gun stolen does not show us in a good light. Never, ever leave your gun in an unlocked car. If your gun is stolen you will be treated more as a criminal than as a victim of crime.

(You might also like to read what the law says about carrying a shotgun in public.)

When you have to leave guns in cars and vehicles

  • The car must be locked
  • Park it where you can see it
  • Hide guns and ammunition
  • Set the vehicle alarm
  • A key component such as the fore-end or bolt should always be removed from the gun and kept with you at all times.

Frequently asked questions by shooters

Q: I belong to a travelling syndicate and we frequently find ourselves taking lunch in a local pub. What is the legal situation concerning leaving guns in cars and ammunition while we are having lunch?

leaving guns in cars

Transporting your gun shouldn’t be a problem providing you take the standard precautions

Some country inns may be prepared to accept sleeved guns while their owners dine. They will not, however, allow ammunition on the premises so this must be concealed in locked vehicles. If you are staying overnight in a hotel or pub, again guns and ammunition must be kept in a locked secure cabinet or place – many country hotels and pubs that welcome shooters will have a secure gun cabinet. In addition, it is also essential that the fore-end or bolt is removed and retained on your person.

Q: I travel quite a lot for my shooting and stay at a number of different hotels, some of which refuse to have guns on the property. Is it okay, legally, to break the gun in two, leaving one half in a locked car, and take the other into my room in a suitcase?

A: Unless you can put the gun in a proper security container it is always desirable that it is broken down into at least two parts, so as to prevent loss of the whole.

Keeping the fore-end on your person and leaving the barrel in one place and the action in another is a sensible solution to your problem. Even if the hotel doesn’t mind guns being kept in rooms you must still not leave it all in one piece.

The Dundas Arms, Kintbury

Hotels catering for shooters, like The Dundas Arms in Kintbury, have gun cabinets in the bedrooms

Q: I’m going shooting with a client and meeting him at 9.30am at the office. I will get there earlier at 7.30am to do some work beforehand. My question is can you leave rifles and shotguns unattended in cars or should I go home before I meet him to pick up my gun? It’s a 30-mile round trip to go home.

A: The law requires you to take reasonable precautions of the safe custody of your shotgun while it is in use or in transit to a place of use. “Reasonable” has to apply to the personal circumstances of the certificate holder at the time. It would be unreasonable for you to make the 30-mile round trip but if you had to drive past or near to your home en route to the place where you intended to shoot, it would be reasonable to leave your gun 
at home and pick it up on the way.

Leave the barrels and fore-end in your car, out of sight and locked up. Take the stock and action with you into work in a holdall or grip so that it is not obviously part of a gun and keep it with you and in your care while you work. When you go shooting at 9.30am, the components can be assembled.  Discretion is the word here. If nobody knows you have a key part of your gun with you that is best.

What about camping with shotguns?

Government advice on leaving guns in cars

The Home Office has issued some helpful guidance about leaving guns in cars:

  • Any guns should be hidden, preferably in the locked boot or other secured load carrying area of the vehicle where practicable.
  • If the vehicle is left unattended for any reason, firearms should be concealed, preferably in the locked luggage compartment and (where practicable), an essential component such as the bolt or fore-end removed and kept in possession of the responsible person.
  • Where possible, any ammunition should be stored separately from the firearm and this too should be concealed from view.
  • The vehicle should be locked, and any immobiliser or alarm should be set.
  • If possible, the vehicle should be parked within the sight of the responsible person.

These circumstances say: “Where a firearm or ammunition to which the certificate relates is in use or the holder has it with him for the purpose of cleaning, repairing or testing it or for some other purpose connected with its use, transfer or sale, or the firearm or ammunition is in transit to or from a place in connection with its use or any such purpose, reasonable precautions must be taken for the safe custody of the firearm or ammunition.”

Rifles should not be left unattended in cars except in exceptional circumstances where there is no reasonable alternative. If you really have to leave one, make sure you hide it well from view and remove the bolt and ammunition. That way a thief will not be able to use the rifle even if the vehicle is stolen or broken into.

If you follow that advice you will be following the “reasonable precautions” that must be met on your firearm certificate.