The status of sound moderators (Firearms Act 1968)
1.1 Section 57 (Interpretation) provides the definition of “firearm” and includes all lethal barrelled weapons, prohibited weapons (including some which are not strictly guns in the conventional sense or lethal weapons such as CS sprays and electronic stun devices).
(1) In this Act, the expression “firearm” means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged and includes—
(a) any prohibited weapon, whether it is such a lethal weapon as aforesaid or not; and
(b) any component part of such a lethal or prohibited weapon; and .
(c) any accessory to any such weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon;
so much of section 1 of this Act as excludes any description of firearm from the category of firearms to which that section applies shall be construed as also excluding component parts of, and accessories to, firearms of that description.
1.2 Section 57(1)(c) applies to;
1. “any accessory” (Sound moderators are accessories, they are not a true firearm capable of discharging a missile and are included in the definition of “firearm” in the Act)
2. “designed or adapted” (Commercially available sound moderators for full bore and rim fire rifles are clearly ‘designed’ for use on s1 firearms though some other objects may be adapted for reducing noise)
3. “to diminish the noise or flash” (Sound moderators are designed to control noise however flash reduction is more likely a consequence of how the moderator works rather than an intention.)
4. “to any such weapon” means weapons mentioned in the definition (subsection (1)) i.e. ‘lethal barrelled firearms of any description’ and in the case of subsection (1)(a) a prohibited weapon.
1.3 The wording below subsection (c) ties s57(1) with s1 of the same Act. It recognises that s1 requires a firearms certificate for all items defined in s57(1) as “firearms” including those listed at (1)(a)-(c) (i.e. accessories, prohibited weapons, components etc.). The last paragraph of s57 also recognises the exclusions from the firearm certificate requirement provided by s1(3) (i.e. air weapons and their ammunition, certain shotguns and cartridges and blank ammunition under one inch).
i) A complicating factor exists in relation to ‘air weapon’ moderators. There are many on the market specifically designed for an ‘air weapon’ (defined by s1(3)(b) as being a low powered air weapon not being “specially dangerous” or requiring a certificate) which may also be used on .22 (RF) rifles and vice-versa. The fact that a moderator will fit a s1 firearm has no relevance to a person’s intent in possessing it. So long as such a moderator is held by the owner for his exclusive use with an air weapon (whether he owns one or not) the police cannot prosecute. It is a different set of circumstances where the owner of a moderator fits it to his s1 RF rifle without an authority. The moderator in these circumstances would immediately fall within the definition of s57(1)(c) and be subject to certificate control. Accordingly it is an offence to possess it in those circumstances and the police may report for prosecution and/or revoke the certificate.
ii) Conversely; a sound moderator designed specifically for a s1 (full-bore, centre-fire) firearms (such as the reflex T8) cannot be anything but subject to s1 certificate control. Such a moderator may physically be fitted to other categories of smaller calibre firearm such as an ‘air weapon’ and fitting would not alter the category of that air weapon. However there is no doubt that the manufacturer’s intention in the case of the Reflex T8 and similar moderators was to design a moderator for a s1 (full-bore, centre-fire) firearm. It is our view that ownership of such an accessory designed to diminish the noise of a s1 firearm will always remain subject to certificate control.
1.5 Section 1 (Requirement of firearm certificate) details what is required to be held by virtue of a firearm certificate and we copy s1 below for good measure. Subsection 1 makes the offence relating to “firearm to which the section applies”. The term “firearm” in this section means every item defined in s57(1); however s1(3) provides the exemptions for certain items to be excluded from the certificate requirement; but it does not exempt accessories listed in s57(1)(c) as mentioned above.
(1) Subject to any exemption under this Act, it is an offence for a person— .
(a) to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, a firearm to which this section applies without holding a firearm certificate in force at the time, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate; .
(b) to have in his possession, or to purchase or acquire, any ammunition to which this section applies without holding a firearm certificate in force at the time, or otherwise than as authorised by such a certificate, or in quantities in excess of those so authorised. .
(2) It is an offence for a person to fail to comply with a condition subject to which a firearm certificate is held by him. .
(3) This section applies to every firearm except— .
[F1 (a) a shot gun within the meaning of this Act, that is to say a smooth-bore gun (not being an air gun) which— .
(i) has a barrel not less than 24 inches in length and does not have any barrel with a bore exceeding 2 inches in diameter; .
(ii) either has no magazine or has a non-detachable magazine incapable of holding more than two cartridges; and
(iii) is not a revolver gun; and ]
(b) an air weapon (that is to say, an air rifle, air gun or air pistol [F2 which does not fall within section 5(1) and which is] not of a type declared by rules made by the Secretary of State under section 53 of this Act to be specially dangerous).
[F3 (3A)A gun which has been adapted to have such a magazine as is mentioned in subsection (3)
(a)(ii) above shall not be regarded as falling within that provision unless the magazine bears a mark approved by the Secretary of State for denoting that fact and that mark has been made, and the adaptation has been certified in writing as having been carried out in a manner approved by him, either by one of the two companies mentioned in section 58(1) of this Act or by such other person as may be approved by him for that purpose.] .
(4) This section applies to any ammunition for a firearm, except the following articles, namely:— .
(a) cartridges containing five or more shot, none of which exceeds ·36 inch in diameter;
(b) ammunition for an air gun, air rifle or air pistol; and .
(c) blank cartridges not more than one inch in diameter measured immediately in front of the rim or cannelure of the base of the cartridge.
1.6 Conclusion: s57(1)(c) items are included in the definition of “firearm” and are not exempt by s1(3); accordingly they remain subject to s1 certificate control. There can be no uniformity of approach with respect to moderators which are of themselves s1 firearms and those which are not; mainly due to exempt accessories for ‘air weapons’ and s2 shotguns and the potential for some of those items to be used on s1 firearms as well. Each case must be determined on its merits with regard to the wording of s57(1)(c) and the circumstances in which the moderator is found or required.
BASC Firearms Department 2013
F1 – S. 1(3)(a) substituted by Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (c. 45, SIF 51:1), s. 2(2)
F2 – words inserted by Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003 (2003 c. 38), ss. 39(2)(c)(ii)
F3 – S. 1(3A) inserted by Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 (c. 45, SIF 51:1), s. 2(3)