Weapons: General Advertising

Dec 5th '23

The Committee of Advertising Practice (CAP) Code does not contain a section that relates specifically to the advertising of weapons. Marketers should nevertheless ensure that their marketing communications are prepared with a sense of responsibility to consumers and to society.


Code rules that could apply

Rules other than 1.3 should certainly be considered for adverts both for weapons, and those for other products but which also include weapons. Furthermore, rule 4.4 states that ads must contain nothing that is likely to condone or encourage violence or anti-social behaviour. Marketers should bear in mind rules 1.10 (legality), 4.1 (offence), 4.2 (fear and distress) and 4.5 (safety) and ensure that the sale of a weapon is legal. Please see the entries listed at the end of this article for information about advertising specific weapons.


Advertising weapons

Care should be taken when advertising weapons. A complaint about a brochure that advertised guns and knives was upheld. The brochure advertised air guns and knives, which the advertiser was legally allowed to advertise. However, the brochure was posted to people’s homes and not in an addressed envelope. The ASA felt that as the ad could be viewed by any person at those addresses, including children, it considered that it was unsuitable for an untargeted medium and therefore irresponsible in that respect. The ASA also upheld the complaint on the point that the brochure was likely to cause serious or widespread offence. They considered that given widely reported concerns about rising levels of violent crime, in particular knife crime, an ad featuring guns and knives being delivered directly into people’s homes would likely to cause offence to consumers (Atlas Arms, 29 August 2018).


Even ads for replica weapons can generate complaints. In 2005, the ASA rejected a complaint about a direct mailing for knives and swords from various films. The complainant objected that despite a warning on the ad that the items were for decorative use only, those items could inflict considerable harm. However, because the mailing was addressed to an adult and was not presented in an irresponsible way, the ASA rejected the complaint.


Weapons in ads for other products

Ads that are not for weapons but show images of weapons, such as ads for computer games, films, TV programmes, should ensure that they do not promote violence or anti-social behaviour by depicting weapons in a threatening context or in a manner that could be seen to be glamorising violence. The ASA upheld complaints that an image of an actor pointing two guns, combined with the text “HIT ME”, was likely to be interpreted as glorifying the use of guns. Conversely, a poster for the film Harry Brown was considered unlikely to glamorise violence; the ASA noted that the young people featured in the ad were not glamorous or aspirational figures, and that the two guns were not being brandished in a threatening or aggressive manner .


Marketers have a little more leeway if the image reflects the nature of the product on offer but should always take care to avoid offence or condoning the use of weapons. In 2011, the ASA rejected complaints about an ad for a TV series featuring a woman holding a gun accompanied by the phrase “I kill for love”. It noted the posters were clearly signposted as being for a new TV series and, although the ads featured guns, no violence was displayed and the guns did not appear to be shown in a menacing or aggressive matter.


In 2023, the ASA investigated a video on social media which featured a person wearing a black hooded coat stepped into view close to the camera, pulled out a semi-automatic rifle and began shooting at another figure. After many other shots were fired, the screen featured text stating ‘There can be only one’. The ASA acknowledged that the inclusion of a gun in an ad would not always be irresponsible, on this occasion the use of multiple guns (and the particular weapons used), in an ad which promoted an item of outerwear, together with the focus on the guns’ destructive capacity and the added emphasis of the slow-motion effect, glamorised guns and gun violence. Therefore the ad irresponsibly glamorised guns and condoned gun violence and was in breach of the Code (ThruDark Ltd, 18 October 2023).


Placement of ads

Marketers should be aware that images of weapons and implied violence are likely to offend some consumers, especially when used in more untargeted media such as posters or where children are likely to see them. The ASA has received, but not necessarily upheld, complaints about such posters that appeared in areas where gun crime was especially prevalent. For example, the ASA rejected complaints about a government anti-gun crime campaign that showed a stylised image of a young man holding a gun with the text “Would you do anything for your mates? What about 5 years? Carry anyone’s illegal gun and get a 5 year sentence minimum”.


Generally, marketers should avoid showing weapons pointing directly at the reader or guns that look as if they have just been fired.


Source: CAP


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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