Are Air Rifles legal to own in the UK?
8 November 2023 | Air Arms
Are air rifles legal to own in the UK?
Air rifles are extremely popular across the UK. Not only are they an amazing help for pest control and conservation, but they're also home to shooters who partake in recreational shooting as an exciting hobby.
However, while air rifles may be a popular choice of air gun amongst shooting peers, there are many people unfamiliar with the sport who do not know the legality and safety measures surrounding them.
The simple answer is: Yes - air rifles are legal to own in the UK. But don't go buying one just yet because many safety legality regulations surround them.
What are the regulations?
To understand what kind of air guns you can legally own, you'll need a better understanding of the types of air rifles you can get and what differentiates them.
There are two types of regulations concerning the power of air guns. In the UK, in all cases, the owner of an air gun has to be 18 years of age.
However, if one of these guns has a pellet discharge under 12ft/lb, the owner is not required to hold a licence to buy and use it.
If any air guns have a pellet discharge over 12ft/lb, then a licence is always required to buy and use it. The law does not distinguish between this type of air rifle and more powerful guns - and so is classed as a firearm.
The more powerful types of air rifles are commonly known as Spring air rifles, PCP air rifles, Co2 air rifles and Gas ram air rifles.
The importance of having a licence for these kinds of pellet guns is shown by the danger they can bring (due to their power) and because they can carry a hefty penalty if any offence is committed with them.
Under 18 years old
If you're under 18 years old, it doesn't mean you cannot use air rifles.
Any person between 14-17 years old can borrow air rifles (with ammunition) without supervision on private premises - as long as permission has been given.
However, there are limitations for people 14-17 that are in place to assure the safety of those individuals and the people around them. If you're between these ages, you are prohibited to buy or hire air guns and ammunition - and you are not allowed to receive them as a gift.
A parent or guardian can purchase and look after air guns for you as long as they're 21 or over. This supervisor can also be present to allow you to have any air guns in a public space - as long as there is a reasonable excuse to do so.
If you're under 14 years of age
Believe it or not, if you're under 14 years of age - you are legally allowed to use air rifles as long as it's under the supervision of a 21-year-old in private premises (with permission from the owner to do so).
Unsurprisingly, children under 14 cannot buy, hire or receive air guns (or any ammunition) as a gift. They cannot shoot without adult supervision, and any adults or guardians who allow someone under 14 to use air guns must exercise control over it - no matter where they are.
With all ages, knowing where you can and cannot shoot is essential. All adults, guardians and users of air guns must ensure the landowner authorises them to understand what the boundaries are when out shooting.
Importance of safety
When we look at air gun ownership, we have to understand why it is so vital that the laws are in place the way they are. The Home Office has reported several deaths as a result of children getting a hold of air weapons. These tragedies can be avoided with the correct safety handling and responsible air gun ownership.
What other restrictions are in place?
Age restrictions are not the only limitation with air guns. A license is required for the more powerful air rifles - which is not as simple as obtaining as you might think. To be approved for a licence, a person has to prove that they're medically sound.
This involves an appointment with a doctor so that they can disclose whether or not they believe you are physically and mentally prepared to own and use a gun responsibly.
A person's criminal history is also looked into. Section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968 restricts the possession of firearms and ammunition of any person previously convicted of a crime. The individual would have to wait five years from any release date before they can apply for a licence.
You also need two personal references who will advocate for why you're a good candidate for a firearms licence. The police want to be satisfied knowing a firearm is in the right hands.
Following the licensing process, there are rules and regulations a person needs to understand to own and use air guns correctly.
The rules are there for a reason
Owning and using a powerful air rifle takes intelligence, maturity and understanding. Children have a different cognitive development process than adults and are not expected to comprehend the importance and dangers of handling and owning air rifles like a fully developed adult.
In the wrong hands, air rifles can be a dangerous tool that may compromise a person's personal safety, the safety of others around them, and any live quarry and property.
Where can you buy your air guns?
You can purchase air guns from many leading manufacturers both in store or online. Online orders can deliver airguns to your local dealership for pick up or offer a home delivery service.
