The UK - one of the world's safest places to own a gun
We’ve seen UK participation levels in shooting slowly decline in recent years, from 138,000 participating individuals in 2009/10, down to 91,000 in 2015/16. The reasons for this will never be explicitly clear, but we can make a confident assumption that the international gun violence we’ve seen in recent years has been a concern for many people. Questions about the safety of the activity will probably always be an issue in some form, but recent research data will show you that not everything is as bad as you'd think. In fact, there’s powerful proof that suggests firearm ownership and usage in the United Kingdom is as secure as it possibly could be. In fact, it’s easily one of the safest places to own a gun in the entire world!
Read on for all the useful data that says Britain is the ideal location to take up shooting in an environment purely utilised for enjoyment. Tell your friends, send them along to a shooting club, and help raise the profile of one of the greatest pastimes on offer.
How many firearms are there in the UK?
Using Gunpolicy.org, a research company supported by the United Nations UNSCAR department, we’re able to compare the firearm laws and statistical data from multiple nations worldwide and use them to learn more about guns on a wider scale. We’ve taken data from eight of the world’s most powerful countries - Australia, Canada, China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the USA - to show you just how safe the UK is in comparison to the rest of the world.
Great Britain favours quality over quantity
Our research shows some very positive findings. The United Kingdom possesses the least amount of firearms out of all of these prominent nations, with 2.37 million. This is no doubt down to the careful procedures put in place by UK government that ensure only suitable owners are granted access to guns. To find out how to obtain a UK gun licence, click here.
Second on the list is Australia, close behind with 3.15 million. Australia changed their own gun laws in 1996 after a serious mass shooting. They bought back over 600,000 guns from civilians and destroyed them, and from then on made it significantly harder to gain ownership permissions. Therefore it’s no coincidence that the two nations with the strictest gun laws also have the lowest amount of firearms.
At the other end of the list, China (40 Million) and USA (310 Million) top the numbers. Although these two nations are significantly bigger in terms of land mass and population, it’s still an incredibly large amount of guns and, when compared to the figures within the UK, you can start to see how less likely it is that a threat should arise in our country.
If you’re considering taking up shooting as a hobby, this is just the first of many factors that should persuade you that Great Britain is one of the best places to do so.
Who has the most firearms per 100 people?
This statistic is an even better judgement of our safety when it comes to ownership because the difference in population for each of these countries is quite large. By working out how many guns there are per person in each country, we can start to make more sense of it all. As an entire world average, there are 10.2 guns for every 100 people. That’s a good benchmark to use when looking at individual countries too. Anything below this figure is really encouraging - it’s a big step towards ensuring high levels of security within a nation, plus a nice indicator of how safe a country is when comparing to others.
The UK beats the rest - once again
With this in mind, you’ll be relieved to hear that Great Britain tops the books for these records too. There are 3.78 firearms per 100 people in the United Kingdom, a massive amount lower than the world average. This shows that people aren’t buying up excessive amounts of guns and it’s unlikely that any single person has more than one or two of their own. This makes it very easy to control and keep track of weapons in the country.
Another thing that this implies is that the shooting community is a very secure and tight-knit group where enthusiasts celebrate their love of the sport without any excessive addicting or collecting. These are enthusiastic, passionate people with avidity for shooting and owning a controlled firearm - without an addiction for collecting 'weapons'.
China follows closely with 4.9 firearms per 100 people. Although we saw they own a huge amount of civilian guns as a whole nation, their population is so large that this is probably expected and isn’t actually too far out of proportion when compared to the UK. At the other end of the spectrum, we see the United States again, with an astonishing figure of 101.05 firearms per 100 people. That means there are more guns in the USA than there are people - making it even more apparent that the UK is much safer than most.
How many gun deaths are there per year?
This is probably the thing you’re most keen to find out about - do people actually lose their lives because of guns in the UK? Unfortunately, the answer is yes, but that’s sort of inevitable. A firearm is a powerful tool that will be dangerous if you don’t use it properly. That will be the same with many other tools though - in theory, a gun should be no more dangerous than any common household D.I.Y tool when used in its appropriate environment. Whilst it’s very hard to eliminate gun deaths entirely, we can do a lot to keep them to an absolute minimum. This is something that the UK does expertly. The United Kingdom averages 144 deaths per year involving a firearm. This figure is in the bottom 10% of the world. For a nation that ranks in the world's top 11% for population, that’s extremely positive.
When you look back to our first statistic that shows the UK has 2.3 million guns, having only 144 fatalities is quite something. Our high-quality shooting clubs play a massive role in this no doubt. As you’ll learn later, it’s compulsory for a UK firearms owner to join a shooting club before they’re allowed access to guns - the fact that they’re strongly encouraged to use their guns in such a professional yet friendly atmosphere is a starting point that every nation could learn from. We think that’s the real key factor to ensuring safety; friendliness. If you can find a way to make shooting a social sport where friends are made and discussions are created, then you’re already halfway there to achieving a safe sport.
