UK Firearms Law, Deacts & Collecting
By: Derek Landers
Derek Landers sheds a little light on deactivated weapon collecting
Firearm Laws and the Collector
This month Derek Landers sheds a little light on deactivated weapon collecting
Love them or hate them, and I know people in both camps, deactivated firearms are not only very popular collectables but also big business. A glance through the Militaria section of this magazine will show a great number of dealers and individuals offering deactivated firearms for sale. There are no restrictions on the buying and selling of legally deactivated firearms in the UK. So, what is the fascination with de-acts and why would anyone want a gun that does not shoot?
Who collects De-acts?
Over the last three decades or so the UK’s draconian firearms legislation has drastically reduced the choice of weapons available to the legitimate target shooter. In the late eighties semi-automatic and slide action centre fire rifles were outlawed and less than ten years later all legally held cartridge handguns were “taken off the streets”, or more correctly, out of secure storage in shooters’ homes. Given that there was a time lapse between the announcement of the impending bans and the implementation, many of the guns involved were deactivated by their owners as ‘keepsakes’, a sad reminder of their loss of liberty. Whilst most shooters – myself included – took the paltry sums offered in compensation, those who chose to keep their guns, albeit as inert ornaments, probably took the smarter route. Deactivated firearms in good condition are now changing hands at very decent prices, so that the initial investment has increased rather than gone down as with most “live” weapons. This then is the first group of people who own non-firing guns, each with probably only one or two examples as sentimental reminders of days past.
Hello to Hollywood
Next we come to a group that I will describe as “movie orientated”, and that is not meant to be derogatory in any way. For as long as movies have been made guns have played a major role in the hands of silver screen heroes and villains, and it was probably here that most of us first took an interest in firearms. With one or two exceptions these weapons have usually been handguns. There were countless double action revolvers in the early gangster movies and who can ignore Hollywood’s adoration of the Colt Peacemaker; Clint Eastwood immortalised the Smith & Wesson Model 29 and Lethal Weapon did the same for the Beretta 92. What might start as an attraction to a particular star or weapon could very easily accelerate into a collection of handguns in general or specialisation in revolvers or semi-automatic pistols. So much so that I would think that examples of just about every cartridge handgun ever made can be obtained as a de-act.
I feel reasonably confident in saying that the largest group of collectors of deactivated weapons are those who collect military pieces. Not least of which among these are the large numbers of re-enactors looking for the correct accoutrement for their chosen persona. In this area there are probably many more long guns - rifles, carbines and machine guns - than there are handguns. A visit to a good WWII re-enactment event will also turn up heavy machine guns and mortars among the weapons on display. Even tanks are not immune from the cutting
What is a De-act?
A legally acceptable deactivated weapon is one which has been rendered incapable of being fired and has been examined by either the Birmingham or London proof house and found to meet the necessary standards. If it passes muster the pressure bearing parts will be stamped with a date mark and a certificate issued to that effect. The marks will be visible and should not be removed. The certificate must be passed on to the new owner if the gun is sold, but I know that many of these have been lost over the years, and it could prove difficult to sell a gun without a certificate. While the stamps on the gun will prove that it has been satisfactorily deactivated, they may not be enough to satisfy your local police force if they are not fully conversant with the rules. You could be asked at least to obtain a replacement certificate from the relevant Proof house, which may require the gun to be re-submitted at your cost. To prevent the original certificate from being lost I would suggest that you carry a photocopy when you leave home and keep the original safe.
Up until 1995 small arms were very sympathetically decommissioned, with perhaps a slot or holes cut in the barrel, a rod welded inside and the firing pin removed. Revolver cylinders were often left untouched, or at worst had a portion of the inner walls removed, so that dummy cartridges could be inserted. Barrels were sometimes pinned to the receivers and sometimes not. Semi-automatic weapons were at least partially strippable. The weapons that fall into this category you will often see advertised as “early spec” and command a premium when sold.
Unfortunately, a very small criminal element decided that these guns were the basis for producing firearms that they could not otherwise obtain, and began to re-activate them. A very tiny fraction of these altered guns began to turn up in crime, with the inevitable reaction from the powersthat- be. Specifications were tightened in an attempt to make it impossible to bring deactivated weapons back into commission. Slots in barrels became longer and wider, cylinders had their innards removed and a ring welded inside and semi-autos became almost inoperable. Once again the vast majority of legitimate collectors had their hobby curtailed by the actions of the mindless minority. Up until quite recently I had not seen anything specific on what had to be done to the various categories of arms that were to be deactivated, but researching this piece I found that in 2010 the regulations were again rewritten with very definite rules as to the procedure. The 47-page document can be found by typing the following into Google: deactivation-of-firearms-2010. pdf. As long as your gun is stamped with the appropriate proof house mark and you have the certificate then older de-acts do not need to be brought up to current specification.
It must be stressed that the above document details the UK specification and weapons deactivated in other European countries may not meet this requirement. Should anyone, with the possible exception of a Section 5 dealer, attempt to import a gun from Europe which does not meet UK laws then it will almost certainly be confiscated with no recompense. You could also be charged under the Firearms Act with the possibility of a stay at one of Her Majesty’s hotels. However good a bargain these guns may seem at the time, they really are not worth it.
Another point worth mentioning is the fact that once a gun has been deactivated it stays deactivated. Not only is it illegal to convert it back to a firearm, it is also illegal to alter it in any way to fire blank cartridges, drill out pins etc. Possession of such a weapon could again render you eligible for a long holiday at Her Majesty’s pleasure.
I believe the current cost of a professional deactivation is around £100, give or take a tenner, depending on the type of weapon and the amount of work done – this is on top of the original cost of the firearm. For this the dealer will do the necessary work, submit the weapon to the relevant proof house – who will check it and provide the certificate – pay the proof house charges and collect the gun. Getting the gun to and from the dealer is at your expense. In actuality, most de-acts are bought after de-activation.
So, if you do not wish to take up shooting with all of its inherent costs, but you still have an interest in firearms, then quality de-acts may be the way to go. There are hundreds for sale in the back of this magazine and if you buy wisely, not only will you have a very interesting collection, but also a valuable investment. Just try to make sure that you get the de-act certificate with the gun. GM
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates