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Firearms Certificates Statistics, Scotland, 2001



3. Firearm certificates (Tables 1, 2 and 2A)

Number of firearm certificates on issue and new applications (Table 1)

3.1 At the end of 2001, 27,302 firearm certificates were on issue, a decrease of 5 per cent (1,476) on the number on issue at the end of 2000. During the mid-1980s there was a steady upward trend apparent in the number of firearm certificates on issue at each year end, reaching a peak of 38,465 in 1987. Following the implementation of the 1988 Act, the number of firearm certificates on issue fell by approximately 5,000 to 33,540 in 1989 and continued to fall in subsequent years, to number 31,382 in 1992. Between 1992 and 1995 the number of firearm certificates on issue at each year end increased slightly before resuming the downward trend from 1996. The total number of firearm certificates on issue at 31 December 2001 was the lowest figure ever recorded.

3.2 In 2001, there were 1,323 applications for a new firearms certificate, an increase of 14 per cent when compared with 2000. Permission was granted for 1,308 new firearm certificates, 156 more than the number in 2000. Over the ten year period 1992-2001 the annual number of applications for new firearm certificates decreased by 29 per cent, from 1,860 in 1992 to 1,323 in 2001. Of the 1,323 applications for a new firearm certificate in 2001, 15 (1.1 per cent) were refused.

Number of firearm certificates cancelled, renewed, varied and revoked (Tables 2 and 2A)

3.3 Following the Dunblane incident in March 1996, legislative changes were made to the Firearms Act 1968. Section 5 of the 1968 Act (as amended by the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997) was changed to prohibit the possession of certain small firearms and, in particular, the prohibition of all large calibre handguns with effect from 1 October 1997. A further change to section 5 of the 1968 Act, resulting from the implementation of the Firearms (Amendment)(No.2) Act 1997, came into effect from 1 March 1998, prohibiting small calibre handguns. Further details of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 and Firearms (Amendment)(No.2) Act 1997 are provided in Note 6 of the Annex.

3.4 In advance of the 1 October 1997 implementation date there was a hand-in period between 1 July and 30 September 1997 which enabled existing owners of any 'soon to be' prohibited firearms to hand them in to the police. In such cases the firearm certificate may have been cancelled or varied (no fee charged) depending on the number and type of firearms listed on the certificate. Alternatively, the certificate may still be in place with changes made only to the number of firearms held i.e. a large calibre handgun surrendered and certificate changed to include only the remaining other firearms. Similarly, during the second hand-in period, 1 February to 28 February 1998, firearm certificate holders were required to surrender all small calibre handguns. In the majority of cases the certificate was varied and not cancelled i.e. the holder replaced a small calibre handgun with another legitimate firearm.

3.5 In 2001 there were 2,651 cancellations of existing certificates (9 per cent when expressed as a percentage of the total number of firearm certificates on issue at 31 December 2000). This compares with 2,752 in 2000 and 777 in 1999 (9 per cent and 2.5 per cent when expressed as a percentage of the 1999 and 1998 figures respectively). In these circumstances the holder chooses not to (or fails to) renew their certificate. The reason for the lower numbers of cancellations in 1999 compared to 2001 was largely due to 2001 being a renewal year whereas 1999 was not i.e. in 1994 firearm certificates were valid for three years and required renewal in 1997, but with effect from January 1995 firearm certificates were valid for five years and therefore did not require renewal until January 2000. Certificates can be renewed on application for a further five years. Therefore firearm certificates issued in 1996 required renewal in January 2001.


3.6 In 2001, 6,954 firearm certificates were renewed, about 68 per cent of the number of certificates then due to expire ( See Note 7 of the Annex for details of this calculation) and 20 applications for renewal were refused. In comparison, 6,890 firearm certificates were renewed, and 8 applications for renewal were refused in 2000. The number of renewals in these years is considerably higher than in 1998 and 1999 because 2000 and 2001 were renewal years, whereas 1998 and 1999 were not (see paragraph 3.5 above).

3.7 The number and types of firearm held on a certificate may be varied on application. A fee is charged where a variation increases the number of firearms authorised by the certificate ( see Note 7 of the Annex). In 2001, 553 certificates were varied where a fee was charged, 2 per cent of the total number of certificates on issue at the end of 2001. Similarly, 4 per cent of certificates were varied where no fee was charged (1,119 variations).

3.8 Certificates may be revoked at any time if the Chief Constable decides that the holder should no longer be allowed to possess a firearm. In 2001, 44 certificates were revoked compared with 48 in 2000. The 2001 figure represented 0.2 per cent of the total on issue at the end of the previous year.

Analysis by police force area (Table 2)

3.9 Over a quarter (7,328) of all firearm certificates on issue at the end of 2001 were in the Northern police force area, a similar proportion to that evident since 1996. In 2001, as in the previous five years, Grampian and Strathclyde jointly accounted for around a further third of the total. The number of firearm certificates on issue per head of population was highest in the Northern police force area (2,639 per 100,000 population) and lowest in Strathclyde (177 per 100,000 population).

3.10 Grampian Police recorded the highest number of applications granted for new firearm certificates in 2001 (a total of 329; 25 per cent of all applications granted). Five out of the eight police forces showed an increase in the number of new applications granted in 2001 when compared to 2000; most significant of those being Strathclyde (up 75 per cent) and Northern (up 22 per cent). In contrast, after a 146 per cent increase last year, Dumfries & Galloway showed a 7 per cent decrease in 2001.


Number and type of weapon held on certificate

3.11 Following Lord Cullen's Inquiry into the Dunblane incident in 1996, there was a review of information requirements in relation to both firearm and shot gun certificates. As a result, a revised return was introduced with effect from 1 January 1998. This was sent to Chief Constables for completion. The main changes to the form included the addition of new categories on the reasons for revocation and the collection, for the first time, of information on the number of firearms and types of weapon held on certificates.

3.12 Table A overleaf summarises the type of weapon and number of firearms covered by certificates on issue at 31 December 2001. A certificate allows the holder to either, possess or authorises them to purchase or acquire a weapon or a number of weapons. It is accepted that the total of 68,130 will include an element of double counting: two or more individuals may each hold a certificate that allows them to possess the same actual firearm. Compared with 2000, there was an increase in the numbers of weapons possessed and a decrease in the numbers of authorisations to purchase/acquire. The 27,302 firearm certificates on issue at December 31 2001 covered approximately 59,129 firearms (0.5 per cent increase on 2000).

Firearm certificates : Number of firearms possessed on certificate and firearms authorised to be purchased or acquired on certificate in force at the end of the year by type of weapon, 2001

Table A



Firearms on certificate

Type of weapon

Total (3)

Section 1 shot gun


Handgun (1)




Miscellaneous (2)

Under lever

Bolt action

















Authorised to be purchased / acquired
























(1) Includes those weapons which were exempt from the Firearms (Amendment)(No 2) Act 1997 e.g. single shot humane killers, shot pistols, grade 1 starters, trophies of war, antique firearms and 'handguns' used by the SSPCA.
(2) Includes weapons such as section 5 firearms, tranquillising rifles etc.
(3) Total number of firearms possessed and firearms authorised to be purchased/acquired for Tayside was 9,841 and 1,280 respectively.
However, due to a new computer installation a breakdown by type of weapon could not be provided. Tayside's figures are however included in the Scottish totals shown above.