The home of Shooting Times and Sporting Gun

What does the law say about carrying a shotgun in public?

Can you legally carry a shotgun in public? Peter Glenser QC replies.

gun slips

Carry guns in slips muzzle down

Q: What’s your legal advice on carrying a shotgun in public? I always make sure my gun is in its slip but I often get looked at oddly when I’m in the supermarket or my local shopping centre. Am I doing something wrong?

I don’t have a car so often walk or cycle to a shoot if I don’t get a lift with a friend. (You might also like to read ‘is it legal to carry a shotgun on a motorcycle?’)

(Read our list of the best gun slips.)

Carrying a shotgun in public – what the law says

A while ago I was walking through town having met a friend for lunch. I’d lent him a shotgun a couple of days before and he had handed it back to me. Suddenly I was politely, but firmly, taken by the arm by a man in plain clothes who flashed a police warrant card at me. He asked me what was in my gunslip and asked to see my firearms certificate. 

I said I was carrying a shotgun and that the certificate was in the slip with my gun.

He thanked me and wished me good day without any further fuss at all. I was probably lucky in that the officer knew the law.  The lesson to take from this is that there is no offence in carrying a shotgun in public. 

It’s covered by Section 19 of the Firearms Act which says:

“A person commits an offence if, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (the proof whereof lies on him) he has with him in a public place

(a) a loaded shot gun

(b) an air weapon (whether loaded or not)

(c) any other firearm (whether loaded or not) together with ammunition suitable for use in that firearm, or

(d) an imitation firearm.”

So if your shotgun is not loaded you are not committing an offence. It doesn’t even need to be in a gunslip.

An instrument case can be a discreet way to transport a broken down shotgun

Be circumspect and discreet

However, Bill Harriman, Director of Firearms at the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) warns: “In these days of heightened terrorism threats, it always pays to be very circumspect about how you carry a shotgun in public on any occasion that you may need to do so. Always avoid carrying it in a gun-shaped case. People will soon work out that a gun-shaped bag on a strap probably contains a gun and may panic. The best solution is to break a shotgun down into its stock/ action and barrels. They will normally fit into a hold all. Or case which will attract no attention.

“The basic principle must be to camouflage any firearm so as to not advertise its presence. I used to carry guns in a trombone case with a Musician’s Union sticker. Alternatively, an old golf club bag is a handy and unobtrusive carrier, particularly if it has a couple of real clubs in it. Be creative.”

(You might also like to read about airgun laws and security requirements you need to know.)

shotgun in car

You must take reasonable precautions for your gun’s safe custody

Taking my gun from my home to my car

Q: I am a pigeon shooter and live in a block of flats with a shared entrance foyer, which I need to walk through with my gun to get to my car. I have noticed people giving me some funny looks even though my gun is in a slip. I have now been told that a firearms enquiry officer (FEO) will visit me because other residents have complained that they feel threatened when I do this. Have I broken any law?

A: Absolutely not. The shared foyer is not public in law as access is controlled and is not a place where the public is admitted either by right or upon payment. Even if it were, no offence is committed because you would have “reasonable excuse” to carry your lawfully owned gun from your home to your car and then drive to a place where you have permission to use it.

The way to tackle this is to break your gun down into barrels and stock and put them in an ordinary holdall as you carry them out to the car. That way nobody will know what you are carrying. It may be marginally inconvenient, but if it solves the problem of someone else’s paranoid perception then it is worth doing.

This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.