Handguns are designed to be held in one hand.  Following the Dunblane gun massacre on 13TH March 1996 when 16 children and their teacher were killed by a licensed handgun owner, an unprecedented public outcry and campaign resulted in The Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997 banning handguns with a number of exceptions including antique guns, those held as curiosities and ornaments, muzzle-loading black-power guns, and guns of historic interest.

Although handguns are banned other weapons which look like handguns, such as deactivated handguns, air pistols*, airsoft guns, BB guns, realistic imitation firearms and imitation handguns are not banned. They are cheap, easily accessed and can be bought from UK dealers, online forums, newspapers, magazines and car boot sales, and no background checks are required. 

See ‘Gun Law’ pages.

IDENTIFICATION It is often impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is a banned handgun or a deactivated handgun, an air pistol, airsoft, replica, bb, imitation, toy or paintball gun.  Victims of armed crime are traumatised and not surprisingly unable to identify the gun being used to assault them.   Media reporting is unreliable and unless guns are fired or recovered and can be authenticated they are categorised as ‘unidentified’. Many press reports which refer to ‘handguns’ are likely to involve deactivated guns, air pistols, airsoft handguns or other non-licensed guns which look like handguns.

*The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in June 2015 and received the Royal Assent in August 2015. Under the provisions of the Act it will be an offence for a person to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon in Scotland without holding an air weapon certificate.


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