Do you need a licence for an air rifle?

8 December 2023  |  Air Arms

Do you need a licence for an air rifle?

Do you need a licence for an air rifle?

If you’ve clicked on this article, it’s probably because you’ve fallen into the amazing world of Air Rifles. Whether you’re looking at purchasing one for yourself, joining a club or just wanting to borrow an air rifle to test out your skills, it’s all led you here. Do you need a licence for an air rifle? In this article we’re going to delve into the laws surrounding air rifles and take a look at the types of certificates needed to use them.

What are Air Rifles?

While you likely know the basics if you’ve stumbled upon this blog, let's just remind ourselves on the basics of air rifles, what they are and what types are available. 

Air rifles have been around for centuries and are used by many individuals, including hunters, target shooters, and even recreational users. However, many people may not know that owning an air rifle also comes with specific legal responsibilities.

In most countries, owning an air rifle requires a licence. This is because these weapons, although not as powerful as firearms, can still cause harm and fatal injuries if mishandled or misused.

Understanding air rifles

So, what is an air rifle? Air rifles are types of air guns that use compressed air or gas to fire pellets or BBs at high speeds. They are most commonly used for hunting small game animals and target shooting. Air rifles are typically split into two categories - those that fire ammunition at a power under 12 ft-lb and those that fire ammunition under 12 ft-lb.

Why do you need an air rifle licence?

In the context of the United Kingdom, the terms "general licence" and "firearms licence" refer to different types of permissions related to firearms. Here's a breakdown of the difference between the two.

General Licence

  • A general licence is an official document issued by authorities. It allows individuals to engage in specific pest control and conservation activities without the need for a separate application. 

  • These activities usually involve managing specific species of wild birds to safeguard crops, livestock, public health, or prevent damage.

  • General licences are applicable to airguns of a lower power. 

Firearms Certificate

  • Firearms certificates require background (medical) checks to make sure you’re a suitable candidate.

  • Power and Muzzle Energy: In certain countries like the UK, if an air rifle exceeds a certain muzzle energy threshold (e.g., 12 foot-pounds), it is considered a firearm and requires a firearms certificate or licence.

  • Safety and Regulation: Licensing helps ensure that individuals who possess or use air rifles have undergone background checks and meet certain criteria to promote safety and responsible use.

  • Control and Monitoring: Licensing allows authorities to keep track of air rifle ownership, helping to prevent misuse and illegal activities.

  • Hunting and Pest Control: Some jurisdictions require licences for individuals who use air rifles for hunting or pest control, ensuring they are knowledgeable about local regulations and wildlife management practices.

  • This licence requires a fee

Additionally, air rifles can still cause harm and injuries if not used responsibly. This is especially true for high-powered air rifles that can reach over 12 ft-lb velocities. Injuries from these types of air rifles can be just as severe as those caused by conventional firearms.

What air rifles do not require a licence?

Air rifles that fire ammunition at a power under 12 ft-lb do not require a firearms licence. This is because they are not considered lethal enough weapons in the eyes of the law. These pellet guns are great for beginners who want to test the waters before applying for a firearms certificate. 

These air rifles are still great options for certain smaller pest shooting. Some birds and smaller mammals do not require really powerful air guns for a clean kill. 

What air guns do require a licence?

Air weapons that hold more substantial power will be classed as a firearm in the eyes of the law. This is because this type of airgun is considered a lethal barrelled weapon and can cause fatal harm.

Air Rifles

Air rifles that fire ammunition at a power over 12 ft-lb do require a firearms licence in the UK. 

Air Pistols

Air pistols that have a muzzle kinetic energy over 6 ft-lb will require a firearms licence in the UK. 

These types of airguns are extremely powerful. Without restrictions and regulations, in the wrong hands, these can be very dangerous and harmful to not only yourself and others but the quarry around you. 

What are the main types of Air Rifles?

Air rifles are made up of four different categories:

  • PCP air rifle (pre-charged pneumatic)

  • Spring Powered air rifle

  • Gas Ram air rifle

  • CO2 Air rifle

While they all come in different powers, shapes and sizes - there is no one perfect air rifle for all. To know what the best air rifle is for you, you can check out our What is an Air Rifle? Blog that looks into the types of rifles more in-depth. 

Note that this information is currently for England and Wales, and the laws in Scotland were changed in 2017 to ensure that those in Scotland wishing to purchase an air weapon above 1 joule require an air weapons certificate. You can find more information on these here. 

How the licence process works

For those of you who want to get an air rifle that requires a licence, there are a few things to consider before you can apply. The UK's firearms and ammunition possession is mainly regulated by the Firearms Act 1968. 

Age Matters

A firearms certificate is only available for those who are at least 14 years of age across England and Wales (local restrictions may apply). This means that while you do not have to be 18 years old to use air weapons (providing you have your FAC), you cannot legally own or purchase your own air gun until you're 18.

Any person under 18 falls under the supervision category when using or borrowing air rifles.

From 14-17

You can borrow an air rifle to use on private premises (provided you have permission) and do not need to be supervised. You cannot receive any air rifles or ammunition as a gift, and a legal adult must own the air rifle and ammunition you use. If you're carrying an air rifle in a public place, you require a supervisor who is at least 21 years of age. 

Under the age of 14

You can use an air rifle on private premises (providing permission is given), providing you are being supervised by someone who is 21 years of age. You cannot receive any air rifles or ammunition as a gift - or shoot any air rifle without adult supervision. 

Medically sound 

In order to obtain an air rifle licence, your doctor must deem you medically sound. This will involve you making an appointment with your doctor and then going through criteria to determine whether you're an excellent candidate- mentally and physically - before sending off the form to your local police force. 

References 

For an FAC, you will need to obtain two personal references to vouch for your moral sense and candidacy for the police to review before granting you the licence. 

Criminal record

If you have received a custodial or suspended sentence of between 3 months and 3 years, you are prohibited for a period of 5 years (from the date that you are released). If you have received a custodial sentence of 3 years or more, then you are prohibited for life.

Good Reasonable use

You will need to provide proof of reason as to why you want to obtain a FAC. This can be done by either proving you’re shooting for pest control or showing evidence of joining a shooting club.

Safety measures 

Needing a licence to use powerful air rifles isn't just there for the hell of it. As you can imagine, these airguns, while they can be incredibly useful tools, can be very dangerous in the wrong hands. Obtaining a licence requires the person wielding the machinery to go through steps to prove they can undergo the responsibility needed and understand the legal requirements surrounding air rifle law. 

Obtaining a licence is an expense and a relatively lengthy process (taking up to around 8 weeks). This ensures that those who go through the effort of getting the correct certificate do not do so on a whim but understand the process, dangers and regulations around gun laws. 

Offences and Other elements to consider

Not only is it crucial to have an air rifle licence if your using air rifles with over 12 ft-lb power, but it is essential to familiarise yourself with the laws in your area and determine where you can and cannot shoot and what you're allowed to shoot. 

Where you're shooting

You always need to make sure you have permission to shoot and ensure you have authorisation with the landowner. Note that it is always best to get this permission in writing so that there is no doubt as to where your rights lie.

If you do not have permission on the land you're shooting on - and are carrying an air rifle, it is not only considered trespassing but armed trespassing. This is a serious criminal offence that carries massive penalties whether the gun is loaded or not. 

The pellets you are shooting

When using air guns, you must always have control of where your pellets are being shot. It is an offence for any pellet you fire to land beyond the land you have permission to shoot on. 

If you're under 14, both you and your supervisor can be prosecuted for this.

If you do not hold a licence 

It is an offence to use an air rifle that requires a FAC without having one. If you're caught in possession of a firearm without a certificate, you are breaking Section 1 (1) of The Firearms Act 1968. To read up on firearm offences and their punishments and to get a better idea of the laws surrounding them, check out the CPS information page.

How you can go forward

As we can now see, owning an air rifle in the UK requires a licence in the form of a firearm certificate. For people 14 years of age, a firearms certificate is required if the use of air rifles is wanted - but you still cannot own one until you are 18 years of age.

We must recognise that powerful air guns - from PCP air rifles, spring air rifles, CO2 air rifles and gas ram air rifles are classed as firearms if they're over a certain power and, therefore, fall under the exact licensing requirements as more powerful guns.

Individuals must comply with safety regulations, including not allowing individuals under the age of 18 to use an air weapon beyond specified boundaries. It is vital to look up the laws and restorations in your county to ensure you abide by them.

It is vital to ensure you're accurate and have up-to-date information regarding air rifle licensing; it is advisable to consult local authorities or firearms organisations if you're unaware. When you pick up that rifle, you're responsible for the safety and conduct - misinformation is no excuse. Shoot with care and get the proper licence for you. You can check out our blog on How to get an air rifle licence to know how to get the correct licence.

When you have your licence sorted

When you have everything you need to get going, you'll then be ready to start shooting! Remember that you’ll only need a firearms licence if your air rifle is over 12ft-lb. Any air rifle under this will fall under the general licence category, which depending on your country of residence, does not need applying for.

If you're looking at buying your own gun, check out all the options available to you from leading manufacturers. Some dealers even offer a delivery service, meaning they will have your air guns delivered direct to your door. However, not many dealerships do this - with the typical process involving you picking up your air rifle from your local dealer. 

Here at Air Arms we deliver airguns to a range of dealerships across the UK. Whether you're looking at a rifle for target practice, small game hunting or simple pest control, check out our wide range of stock.