This just isn’t the case in other areas of the world - people are using shooting as a break from society or perhaps to let some anger out - you can see how this would go wrong. In the UK, shooters enjoy the sport because they can go somewhere to meet their friends and have some good laughs, whilst perfecting their skills.
We’re learning here that Australia has followed similar laws to the UK in recent times and we see that they closely follow on the tables again, with 238 deaths per year. Seeing as their firearms per 100 people numbers are a fair bit higher than Great Britain’s, this figure is very low, so they’re not doing too badly to eliminate danger either.
Of course, we can’t just look at our own figures - we’ve got to look at the opposite end of the table so that we have something to compare to. Let’s start with France. With a very slightly higher population than the UK (66.9 million to 65.6 million), you’d expect the figures to be pretty even. But in fact, France record around 1,750 gun deaths a year, over 10 times more than the UK. If there’s any figure that should prove our competence, this is it. Especially as this figure form France isn’t even considered to be in a severe category (this score doesn’t feature in the world's top 25 nations).
Once again, we can probably hazard a guess at who reaches the highest figures. The United States soar above the rest with Over 38,000 deaths per year. Of course, they have a population much bigger than the likes of the UK and France anyway, so we’d expect the count to be a lot higher. But the proportion in which this takes place is quite monumental. Whilst their population is only 5 times larger than the UK’s, their firearm death rate is more than 250 times larger - that’s staggering.
Elsewhere, China and Russia have not approved their data for public release, which we assume can’t be for positive reasons. Based on population and gun numbers in these two nations, we’d expect them to be pretty high too.
If you’re looking for reassurance that shooting in the UK is a great thing to be a part of, look no further than the stats on this page.
How many shooting clubs are in the UK?
Here’s one of the most prominent reasons why UK shooting is so safe - it’s the quality and quantity of our shooting clubs. Shooting clubs allow gun owners to regularly attend a local, friendly club with like-minded individuals, to practice, perfect and discuss their shooting on supervised, first-class facilities. By making it a social, inclusive activity, we’re able to manage and record every individual with a firearm whilst promoting the ideology that shooting is for recreation and pleasure; not violence.
There are around 1,155 registered shooting clubs in the UK, locally to everyone from Inverness to Jersey. There really is a local club for everyone and it’s rare that you won’t find a club within 10 miles of your home. You’ll never feel like you’re fighting for room wherever you go - in fact there’s almost one shooting club for every 1% of civilian guns in the UK. Thinking about this figure is breathtaking. You’re only ever going to be sharing your shooting space with around 1% of the nations shooting population, allowing more time to shoot, more intimate connections with members and a much easier task for officials and pros to manage each individual. All of these factors are going to massively reduce the risk of danger.
To find your nearest shooting club, use the simple club finder tool on British Shooting’s website right here:
The only way to truly keep track of where guns are located, how active they are and who has possession of them, is to make sure they’re registered with the UK government. This is a legal requirement you must fulfil for any firearm you own, in order to be able to use it.
The more firearms we get registered, the closer we’ll be to ensuring complete safety and elimination of weapons with dangerous intent. It’s very unlikely that we’d ever see the full 100% of guns registered with the government, but it continues to get closer and, we’re not too far off already.
The UK currently has 90.9% of its firearms registered, that’s 2.23 million of all 2.45 million of our guns. It’s very rare to get anywhere near 90% - firearms are an extremely tricky thing to keep an eye on and many nations across the globe don’t even have an accurate reading of how many guns they have floating about their country. For us to have nearly all of our guns registered with the government is excellent.
Having said this, we’re not quite top of the list here. This is one factor where Australia just manage to squeeze past us. They’ve got 91.7% of their guns registered and that’s down to the dramatic changes they made in the late 90’s where the government took ownership of nearly every gun in the country. These two readings are some of the best in the world, and a serious distance ahead of the 6 other nation’s we’re looking at here.
Our English Channel neighbours France only have 27.6% of their firearms registered. They’ve got 10 Million guns in their country, so there are 7.2 million weapons unaccounted for there. Even this isn’t anywhere near as worrying as China, who have 40 million guns, but only 1.7% of them are registered. 680,000 is the grand total of registered firearms there.
So once again, we’re doing pretty well as a nation…
Every nation has their own set of laws and regulations when it comes to buying or owning a gun; all with varying degrees of rigidity. These laws are probably what will determine the safety of a country when it comes to firearms. There’s going to be a number of steps for you to follow before you can both obtain a licence and buy a gun in any country. There are some nations across the world that actually have more thorough or prolonged processes than the UK does, but there are some very detailed conditions in the UK law that make our application procedure very secure. We’ll take you through a summary that’ll show you just how confident you can be that you and the people around you are being appropriately assessed.
The application form
The first thing you must do is acquire either a shotgun or firearm licence, as well as an ammunitions licence. You can begin this procedure by applying for a certificate on the government website. To make this process safer and more thorough, you’ll be applying via your county police force, to allow each application to be observed closely.
