News type:
Press releases

News topic:
Firearms offences

Published on:

9 December 2020

Eight new guidelines for sentencing offenders convicted of firearms offences ranging from the unlawful possession of weapons to manufacturing illegal guns have been published by the Sentencing Council following consultation. The new guidelines will come into force on 1 January 2021.

For the first time, judges and magistrates in England and Wales will have dedicated guidelines for sentencing these complex offences which, while low in volume, can be extremely serious with several offences carrying maximum sentences of 10 years or life and some requiring a minimum sentence of five years.

There are currently no sentencing guidelines for firearms offences in the Crown Court and only one for use in magistrates’ courts for carrying a firearm in a public place. The guidelines will give the courts the tools they need to ensure a consistent approach is taken to sentencing these offences and will make the sentencing process more transparent and easy to understand for victims, witnesses and the public.

Analysis conducted by the Council in preparation for the guidelines suggests there are disparities in sentence outcomes for some firearms offences based on ethnicity. The Council has taken measures in the guidelines to address this, including drawing sentencers’ attention to evidence of sentencing disparities in specific offences as an integral part the sentencing process. The Council is committed to continuing to investigate apparent disparity in sentencing outcomes across all offences and will take further action as and when there is evidence of effective measures that can be applied to guidelines.

The eight new guidelines cover the offences below under the Firearms Act 1968:

Sentencing Council member Mrs Justice Maura McGowan said:

“Firearms have the potential to cause terrible harm – from severe injury or death to intense fear – and the courts rightly take these offences extremely seriously. We know that judges and magistrates will welcome guidelines in this difficult area of sentencing.

“The new guidelines cover a range of offending relating to the possession, manufacturing and transferring of firearms and aim to provide a structured framework for courts to ensure a consistent approach to sentencing that meets the seriousness of the offending.”The firearms offences in the guidelines relate to matters such as possessing, carrying, making or transferring firearms only. Where a firearm is used to cause death or injury, other charges such as murder, attempted murder, or causing grievous bodily harm would be brought in addition to the firearms offence.

Notes to editors

  1. The guidelines cover the following offences in the Firearms Act 1968:


Maximum sentence

Possession, purchase or acquisition of a prohibited weapon or ammunition – sections 5(1), 5(1A);

10 years

Possession, purchase or acquisition of a firearm/ammunition/shotgun without a certificate – sections 1(1), 2(1);

Up to 7 years depending on the type of weapon

Possession of a firearm or ammunition by person with previous convictions prohibited from possessing a firearm or ammunition – section 21(4), 21(5);

5 years

Carrying a firearm in a public place – section 19;


Up to 7 years depending on the type of weapon

Possession of firearm with intent to endanger life – section 16;


Possession of firearm or imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence – section 16A;

10 years

Use of firearm or imitation firearm to resist arrest/possession of firearm or imitation firearm while committing a Schedule 1 offence/carrying firearm or imitation firearm with criminal intent – sections 17(1), 17(2), 18;


Manufacture/sell or transfer/possess for sale or transfer/purchase or acquire for sale or transfer prohibited weapon or ammunition – section 5(2A)



  1. Currently, there is only one sentencing guideline for firearms offences: that of carrying a firearm in a public place which is included in the Magistrates Courts Sentencing Guidelines (MCSG). There are no sentencing guidelines for firearms offences for use in the Crown Court.
  2. In the absence of sentencing guidelines courts rely on previous decisions of the Court of Appeal to give guidance on sentencing firearms cases.
  3. Firearms legislation is complex with 35 statutes governing the use of firearms as well as numerous pieces of secondary legislation.
  4. Sentencing guidelines must be followed, unless a judge or magistrate considers it is not in the interest of justice to do so. If a judge or magistrate believes that a guideline prevents the correct sentence from being given in an exceptional case, he or she can sentence outside of the guideline.
  5. Guidelines set sentencing ranges within the maximum for the offence as set out in current legislation. The guidelines are intended to reflect current sentencing practice for these offences.
  6. The Sentencing Council was established by Parliament to be an independent body, but accountable to Parliament for its work which is scrutinised by the Justice Select Committee. Justice Ministers are accountable to Parliament for the Sentencing Council’s effectiveness and efficiency, for its use of public funds and for protecting its independence. Judicial Council members are appointed by the Lord Chief Justice with the agreement of the Lord Chancellor. Non-judicial council members are appointed by the Lord Chancellor with the agreement of the Lord Chief Justice.

For more information, please contact Kathryn Montague, Sentencing Council Press Office, on 020 7071 5792 / 5788 / 07912301657 / Email