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Non-Emergency Enquiries: 101

What is the difference between a Shotgun and a Firearm?

A shotgun is a smooth bore gun (within certain size stipulations) and a Firearm is any other lethal barrelled weapon.

A shotgun is a smooth bore gun which:

  • Has a barrel not less than 60.96 cm (24 inches) in length and does not have any barrel with a bore that exceeds 5.08 cm (2 inches), in diameter and
  • Has no magazine, or a non detachable magazine incapable of holding more than two cartridges and
  • Is not a revolver gun

Other smooth bore guns may require a firearms certificate or even be prohibited weapons. There are weapons other than conventional shotguns which also require a shotgun certificate, e.g. smooth bore muskets used for re-enactments.

Genuine antique shotguns, with flintlock, matchlock and percussion cap firing mechanisms, which are not kept to be fired, will not normally need to be certificated. If in doubt, please contact the Firearms and Explosives Licensing Unit


"Firearm", within the definition of the Firearms Acts , means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description, from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged. It includes any prohibited weapon, any component part of such a weapon and any accessory to such a weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by the firing of the weapon.

Firearm, within the terms of what you are allowed to hold on a firearm certificate, obviously does not include any prohibited weapons. Neither does it include shotguns, as they must be held on a separate shotgun certificate- except for Section 1 shotguns, which can only be held on a firearm certificate.

A Section 1 shotgun differs from a conventional shotgun in that it has a magazine capable of holding more than two cartridges. These are known as "pump-action" or "semi-automatic" shotguns, where cartridges from the magazine are loaded by hand pumping the action, or by the discharge of the previous round.

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