UK police and firearms: how to write gripping and credible drama

Graham Bartlett
31 March 2021
Article uploaded by
Emily Ronan

A police shoot-out is a popular climactic moment in crime fiction, but a point where many UK-based stories can lose credibility. When exactly can your cop character carry a gun? How do you build drama if they’re not in amongst the action? Bestselling author and police advisor Graham Bartlett offers some advice.  

Crime Writing - Firearms Workshop

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  • Add depth and authenticity to your plotlines and characterisation
  • Turn fact into gripping crime drama
  • Ensure accuracy and detail in your depictions of crime procedure

Crime Writing: Making it Real

Be honest, who doesn’t love a humungous shoot-out as goodie gets baddie at the end of a gripping novel or TV drama? It seems a worthy payoff after 350 pages (or five-and-a-half hours) of cat and mouse where, in true story style, there were points when you thought all was lost.

I’m not suggesting we put the guns back in the armoury and watch our adversaries battle it out on the croquet lawn. Far from it, it’s just this is usually the point when credibility explodes in the readers’ or viewers’ faces.

And it really needn’t.

The simple, and sometimes inconvenient, fact is that the UK has a mainly unarmed police service.

This means that some pretty steep criteria have to be met before cops from England, Wales and Scotland can get their hands on a gun. And even then, that privilege is only afforded to full-time specialists and I’m afraid your world-weary detective, who we have been cheering on throughout, isn’t one of them.

That doesn’t mean armed operations have to be off the page though, it just means your protagonist might be at arm’s length from the action. But that can be just as tense.


Achieving good drama and accuracy

Imagine sitting in a nearby car (not too near, mind) sweating profusely while listening to the ‘big guns’ clip their commands and updates across the Airwave radio.

Then silence.

Long, stretched out, interminable silence.

Then a volley of gunfire, shouts of ‘shots fired, officer down,’ followed by multiple explosions.

How is your main character feeling now?


Guilty that a fellow officer might have been killed on their operation?

Has the case gone up in smoke?

You really can ramp up the drama, yet still show your readers and viewers you know how things work in the UK.

You really can ramp up the drama, yet still show your readers and viewers you know how things work in the UK.

Graham Bartlett

Learn more

In conjunction with the Professional Writing Academy, I’ve developed a UK Police Use of Firearms online workshop for crime writers.

With Bruce Mathews, a veteran Tactical Firearms Commander and now course leader delivering national firearms command training, we’ll take you through all you need to know, including:

  • Who decides when an armed raid is justified
  • Who carries out those raids
  • What weapons they use and how powerful are they
  • What they look, feel, even smell like
  • How specialist firearms officers are dressed
  • How they deal with an armed suspect
  • When can UK police fire their weapons
  • What happens next

Join us and be among the few authors who can confidently weave credible firearms scenes into your stories, safe in the knowledge you’ve got as close as is safe to the real thing.


Graham Bartlett

Graham Bartlett was a UK police officer in Sussex for thirty years. He mainly policed the city of Brighton and Hove, rising to become its police commander. On the way he was a homicide senior investigating officer and led on managing dangerous offenders, sexual offences, domestic violence, child protection and hate crime. He was a qualified strategic firearms and public order commander, leading the policing of many armed operations, large scale protests and sporting events.

Since retiring, he has become a police procedural and crime advisor helping around fifty authors and TV writers (including Peter James, Mark Billingham, Elly Griffiths and Dorothy Koomson) achieve authenticity alongside their drama. He is also a best-selling crime writer, with two non-fiction books – Death Comes Knocking and Babes in the Wood – to his name and a crime novel in the pipeline.

Graham will soon be launching a crime fiction online course in partnership with Professional Writing Academy.

Crime Writing - Firearms Workshop

Begins: *** TO BE ANNOUNCED ***