Armed policing

Issue and carriage of firearms

This page provides guidance on the operational issue and carriage of firearms and related equipment, and the authority to deploy these resources.


Chief officers must ensure an effective and auditable system exists for the storage and issue of firearms and related equipment in their force area, and that these systems comply with the principles set out in this guidance.

Chief officers should consider the circumstances in which they provide:

  • standing authority for the issue and carriage of firearms
  • specific authority for the issue of firearms.

Standing authority for the issue and carriage of firearms

A standing authority for the issue of firearms may be provided by a chief officer to officers engaged on specific duties where a threat and risk assessment deems this appropriate.

Examples of duties which might fall under this heading include:

  • officers crewing armed response vehicles (ARVs)
  • officers undertaking protection duties
  • those involved in specific escort duties
  • officers involved in prolonged operations for which the issue and carriage of firearms is an integral part of those duties.

The continuing need for the standing authority should be reviewed on a regular basis, at least annually in line with the force’s Strategic Firearms Threat and Risk Assessment.

Northern Ireland

In recognition of the special circumstances prevailing in Northern Ireland, the chief constable has given standing authority for all officers, subject to successful training, to be issued with a personal issue handgun which may be carried when officers are both on and off duty.

In addition, the standing authority addresses situations in which officers may be issued with other firearms and less lethal weapons when they are on duty.

The standing authority issued by the chief constable of PSNI is kept under regular review in accordance with Recommendation 65 of A New Beginning: Policing in Northern Ireland – Report of the Independent Commission on Policing for Northern Ireland (1999).

Specific authority for the issue of firearms

To address situations where there is a requirement for officers to be issued with and carry firearms operationally and there is no standing authority in place, forces should, as part of their standard operational practice, identify at what level and by whom such authority can be given.

The actual deployment of armed officers must accord with the criteria set out in the guidance on deployment of AFOs.

Authorised firearms officer

An AFO is a police officer who has been selected, trained, accredited and authorised by their chief officer to carry a firearm operationally. There is a range of specialist roles for which AFOs receive specific tactical training and accreditation.

Further Information is available within the National Police Firearms Training Curriculum (NPFTC).

Recording the issue of firearms and related equipment

Where firearms are issued operationally to officers, those officers must be trained and currently authorised to use that particular type of weapon.

A full audit trail must be maintained, detailing the issue, transfer and return of all firearms and equipment issued to AFOs or other police staff, irrespective of the reason for issue. The person to whom the equipment is issued is responsible for its security and carriage, in accordance with force procedures.

A system must exist within each force area which enables officers issuing firearms, less lethal weapons, munitions or specialist munitions to establish that each AFO is currently authorised in the equipment issued.

Fitness for duty

The use of drugs in medical treatment or consumption of alcohol can reduce an officer’s alertness and performance. The Standards of Professional Behaviour provided under the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2012 address the importance of officers’ fitness for duty and issues associated with consumption of alcohol, illegal drugs and prescription drugs.

These standards are particularly important in respect of officers undertaking firearms duties. An officer who is receiving a course of drug treatment must seek the advice of their own doctor or occupational health unit if they are concerned about side effects of the drugs. Any other relevant concerns or medical advice given to an officer must be brought to the attention of their immediate supervisor or force occupational health unit, who should take appropriate action.

Request to temporarily stand down

AFOs, commanders and tactical advisors, without prejudice to the role they undertake, can request to be temporarily stood down from duties. This is particularly relevant where there are medical, emotional or other life stresses which may interfere with the discharge of critical decision making or their overall effectiveness. This process should also apply to those involved in key support roles.

Personal responsibility to inform

AFOs have a personal responsibility to inform the issuing officer or a supervisor of any circumstances where they believe that they may be unfit to carry out their duties as an AFO. On receiving such a declaration the issuing officer or supervisor is responsible for ensuring that the AFO is not issued with a firearm, or deployed as an AFO, until the circumstances have been fully investigated.

Any decision regarding the future issue of firearms should be referred to a person best qualified or placed to make a decision, in line with force policy. Any decisions taken, and supporting rationale, should be recorded.

Operational carriage of firearms

It is the responsibility of each AFO to whom a firearm has been issued to ensure that the weapon is operating correctly. Weapon function checks, including safety precautions should be completed before any firearm is loaded.

When a firearm is to be carried in a holster, it is important that any retention mechanisms, including lanyards (where issued), are fitted properly and are in working order. Similarly, where slings are issued for particular types of weapons they should be fitted correctly.

Firearms should be loaded and carried in accordance with force standard operating practice relevant to each weapon.

Armed response vehicles

A standing authority for ARV officers should set out whether they patrol overtly armed, or with weapons retained in secured arms cabinets in the ARV.

Force standard operating practice should also specify which weapons and related equipment are carried in an ARV.

Aircraft and vessels

The responsibility for the safety of an aircraft or vessel rests at all times with the person in charge of the craft. This is governed by guidance issued by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Chief officers should ensure that protocols exist for the operational carriage of firearms in aircraft or vessels.

The overriding consideration in the carriage of armed officers or firearms and munitions is that the safety of the aircraft or vessel, persons on board, or persons or property on the ground is maintained.

Page last accessed 06 July 2020