Government exploring tougher crossbow rules

Under current legislation, it is illegal for anyone under 18 to purchase or possess a crossbow. In addition, anyone who carries a crossbow in public without reasonable excuse faces up to four years behind bars.

The government is considering going further and is to review evidence of whether the current rules are tough enough. Specifically, new rules could include a licensing scheme to protect public safety involving police checks for anyone looking to purchase a crossbow.

This would mean that crossbows are policed under regulations similar to those governing firearms.




Safeguarding Minister, Laura Farris said:

“Crossbows are used rarely in violent crime in this country but they can be highly dangerous.

We’re doing all we can to ensure we have the appropriate measures in place against any risks these potentially dangerous weapons may pose.

I encourage the public and those in the industry to come forward to share their views so we can have the most accurate picture and take any necessary action to keep our streets safe.”


Incidents involving crossbows

Whilst crossbow incidents are rare – there were fewer than 10 homicides by crossbow between 2011 and 2021 – it is clear that when used as a weapon, crossbows do pose a public safety risk for which additional safeguards may be required.


What to expect

Some form of licensing

The government is seeking views on whether to introduce some form of licensing scheme that would provide controls on the use, ownership and supply of crossbows. This may take the form of one or more of three proposals:


Licensing of sellers and suppliers

This would make it a requirement for sellers, suppliers and importers to have a licence from the police in order to sell crossbows and bolts. Obtaining a licence would be subject to police approval. Sellers would be required to keep a record of buyers, including name, date of birth, address and purpose of the purchase and this information should be shared with the police on request. Breach of the licence conditions by the seller/ supplier would include a financial penalty and/or withdrawal of the licence.


Licensing of sellers and buyers without police checks

This approach would be similar to the ‘Registration of sellers and buyers’ option below but would also make it a requirement for those wanting to buy and possess crossbows to register and obtain a licence. Granting of the licence by the police could be automatic on paying a fee but the police would have authority to refuse in certain circumstances.


Registration of sellers and buyers following police checks

This approach would would be similar to the option above save that the police would carry out suitability checks on sellers and buyers before registering and granting licences.



Additional controls on broadhead arrows and bolts

The government is also considering whether additional measures on the sale and possession of broadhead arrows are needed.

Although it is unlawful to hunt with a bow or crossbow, it is lawful to sell or possess broadhead arrows or bolts. Broadheads are, primarily, used for hunting and have no purpose in target shooting. As such, the government seeks views on whether broadhead arrows should be prohibited in Great Britain on public safety grounds.

It seems that any controls introduced would be subject to similar exemptions as those which apply to prohibited offensive weapons such as items of historical importance or items used in film or theatre or other cultural, artistic, or educational purposes (for example).

The call for evidence closes at 23:55 on 9 April 2024.


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Image credit: “Crossbow” by ToastyKen is licensed under CC BY 2.0.