Robert Morgan says the changes to antiques firearms regulations is a debacle that could have been avoided with more thought

Ever since an antique revolver was recovered from the crime scene of the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in 2013, and the high profile arrest and sentencing of antique arms dealer Paul Edmunds three years ago, collectors of obsolete calibre central fire pistols have lived under a ‘sword of Damocles’.

Well, on 8 November that sword finally fell with strong changes to antiques firearms regulations. In one fell swoop the changes of the Antique Firearms Regulations 2020 (implemented by the Home Secretary under powers conferred by the Firearms Act 1968) have consigned a number of significant collectable calibres back onto a section 5 (prohibited weapons) or 7/1 (collectors) licence. These calibres are .320 British (also known as .320 Revolver CF, short or long), .41 Colt (short or long), .44 Smith and Wesson Russian, .442 Revolver (also known as .44 Webley), 9.4mm Dutch Revolver, 10.6mm German Ordnance Revolver and 11mm French Ordnance Revolver M1873 (Army).

A Webley .442 revolver

A Webley .442 revolver also known as the .44 Webley

Changes to antiques firearms regulations

According to the Home Office, only 26,000 antique guns will be affected and owners will be able to apply for a collector’s permit (at their own expense), sell or deactivate their pieces or hand them in to the police for destruction. But the reality is that it is a bit more involved than that. When pistols were ‘banned’ in 1996 (actually, they were moved to a higher classification of licence), compensation was paid. Despite the billions being spent on COVID at the moment, this offer is not on the table anymore, and nor was it when certain types of air pistol and blank firers were reclassified some years back. The reasons are probably to do with the fact that the pistol compensation pay-out was far higher than the government claimed it was at the time. The problem is, that not paying compensation drives items underground when people are faced with losing their property for nothing, and certainly through no fault of their own.

A German commission revolver

A German commission revolver in 10.6mm German Ordnance

Consequence

It is ironic that the authorities rely on the law-abiding nature and honesty of the shooting and collecting community in these instances, as they did with magazine restrictions on multi-shot shotguns for example. Despite a ‘carrot’ in the guise of adding some extra rifle calibres to the existing obsolete calibre list, there is no getting away from the fact that the majority of collectors of these types of weapons now find themselves faced with a huge loss or a big bill. If you apply for a licence (assuming you do not already have one), there is the expense of that. Plus the possibility of alarms if you have over a certain number of weapons and, of course, the cabinets to store the weapons in.

Selling them is not that easy either. The legislation will have reduced the value of any given item (although by how much still remains to be seen) and there is the small matter of all firearms needing to be commercially proved before they can legally be sold within the UK (or exported for that matter). This is fine if you have a near-mint .44 Russian Smith & Wesson, but what about one in poor condition that won’t go through proof? The only avenues then are deactivation (more expense) or destruction at the hands of the police.

pistol

Valuable pistols are at risk of being lost forever

Let’s be honest, one preventable death is one too many but I think the really sad bit about this whole debacle is that a simple law change that obliged people to produce a valid firearms certificate for the respective calibre when purchasing components could have prevented all this, and not risked the potential loss of all these valuable pistols.