Whether you're purchasing a PCP air rifle, spring powered guns or even air pistols it's great that you can have your purchase delivered direct to you at your home, which is convenient for so many people.
When purchasing your airgun in person, you will have to show proof of your firearms certificate with valid ID. When making the order online, you will also have to show proof of your firearms certificate with a valid ID, as well as choosing a specific delivery time so that your perfect air rifle can be delivered personally to you.
Not only is there a wide selection of air guns online and in store, but there is a range of accessories you can choose from to personalise your firearm. Check out different magazines, stock and barrel options on the Air Arms site here.
When owning an airgun, it is a high priority to ensure you practise safe handling. The Home Office highlights ten steps into how airgun owners can practise safe gun ownership.
To take extra precautions to store air guns away from children, a person should ensure that the firearm is stored in a robust, lockable cupboard with a separate lock and key to ensure maximum safety.
What offences are in place?
Knowing who can and cannot own an air rifle is essential to know and understand. Equally, it is crucial to understand and research what you can do with an air rifle when you are an owner. There are at least 38 different offences a person can commit when using a firearm, so it is a high priority to research and know the law.
Some laws to note
Some laws to consider are that it is an offence for any person to shoot beyond the boundaries of any premises - even their own. Similarly, it is an offence for any supervising adult to allow a person under 18 to shoot beyond any premises.
Having an air rifle in a public place without a reasonable excuse is an offence. Reasonable excuses include needing to carry a weapon to and from a shooting club and taking a new weapon home from a dealer.
It's essential to use an air rifle for the right reasons
It is an offence to own an air rifle with the intent to damage, destroy and be reckless to a property. Any damage made is your responsibility and can come with heavy consequences and fines.
It should also come as no surprise to know that it is completely prohibited to have an air weapon with the intent to endanger life - both of people and endangered and protected species.
What are you allowed to shoot?
There are many target shooting clubs that you can sign up for in England and Wales. You can find information and advice on the BASC website for contact details.
If you would like to target practice on your own premises, you must stay within the limits of your own land and have an effective backstop. An effective backstop can be an:
If a person intentionally goes onto private land and does not have permission to do so, it is considered trespassing. If air rifles are being carried while trespassing, the offence then becomes armed trespassing. This is a serious criminal offence with heavy consequences.
The legality of the species you can shoot will be outlined in your regional law. You need permission to shoot on any land that is not yours, as well as permission to shoot any targets.
All wild birds are protected under UK law, but there are some pest bird species that are legal to shoot. These types of birds will be covered in general licences for small game hunting - meaning if you have the permission of the landowner and your licence permits it, these quarries are legal to shoot.
There always has to be a reason to shoot live quarry. These include:
When shooting live quarry, make sure you have an adequate rifle. Always ensure your rifle is powerful enough to achieve a kill and only shoot within your range. For hunting, choose an air rifle with a fast reload time (a PCP air rifle can be a good choice) as well as ammunition designed for hunting. Ensuring you have the best air rifle for the job is your responsibility.
With all this information, we can have a much better understanding of the ins and outs of legally owning and using an air rifle in the UK. Airguns are not toys - they can hurt you. Rules and laws are in place to avoid severe damage, injury or death. Air rifles need to be treated with caution and respect not only by legal, qualified adults - but also by any children interested in making a hobby of the sport.
Depending on their power, air rifles are classified as a firearm in the UK and require a Firearms Certificate (FAC). Because of this, it is vital to understand and abide by the laws and rules in your jurisdiction.
There are hurdles and restrictions put in place for a reason. Due to the danger and nature of air rifles, transparency and responsible behaviour can help prevent any misunderstandings and accidents. Always ensure that you check the regional law in your area. The information in this article highlights legislation throughout England and Wales.
Understanding that the legality and responsibility is ultimately with the air rifle owner is crucial. You have to comply with the local laws and practice as a safe, responsible gun owner - if not to uphold the standards publicly and politically, but to keep yourself and others safe. Please contact us with any queries or questions - we are here to help.