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Heritage Pistol (Section 7.1 & 7.3)

Section 7.1 and 7.3 Heritage Pistols

(List of  Heritage Pistol Sites) 

Section 7(1) and Section 7(3) of the Firearms Act were promulgated and achieved following the efforts of the HBSA and others to preserve the “Heritage” pistols in danger of being destroyed following the Dunblane tragedy. In brief Section 7(1) permits certain pistols to be held at home as part of a collection, without ammunition, and allows them to be exhibited; while 7(3) permits the possession and use of heritage pistols at certain designated sites. It is possible to own one or more section 7(3) pistols without having a recognised collection.

It should be noted that both section 7(1) and section 7(3) are essentially a means to enable the use of a Firearms Certificate granted by a chief officer of police to authorise the possession and possible use of a section 5 “prohibited” firearm. There is however an essential difference between section 1 and section 7(1) or 7(3) authorities. Section 1 certification in its pure unconditioned form grants unrestricted use of the firearm (within the law that is), and conditions are added to restrict use, whilst for sections 7(1) and 7(3) authority for possession (and use in the case of 7(3)) is granted only under specific terms. In other words, for the latter all is forbidden unless specifically authorised. One side effect of this has led to restriction of research, because users are prohibited from testing or handling each other's pistols unless these are specifically entered on their certificates or some other authority is given, since the possession and use of a section 7(3) pistol does not benefit from the Home Office Approved Club exemption regarding possession and use. 

The operation of the Act has settled down in most regions. The administration of Heritage Sites by the Police has in the past caused problems to some administrators through widely differing interpretations of the Guidance, as well as licence conditions. These aspects have been addressed by the Section 7(3) Forum of Designated Site Managers. However, for users, the procedures for applying to acquire pistols and justifying their eligibility are now largely in place. 

Section 7 was established primarily for the purpose of the preservation, collecting, demonstration, research and study of pistols of historic or heritage interest. Pistols may be used at the sites of storage for these purposes alone, and section 7 of the Act does not permit target practice or competition. The Act, and the accompanying Guidance are helpful in defining the pistols that may be preserved. (See the Home Office web site for a copy of the Guidance to the Police - Chapter 9 is the section referring to Section 7 pistols.) 

The applicant is required to demonstrate to the police that a pistol fulfils one or more of the criteria given in the law, and how these may be interpreted is can be found in the Guidance  The specific examples given in the Guidance can be extrapolated to other types of pistol. ‘Good reason’ as used under section 1 of the Act does not apply to section 7. In fact the term ‘good reason’ is not included in section 7 of the Act. Whilst section 7(1) pistols may be kept ‘as part of a collection’, the good reason (or more accurately, qualification criterion) aspect for 7(3) is more diverse, relating to those headings in the law under which each pistol falls. The most important difference is that the pistol need not be part of a collection, although as discussed below, collection qualifies and is now a favoured criterion. Most forces will not accept a Section 1-style application for an open undefined variation for a pistol (e.g. ‘One .450 revolver’). Justification for a specific pistol is required for each variation, and commonly this comprises details of the make, model (if applicable) and serial number (to assist the police in verifying date of manufacture), date of manufacture (if already known to the applicant) and a statement demonstrating its eligibility according to one or more of the four tenets in primary legislation, namely: ‘historical importance’, ‘aesthetic quality’', ‘technical interest’, and ‘particular rarity’. Each of these is defined in the Guidance and this should be read and consulted by 7(3) certificate holders. It is sufficient for a pistol to fulfil one of these alone. For a more recent pistol (for example post WW2), an exponentially stronger justification is required. The qualification (or ‘good reason’') thus centres on the pistol itself under these circumstances. In addition, more common pistols are held to fall under the definition of ‘Historical Importance’ when they form part of a genuine collection, as detailed in paragraph 9.21iv of the Guidelines. 

For difficult cases, the police have recourse to a Home Office Historic Arms Reference Panel of experts. Note, however, that, when a more common type pistol is allowed as part of a collection, its 7(3) status is not permanently assured. A subsequent buyer would have to make the case for it all over again. The police will usually advise, when granting the variation, that the pistol is not being given 7(3) status in its own right, but only as a coherent and logical part of an existing collection. 

Commonly, the variation will be for the specific pistol and serial number requested, though on occasion in some police areas variations are made for a particular type of pistol, this gives the collector a certain leeway if there is a choice or ‘opportune’ moment. 

Pistols are stored at Sites Designated by the Secretary of State.  For maintenance, or, more commonly, refurbishment and conservation by gunsmiths, the authority of the issuing police is required in writing to the owner before the pistol may be moved from the site, and this by a section 5(1)(aba) dealer with a specific authority to transport such prohibited weapons. This includes pistols that are transported by section 5aba dealers on the behalf of owners for academic purposes such as research, study, and lectures (such as those given to the HBSA). In addition, 7.3 pistols may now be exhibited at some specified HBSA section 7 events, albeit under stringent conditions. 

Ammunition is either bought or made at the site, or, if purchased away from the site, must be delivered there by the dealer from whom it is purchased. The only exception to this is when the Certificate holder owns a Section 1 firearm which uses the identical cartridge, and for which he is already permitted an ammunition holding under Section 1. Levels of ammunition holdings by the owner reflect the need as it would under section 1. Thus those undertaking regular research may be justified in requiring more than those who are not. On the other hand batch holdings of ammunition may be important to ensure consistency of performance between range attendances. Some cartridges are now hard to source or are in irregular supply. It must be noted that use is light in comparison to competitive shooting and practice, considering the pistols' ages and the type of use.

Acquiring Section 7 pistols has become more straightforward as the system has now been in use for some time. Many auction houses offer Section 5 pistols. Also many of the designated sites  involve section 5(1)(aba) dealers who can supply or arrange delivery, including from abroad. The authority of the issuing Force is required by the owner before moving, as detailed earlier. Designated Sites are not permitted to deal in, or own, 7(3) pistols, but any section 5(1)(aba) RFD of course may do so. 

It should be said that all of the Sites have been excellent in keeping access open to owners, and in seeking to accommodate them. In all cases they have had to work extremely hard to achieve the standards required to gain their authority. In many instances the Designated Site  feature to a range is a ‘loss leader’, and a labour of love. Those who wish to extend their section 7 collections into section 7(3), who wish to move to a site closer to home, or otherwise need to use the section 7(3) scheme to preserve heritage pistols should contact their nearest Site.