The UK Border Agency (UKBA) helps to protect society from the threat of firearms and offensive weapons in the same way it tackles drugs offences - by stopping illegal imports as they come into the country.
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British law has always been very strict about who can own or move firearms, ammunition and explosives, but this is even more evident now with the continual threat of terrorism. All firearms and explosives must be licensed and there is a total ban on offensive weapons such as flick and gravity knives.
It is also against the law to import:
People are not allowed to bring component parts of guns into the country, unless they have a licence for the firearm for which the parts are intended.
All firearms must have a police shotgun licence or Firearm Certificate as individual gun parts can be put to several uses. Other than legitimate repairs, they can also be used to reactivate guns that have previously been modified to stop them from firing.
Firearms and offensive weapons control is not something that UKBA does alone. It works closely with several public organisations, including:
The Home Office - which makes and administers UK firearms and offensive weapons law, and authorises otherwise prohibited firearms and ammunition purchases, possession and trade.
The Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) - which administers and issues the licences that allow firearms to be imported into, and exported out of, the UK.
The regional police authorities, which authorise and control both private gun ownership licences and the commercial firearms trade.
UKBA works with these organisations to ensure that only vetted, responsible people get hold of firearms or component parts, and that those with offensive weapons have a valid defence for importing or possessing them.
People want to bring firearms and offensive weapons into the country for a variety of reasons.
Some, such as farmers, vets or slaughtermen have a legitimate working need for items such as shotguns. Others, such as target shooters and firearms enthusiasts, may want to collect them as part of a sport or hobby, and army personnel like collecting various weapons from their travels abroad, all must be in possession of a valid authorisation to possess such firearms.
UKBA targets all groups who would seek to illegally import firearms or explosives, whatever the motive, including criminal gangs who use firearms to protect or expand their illegal activities.
Although anti-smuggling checks at ports and airports lead to firearms detections every year, increasingly UKBA officers at the UK’s postal depots are making seizures through scrutiny of international mail.
Internet websites and adverts in specialist magazines allow anyone to place an order for firearms or ammunition, or even their component parts, from anywhere in the world and have it sent to their home.
UKBA uses officers across the country to stop illegal firearms and offensive weapons imports.
Investigation officers can track shipments of conventional firearms between nations, examine attempts to supply arms to terrorists, and also monitor the international trade in firearms.
UKBA also employs intelligence experts to analyse information about firearms movements.
UKBA prosecutes two main types of firearms offences:
Some importation cases are tried at magistrate’s courts, which can lead to a fine, up to six months in prison, or both. More serious cases are taken to the crown courts where the maximum six month prison term is raised to seven years.
Dual importation and possession offences can carry a sentence if tried at crown court - judges have the option of imposing a fine, sending someone to jail for up to ten years, or combining the two.