Airgun Laws

Airguns in the UK are subject to the firearms acts, under the Firearms (Dangerous air weapons) rules 1969 they are classified as low powered Air Weapons and as such they are restricted to a maximum power of 12 foot pounds force for a rifle and 6 foot pounds force for a pistol. Above 12ftlb a rifle is classified as a Section 1 Firearm and requires a licence called a firearms certificate, and a pistol above 6ftlb is again a Section 1 Firearm requiring a firearms certificate in the UK.
The definition of a firearm under the act is "a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged" it further defines "lethal weapon" as "a weapon capable of firing a projectile with sufficient force to inflict more than a trivial injury i.e.. with sufficient force to puncture skin".
The Home Office consider the lowest level of muzzle energy capable of inflicting a penetrating wound is one foot pound (1.35 joules) hence guns producing less than 1ft/lb are not covered by the act and therefore not classified as air weapons or subject to any restrictions.

The 1997 Firearms Amendment Act made handguns illegal in the UK but Air Weapons were excluded under Section 5 (1) subsection (aba) "a prohibited weapon includes a firearm with a barrel length less than 30cms and an overall length less than 60cms, other than an air weapon, a muzzle loading gun, or a firearm designed as signalling apparatus".

UK Legal Limit

To calculate the power of an airgun you need to use a chronograph to measure the speed of the pellet (in feet per second) when fired, and you need to know the weight of the pellet in grains. Once you have that information you perform the following calculation:- speed(ft/sec) X speed(ft/sec) X weight(grains) 450240
This gives you the result in foot pounds force (ftlb).
As mentioned the legal maximum for an unlicensed air rifle is 12 ftlb which from changing round the above formula, gives the approximate values as follows:-
A .22 pellet weighing 14.4 grains, maximum permissible speed is 612 ft/sec
A .177 pellet weighing 7.9 grains, maximum permissible speed is 826 ft/sec
The corresponding figures for a pistol are 433 ft/sec for a .22 and 584 ft/sec for a .177
The pellet weights used in the above calculation are typical weights for the sizes of pellet but you must always check the actual weight of your pellet before performing your own calculation.

Purchasing Guns and Ammunition

The laws concerning the purchase of guns and ammunition are as follows:-
Any person under the age of 14 years of age may not purchase or own guns or ammunition.
Persons aged between 14 and 18 years may not purchase guns or ammunition but may borrow or have them purchased on their behalf by some one over 18 years of age.
Persons over the age of 18 years may purchase guns and ammunition, the guns having a power less than the UK legal limit. Guns over that limit require a fire arms certificate to be granted before they can be owned.

Airguns and Young Persons

Firearms laws are different for juveniles/young people, it's important you know exactly what they are.

18 years and over:

You may buy, borrow or hire an air rifle and its ammunition and may use it where you have permission to do so.

Aged 14 to 18 years:

You may not buy or hire an air rifle or ammunition. You may not receive an air rifle or ammunition as a gift but you may borrow one. If you are under 18 then your air rifle and ammunition must be bought for you by someone over 18 - normally your parent, guardian or some other responsible adult.

If you are aged between 14 - 18 years you may use an air rifle on private premises without supervision with the consent of the occupier - normally the owner or tenant. However, if you allow a pellet to go outside of the premises whilst you are shooting then you commit a criminal offence.

You may not carry an air rifle in a public place unless you are supervised by a person of 21 years or over and you have a reasonable excuse to do so, for example, whilst on the way to a club or land where you have permission to shoot. It is common sense to carry the air rifle in a gun cover and you should always ensure that it is unloaded.

Young people under 14 years:

If you are under 14 you may not buy, hire or receive an air rifle or its ammunition as a gift.

You may borrow an air rifle and use it under supervision on private premises with permission from the occupier - normally the owner or tenant. The person who supervises you must be of or over 21 years of age.

If a pellet leaves the premises whilst you are shooting then both you and the person supervising you commit a criminal offence.

Parents or guardians who buy an air rifle for use by an under 14 year old must exercise control over it at all time even in the home or garden

Public Places and Highways

A public place is anywhere where the public are allowed to go even though they may have to pay to be there. Roads, streets, footpaths, public parks, play areas and canal towpaths are all examples of public places.

It is an offence for anyone to have an air rifle - whether it is loaded or not - in a public place unless they have a reasonable excuse for doing so, for example, whilst on the way to a gunshop or to a shooting club.



It is against the law to trespass on any land (including land covered by water) or in any building, while you have an air rifle with you. Whether the gun is loaded and whether or not you have pellets with you is irrelevant. If you go onto land without permission, you are trespassing, unless there is some right of access for the public. If there is a right of access for the public the restrictions set out above will apply.
Trespass with an air rifle is 'armed trespass', a criminal offence, the penalties for which can be severe.

As well as the offences already mentioned, it is against the law, in England and Wales, to fire an air rifle within 50 feet of the centre of a highway, if by doing so you cause any member of the public, using that right of way, to be injured, interrupted or endangered. This offence could be committed, for example, by someone on private property close to a road who uses an air rifle in a way which endangers people on the road.

Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

All birds and animals are protected by law. It is often thought that those birds and animals designated as pest species can be shot at any time and by anyone. This is not so. Only ‘authorised persons’, that is those who have proper permission, are allowed to do so. For this purpose the Secretary of State issues a general licence every year.

Always ensure that you are authorised by the landowner or person with the sporting rights to shoot where you intend to and that you know precisely where the boundaries are located.

Target Shooting

There are numerous clubs catering for this growing sport throughout the UK and they can offer great help and guidance to both the novice and the experienced shooter alike. If you wish to practise on your own premises, you should ensure that your pellets do not go beyond your own premises, where they may cause damage or injury. It is also constructive trespass if your pellets stray onto someone else's land. You should make sure that you have a suitable backstop behind your target.

Offence Penalties: Statute Law

The Penalties for breaking current UK firearms laws with Airguns are as follows:-
Carrying a loaded Air-weapon in a public place 6 months imprisonment and / or £5,000 fine.
Trespassing with an air weapon 3 months imprisonment and / or £2,500 fine.
Trespassing on private land with an air weapon 3 months imprisonment and / or £2,500 fine.
Possessing or using an air weapon if sentenced to 3 months or more in custody 3 months imprisonment and / or £2,500 fine.
In addition if original sentence up to 3 years 5 year ban on use of firearms.
Or if for 3 years or more Life ban on use of firearms.
Killing or injuring any bird or protected animal unless authorised £5,000 fine.
Firing an air weapon within 15m / 50ft of a public highway £1,000 fine.
Selling or hiring air weapon or ammunition to person under 18 6 months imprisonment and / or £5,000 fine.
Making a gift of air weapon or ammunition to person under 14 £1,000 fine.
Having air weapon or ammunition with intent to damage property 10 years imprisonment.
Having air weapon with intent to endanger life Life imprisonment and / or appropriate fine.
Using air weapon to resist or prevent arrest Life imprisonment and / or appropriate fine.
Threatening others with an air weapon (even if unloaded) to cause them to fear unlawful violence 10 years imprisonment and / or appropriate fine.
Not forgetting the chance of being shot and killed by the police should you not obey instructions when challenged by them, they cannot tell if you have just an airgun or a more lethal firearm so will treat all arms as lethal and respond accordingly.

Civil Law

It should be born in mind by every airgun shooter that the unexpected could happen and they could find themselves facing a civil action for damage to property or even injury to persons or livestock. Every airgun shooter should have Third Party Public Liability Insurance before venturing out of doors, and joining one of the bodies representing shooters interests is the best way to achieve this.


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