Why has the United Kingdom banned firearms

Knives and Guns Act in England 2021

In the series "With knives after ..." we will cross the canal to England today. The laws also apply to Wales and Northern Ireland. The gun law in England currently contains the most restrictive knife bans in all of Europe, perhaps even the whole world. Traveling to England with knives is literally a ride on the razor blade and anything but relaxing. Even innocent and non-violent travelers can very quickly get to know the highly controversial holiday operator "Her Majesty’s Prison Service".

Content and overview (Last revision: 02.2021)

Anyone traveling to England, Wales or Northern Ireland and taking a knife with them as an angler, hiker or outdoor sports enthusiast should know the weapons law in England for knives. Since the weapons law regulations are different in every European country, no knowledge can be transferred from the home country to a travel destination. Knowing about legal regulations, import regulations and practice in the country helps to avoid trouble with the authorities. After all, the best time of the year shouldn't become the longest nightmare of the year ...

To come to the point: Those who like Messer and their freedom should look for another holiday destination.

Since the Prevention of Crime Act of 1953, new, stricter laws have been passed every few years. This happened in 1959, 1979, 1988 and 1996. The current version dates back to 2012, when the government decided a total ban on knives in the United Kingdom.

The bans relating to knives have been gradually tightened since 2012. “Knife prohibition zones” have been declared in many inner cities and, since 2018, there have been severe penalties for carrying a knife in London or other cities.

A separate article has been published on the gun law for knives in Scotland: Gun law for knives in Scotland

Arms Act in England: Knives

The long version doesn't get much more enjoyable either. Unraveling the guns law of Great Britain and the large number of additional regulations, the picture is one of sweeping bans. On December 11, 2012, the UK government issued a Knife Ownership, Manufacture, Import and Carrying Policy.

The regulations were announced to the public in the “Guide to knives and assault weapons”. The information is not written as legally claused legal text, but in language that is easy to understand. If you want to download the original, you can find the link at the end of the article.

A basic distinction is made between importing, manufacturing and carrying knives in public. For the purposes of this provision, public means any place that is not on private, fenced-in property. This includes all sports and leisure facilities, parking garages, campsites, buildings, parks, fairgrounds and all of the public roads. Everything really everything except your own private property, because your own car or a rental car is NOT considered private property with regard to gun law issues.

The short version is: Prohibited!

All regulations regarding the carrying of knives are defined by Sections 139 and 139a of the British Penal Code, which were essentially adopted as early as 1988. According to the Weapons Act in England, all knives with a blade longer than 3 inch, all knives with a blade lock and all knives that have an opening aid are prohibited.

In addition to semi-automatic and fully automatic machines, this naturally also includes OTFs and stilettos. Regarding the one-handed opening option, the regulations are not clear. A thumb pin can definitely be interpreted as an opening aid! For knife enthusiasts, only classic gentleman folders, Laguiole, LeThiers, Swiss Army knives and multitools remain, provided the blade length is less than 7.62 cm and cannot be locked.

The original text is:

Sections 139 and 139A of the Criminal Justice Act 1988 apply to any article which has a blade or point except a folding pocketknife unless the cutting edge of its blade exceeds 7.62 centimeters (3 inches).

Conversely, that does not mean that you are allowed to carry such a knife within reach. You are allowed to have it with you but in public (see above) not to be accessible on your belt or by means of a clip in your pocket. In the backpack, in the trunk, in the fishing box, however, such a knife usually does not cause any problems.

(Sources: HM Revenue & Customs and Border Force, British Embassy in Berlin)

Prohibited Items

In contrast to Germany, where wearing a knife not approved by Section 42a WaffG is an administrative offense, such a violation is a criminal offense in Great Britain. Only recently, the UK Justice Department reminded prosecutors in the country that "carrying an assault weapon, pointy or sharp object is a serious criminal offense" and should be prosecuted accordingly.

Dangerous objects may not be carried without official approval or understandable reasons (e.g. professional practice). This applies to tomahawks, for example. The definition in Great Britain is:

Offensive weapons are objects that are capable of killing or inflicting serious injuries on a person and for which no legal use is intended. "

With regard to tomahawks, this definition is borderline, because there are various legal uses in the outdoor area. Not in the City of London, however, and therefore these tools are also prohibited by the “Offensive weapons act”. The law clearly lists the following items:

  • Brass knuckles, batons, telescopic rods
  • Claws (Asian "eagle claws" etc.),
  • Claws for mounting on shoes as well as spikes (!)
  • Automatic knife
  • Balisong
  • Knife with opening support
  • Drop knife
  • Objects in which the blade is hidden (e.g. stick rapiers, belt buckle knives and credit card knives)
  • Martial arts weapons, e.g. throwing stars, hollow kubotan, kusari
  • Short swords with curved blades and a blade length of over 50 cm
  • Blowguns and air rifles (except as a stunning weapon for veterinarians)

These items are not only subject to the ban on possession and carrying, but are also subject to a general ban on imports.

