Heritage Pistol (Section 7.1 & 7.3)

Section 7.1 and 7.3 Heritage Pistols

(May 2022 Clarification Note)

(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 1996. In brief: 

Section 7.1 
permits certain pistols manufactured prior to 1 January 1919 and for which ammunition is not readily available to be held at home as part of a collection without ammunition and allows them to be exhibited. 
Section 7.3 
permits the possession and use of heritage pistols at Designated Sites of which the NRA at Bisley was the first and remains the largest in terms of numbers held. 

Both section 7.1 and 7.3 items must be held on a Firearm Certificate.

It should be noted that section 7 is essentially a means to enable the use of a Firearm Certificate to authorise the possession and possible use of a section 5 “prohibited” pistol. What is special in the case of section 7 is that the power to authorise such possession and use is devolved from the Secretary of State to a Chief Constable. 

There is thus an essential difference between section 1 and section 7.3 licences:
Section 1 certification in its pure unconditioned form gives unrestricted access to use the firearm (within the law that is), and conditions are added to restrict use, whilst for
Section 7 authority for possession and use is granted only under specific terms. 
In other words, in the latter all is forbidden unless specifically authorised. One side effect of this has led to restriction of research, because 7.3 users are prohibited from handling or testing 7.3 pistols unless which are not specifically entered on their certificates, since section 7.3 does not operate under Home Office Approved Club rules.

Section 7 purpose

was established primarily for the purpose of the preservation, collecting, demonstration, research and study of pistols of historic or heritage interest. Pistols held under section 7.3 may be used at the sites of storage for these purposes alone, and not for competitive target shooting. 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 “Guide on Firearms Licensing Law” – Chapter 9 is the section referring to Section 7 pistols.)


Police are required to obtain evidence that pistols fulfil one or more of the criteria given in the law, and how this can be interpreted is 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 must be kept ‘as part of a collection’, the qualification criteria 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. The Section 7 pistols held on Firearm Certificate may be marked with an asterisk and described as part of a collection (See Guidance Chapter 9 Paragraphs 9.19 – 9.23 and Chapter 13.58 – 13.64 re collections and collecting).

Application for a Variation

It is not always acceptable to put in a Section 1-style application for an open undefined variation for a pistol (e.g. ‘One .450 revolver’). Justification for each pistol may be required for each variation, and commonly this comprises a note detailing 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 its eligibility to be held as part of a collection or, in the case of 7.3, 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 the more recent pistol (for example post Second World War), an exponentially stronger justification is required. The qualification thus centres on the pistol itself under these circumstances. In addition, more common pistols may be 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.

Home Office Reference Panel

For difficult cases, the police have recourse to a Home Office Reference Panel of experts. Note, however, that, when a more common type of pistol is allowed as part of a collection, its section 7 status is not permanently assured. A subsequent buyer may 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 a collection.

FAC Variation

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

Authority to transport prohibited weapons

Pistols that are stored at Sites Designated by the Secretary of State which require maintenance, refurbishment and/or conservation by gunsmiths, require the authority of the issuing police in writing to the owner before the pistol may be moved from the site. This also requires the services of a section 5aba dealer with an authority to transport prohibited weapons. Included are pistols that are temporarily transported on the behalf of owners for academic purposes such as research, study, and lectures (for example those given at the HBSA meetings). In addition, 7.3 pistols may be exhibited at specified section 7 events within the designated storage site area, albeit with prior police authority and under secure 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 exceptions to this are when the Certificate holder owns a Section 1 firearm which uses the same ammunition, and for which they are already permitted an ammunition holding under Section 1, or has no Section 7.1 pistols of that calibre at home, and may therefore hand-load or keep that ammunition at home. Levels of ammunition holdings by the owner reflect the need as it would under section 1. Thus those undertaking regular research may require 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. It must be noted that use is generally light in comparison to competitive shooting and practice, taking into consideration to the pistol’s age and the type of use.

Acquiring Section 7 pistols

Acquiring Section 7 pistols is currently straightforward as the system has been in use for some years. Many auction houses offer Section 5 pistols. Also many of the Designated Sites involve section 5aba dealers who can supply, transfer or arrange delivery, including from abroad. The authority of the FAC 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 5aba RFD may do so. The Designated Site authority is issued to the entity running the site but includes the name(s) of the responsible person(s).

Designated Sites

It should be said that the Sites have been excellent in keeping access open to owners, seeking to accommodate them and building and maintaining excellent facilities. 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 status is a source of pride and a mutual benefit often supported by the other shooting facilities. 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 see list in the “Guide on Firearms Licensing Law”.

The HBSA will be pleased to give advice and support when needed.

August 2020