You’ll be able to download a form which you must fill in and send back to the police department. It’s 15 pages long so there’s a fair bit of reading and writing to be done. That’s just as there’s a lot of information to provide so that you can prove you’re fit for purpose. Once you’ve completed all of your general identification info, you’ll get to some larger security questions. The first thing they’ll need to know is if you’ve suffered from any medical conditions, as well as evidence of any GP practices you’ve visited in the last decade. Upon receiving this data, they’ll be able to start looking into your medical history to check for any irregularities. They may also speak to your GP if they feel they need to ask any further questions about your physical or mental state.
As well as this, you’re going to have to list down any offences you’ve been convicted of in the past, to see if your details match up with their own database (offences can be something as little as a speeding ticket).
Then it’s time to list any firearms that either you already own (these will obviously need to be licensed already), or are hoping to acquire when the form is complete. Ammunition will be noted down in a separate table as well.
Firearm security has to be noted - you have to state where your firearm(s) will be safely kept; cabinet, clamp, gun room, safe etc., you MUST have a form of safe storage. The police will have the right to come to your house and check this at some point, and they usually do, so make sure this in place and accurately so.
Another key security measure on the application is providing details of a referee who will support your application. You’ll need one referee for a shotgun, but two for a firearm. These cannot be a member of your family or someone working for the police force but can be any friends or mentors that will confirm that you’re fit for use. These referees will be contacted by the police, so make sure all contact information is correctly provided.
The background check
Once your form has been submitted and reviewed, a full police background check will take place. The majority of this will be checking over all of the data you’ve already given, doing some investigating to check your medical records and criminal offences match up. They’ll probably be in contact with anyone you have named too - like your referees and your GP, as these will be the people to support your case.
If all of this is a success, the police will be in contact with you to arrange a home interview with them. They’re just going to be asking you some questions about your history and your intent, as well as to see how you behave and what your living conditions are like. The best way to get a full understanding of someone is to interact with them face to face, so it’s a really great thing for the police to be doing. This isn’t a law in many nations around the entire world, so you can see why our figures are so promising in comparison to others.
Once this process has been completed, and you’ve obtained your licenses and certificates, you’ll be ready to buy a firearm. Remember there are separate certificates for shotguns and firearms, so you can only purchase a gun from the classification you’re licensed for. Moreover, you’re still going to have to register a firearm every time you buy a new one, as well as the ammunition for it.
Many countries allow their citizens to acquire guns of any specification (although explosive weapons and military classifications are prohibited in most nations). But the UK is very particular about what firearms you’re allowed to possess. In brief, it’s pretty much only a shotgun, hunting rifle or airgun that you’ve got access to here. Handguns, pistols and revolvers are all prohibited, as well as disguised weapons and any gun with a barrel shorter than 30cm. Any firearm which allows you to fire more than one bullet with a single trigger pressure is also banned.
There are always special exceptions to own some prohibited guns in the UK, but you must gain tailored approval form police after providing legitimate reasons to own them.
These regulations are a massive step forward in civilian protection, as it tries to eliminate any gun that isn’t commonly used for recreational activity. To view the full list of banned firearms and ammunition, you can look at the government policy here.
How are these laws different from other country's?
You might be wondering how our own regulations are different to the rest of the world. In all 8 countries we’ve focused on, each law is different from the next. Although most of them are actually pretty good, there are some specific factors that we thought were interesting.
The first and most prominent finding is, of course, the United States law. There aren’t really any barriers that a citizen needs to get past in order to obtain a weapon. If you’re looking to buy a firearm from a publicly recognised business, you have to take a very quick background check which looks at your criminal record, domestic violence history and status of immigration. Those three factors are supposedly the only things that would prevent you from owning a gun. No checks or guidance are in place to stop people with mental health issues getting their hands on a firearm. And as for buying a gun privately, you won’t even need to pass the background checks - just meet up with the seller, exchange money for material, and you’re well on your way.
It’s so easy to see how shooting can be placed in a negative light when there are national laws like these - if the appropriate checks are in place, shooting can be very safe. Just as it is in the UK.
Another interesting situation is present in German laws. Their whole application process is pretty sufficient - you even have to take an exam to prove that you’re knowledgeable in handling and firing. However, when it comes to mental health checks, they only require under 25’s to provide evidence for this - which only covers a small amount of the population. This doesn’t provide complete safety to the German population, and it’s probably no coincidence that they’ve got a gun death rate 7 times higher than the UK.
There should be enough evidence there to convince you that shooting in the UK is, fun, skilful, and ultimately safe. We’re at the top of the table for nearly every safety factor you can think of, plus our application procedure leaves no stone unturned when eliminating applicants unfit for licensing. Shooting is promoted as a skill and a sport, which is available for practice at over a thousand clubs and ranges nationwide.
It’s very hard to get access to anything other than a shotgun or hunting rifle, which all have to be registered to a shooting club. This encourages participants to regularly attend their local club in order to make friends, enjoy the outdoors and perfect your sporting skills.
So it’s time to start promoting shooting; get your family involved, shout about it on social media and get the younger generation involved - you've got the chance to be actively involved in breaking a huge taboo!
To look at buying your first gun, view our guns for sale.