(Sources: HM Revenue & Customs and Border Force, British Embassy in Berlin)

Gun Act in England: Firearms

It is practically impossible for tourists to import firearms. The approval granted by an EU country to own or carry a weapon does not entitle you to import the weapon into Great Britain. Anyone wishing to take a firearm with them must apply in writing to the Border Force beforehand.

This also applies to all parts of firearms, typical accessories (telescopic sights, light amplifiers, optical aiming systems) and ammunition of all kinds. A link to detailed explanations in English and the application form in the Addresses section.

Travel advice for England

Youth violence has been a serious issue in England, especially in London, for many years. But not only London is affected, all major cities and even many small towns have the same problem. According to official police statistics, there were at least 65 violent deaths among youth in England in 2008 alone.

In terms of youth violence, Greater London can now compete with the darkest corners of the world. Between April and September 2008, well over two thousand people were injured in knife stabbing in London. Although strictly forbidden or precisely because of it, the carrying of knives or dangerous objects is widespread among young people.

The UK is a prime example of the fact that stricter gun laws do not reduce crime or violence. England and Wales had had the strictest gun laws in Europe since 1988, yet more people were injured by knives in these countries than in the course of ten years in Austria, where there are no legal restrictions on the possession and use of knives.

Public transport is monitored not only by uniformed police, but also by covert special forces.

Since almost all of London is monitored by cameras, a knife should never be picked up.

According to the police, there are around 170 gangs or youth gangs in London alone. They wage real wars for markets for drugs or the gangs “defend” a self-proclaimed territory. In addition, there is still religious hatred between Catholics and Protestants.

In recent years, Muslim groups have become increasingly suspicious of violence, and there are also numerous violent groups in the vicinity of football clubs. This context explains why British authorities take massive but in vain action against weapons of all kinds. Against this background, an unsuspecting tourist can quickly get caught up in the mill of justice.

Caution camera!

In no other country in Europe is public space so heavily monitored by cameras as in Great Britain. Electronic surveillance officers and on the street are trained to track down covert knives. So watch out for pocket clips, kydex sheaths protruding under clothing and make sure that the paracord is not visible on the neck with neckies.

The unauthorized import of weapons or prohibited items is a criminal offense under the Arms Act in England. In the best case scenario, the proceedings can be transferred to a “Magistrate Court”, which is the lowest court in the judicial system in England and Wales. Staffed by a Justice of the Peace and / or lay judges, these courts can impose fines of up to £ 5,000 and imprisonment for up to six months. Serious cases ("indictable offenses") are referred to the "Crown Court".

The police system in England has grown historically and is not organized uniformly. For outsiders, affiliations and organizational structures are not transparent. In London alone there are four different authorities: the Metropolitan Police ("Scotland Yard"), the City of London Police responsible for the City of London, the British Transport Police (railway police) and the Harbor Authorithies (port authorities). In addition, there are several special forces, mainly in the transport sector or for building security. It is important to know that all of these emergency services have full police power and can carry out searches or arrests.

Police checks

Police officers have the authority to stop you in the street or other public places, search you and ask you limited questions. If asked, you should give police officers your name and address. If the police suspect you have committed a crime, they may be asked to voluntarily come to a police station. Police officers are also authorized to arrest you and take you to a police station against your will. The police officers must tell you the reason for this.

If the police do not want you to leave the premises or a police station, they will have to arrest you. You are required to tell you the reasons for your arrest and you must be deprived of your liberty. Police officers have the authority to search you, take your fingerprints, take DNA samples and carry out body searches.

If you do not speak English, the police will have to provide you with an interpreter free of charge. They may only be heard in the presence of the interpreter. If you have been arrested, you have the right to consult a lawyer. If you do not know a lawyer, the police will call in a public defender. After an arrest, the police may search your motor vehicle, your apartment / house and your property with the permission of a senior officer and remove objects that are in your property if it is used for the investigation (source: legal portal of the European Union) .

Small consolation: under current UK law, a defendant has the right to bail.

Gun Law in England: Addresses

Guidelines since 2012: Knives and offensive weapons information (PDF)
Crown prosecution service: Offensive Weapons, Knives, Bladed and Pointed Articles (Web) information and application form for the Bringing firearms

Contact point for written questions about bringing knives or firearms to Great Britain:
Customs & International Trade Written Inquiries Team
HM Revenue & Customs
Crownhill Court
Dailyour Road



The information on legal regulations and legal aspects in this article is based on thorough research and the sources specified, but reflects the opinion and understanding of a legal layperson and is therefore non-binding!