The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code does not contain a section that relates specifically to the advertising of weapons. However, marketers should nevertheless ensure that their marketing communications are prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society. Marketers should bear in mind rules on legality, offence, fear and distress and safety and ensure that the sale of a weapon is legal.
The sale and the advertising of certain firearms are prohibited under the Firearms Act 1968 and as amended by the Firearms Amendment Act 1988. Those firearms include high-powered, self-loading or pump-action rifles, burst-fire weapons and repeating short-barrelled smooth bore guns. Advertisers and media owners who are in any doubt about the acceptability of an advertisement for a firearm should, in the first instance, contact their local police station.
Advertisers who want to advertise firearms that are not prohibited for sale should ensure that they are a registered firearms dealer and that anyone who wants to buy a firearm holds a relevant certificate. CAP urges media owners to ask marketers for written evidence that they are registered firearms dealers and consider very carefully the desirability of allowing ads for firearms for sale by post because it is difficult to see how mail order ads would be acceptable for firearms.
Back in 2000, the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) upheld a complaint about an air rifle being distributed by mail order, because it believed the weapon was considered a lethal weapon and should not be available to persons under 18 (Fat Boy Corporation Ltd, April 2000).
- Air weapons
Air weapons include air rifles, air guns and air pistols. Those types of weapon are regulated by the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1989 and the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) (Amendment) Rules 1993 and marketers should hold all necessary licenses before selling them to the public. Buyers of conventional air guns, air rifles and air pistols do not need to have a firearms certificate unless the weapon is of a type declared especially dangerous by the Firearms Rules. The rules classify any air weapon as especially dangerous if it is capable of discharging a missile with a kinetic energy more than 6ft/lbs for air pistols or 12ft/lbs for any other air weapon.
Marketers should make clear they are selling conventional air rifles only and not confuse the consumer into believing that potentially illegal firearms are on offer. CAP understands that the Violent Crime Reduction Act, which came into force on 1 October 2007, makes it an offence to sell air rifles to those under 18. Ads should state that only those aged 18 and over are legally allowed to buy air weapons and marketers should probably verify each buyer’s age (possibly by his or her name appearing on the electoral register) beforehand. The ASA has upheld complaints against several advertisers for not showing that callers were checked against the electoral role (Bulldog Telecom Ltd, 11 February 2004; Sport Newspapers Ltd and SN Ltd, 8 January 2003, and Fat Boy Corporation Ltd, April 2000). It has also upheld a complaint against an advertiser that did not make clear it was selling air rifles, used irresponsible language that was likely to encourage people to order or use the gun for anti-social purposes and did not state that the guns could be bought only by over-18s. The advertiser was marketing the gun as the “ultimate pest controller” (Blue Moon Trading, October 2003).
To help promote air weapons responsibly, marketers might be best advised to avoid flippant or emotive language and should refer to “pellets” not “ammo” or “ammunition”.
- Replica guns
Some replica guns can be readily converted into real firearms and made to fire and therefore subject to the Firearms Act 1982. Marketers offering such replica guns should ensure that they are registered firearms dealers or should be able to confirm that the replicas are unable to be converted and therefore do not fall within the provisions of the 1982 Act. Advertisers should not deliberately target under-18s, should make clear that the guns are replicas and should ensure that their ads are responsible. One advertiser (Direct & Specialised Distribution Company Ltd, 25 August 2004) stated clearly that it was offering a replica gun but was found to breach the Code by using irresponsible language such as “hours of family fun”.
In 2003, the dangers of replica guns was the subject of press advertising by the Mayor of London. In response to a complaint from an independent firearms consultant, the ASA considered that modified replica guns could fire “real bullets” and “could kill or wound real people” (Mayor of London, 14 January 2004).
- Stun guns
It is an offence to sell or own a stun gun without the relevant licence. Therefore any ads for those products should therefore be treated as they would if they were offering firearms as above.
Note: This advice is given by the CAP Executive about non-broadcast advertising. It does not constitute legal advice. It does not bind CAP, CAP advisory panels or the ASA. CAP’s Advice Online entries provide guidance on interpreting the UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct & Promotional Marketing.
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