Our sport is governed by laws that are among the most strict in the world and all responsible air gunners see it as their duty to conduct themselves in accordance with those laws. Running alongside the laws of the land, are another set of rules that in their own way are every bit as important. These rules cover general and specific points of safe gun handling and must be learned, used, abided by and taught to others, every time we handle our airguns. Our total respect for safe gun-handling isn't just a requirement of air gunning, it's a fundamental shooting skill without which our sport would not exist. Shooting safely and with full regard for the law is the only way to maintain our high standards and to represent our sport as it really is.
We recommend that you are completely familiar with UK Air Gun law, regularly have your gun chronographed to ensure it is below the UK FAC level (unless of course you have the appropriate FAC) and if you intend to hunt, understand and be able to identify the species of bird and mammals that may be legally shot with an airgun (see end of this page).
The penalties for breaking the laws that govern airguns are, rightfully, severe and those penalties bring air gunners entirely under the jurisdiction of the full firearms laws. In simple terms, when used unlawfully, airguns are regarded by the legal authorities as firearms, and carry exactly the same legal status as shotguns and live-ammunition guns, with no concession in law for the airguns vastly reduced power levels. Criminals using airguns face huge penalties, including terms in prison, again fully in-line with the laws covering firearms.
Using an airgun
It is legal for anyone above the age of 14 to shoot an airgun, unsupervised. On private land where full permission to shoot has been given, those below the age of 14 may shoot airguns only if closely supervised by someone over 21 years of age. The supervising adult is legally responsible for the actions of the junior shooter.
Airguns may be used only on land where the user has full permission to shoot. This may be your garden, or private land owned or leased by an individual or club. Remember, wherever you shoot, you must ensure that all of your pellets remain within the boundary of the land to which your shooting permission applies.
It is illegal to shoot an airgun on any land, including common land, river banks, public land, recreation areas or playing fields and land covered by water, i.e. lakes, ponds, canals and rivers where you do not have full permission from the landowner or its tenant. It is also illegal to fire an airgun closer than 50 feet (15 metres) from the centre of a public highway, bridleway or footpath, if your shooting causes upset or inconvenience to those using the highway.
It is legal for persons authorised by the landowner or tenant to carry out vermin control with an air rifle. The legal airgun quarry species include brown rats, magpies, carrion crows, rooks, jays, squirrels, woodpigeons, feral pigeons and collared doves. Other species, such as lesser black backed gulls, herring gulls and greater black backed gulls are best left to professional pest controllers.
The legal muzzle-energy limit for air rifles is 12ft.lbs. and for pistols 6ft.lbs. You do not require any form of licence for sub legal-limit airguns. For rifles producing more than 12ft.lbs, a Firearms Certificate (FAC) is required. Air pistols that produce more than 6ft.lb are prohibited.
Air pistols generating more than 6ft.lbs. (8.1 J) and air rifles generating more than 12ft.lbs (16.2 J) of energy are legally termed "firearms". As a result, ownership of these air rifles requires the possession of a Firearm Certificate (FAC), however ownership of such air pistols is prohibited as they are defined as 'Prohibited Weapons' under Section 5 of the 1968 Firearms Act. (Section 5 Authority is usually only granted to members of the Gun Trade).
Pistols and rifles below these energy levels do not require licensing, and may be purchased by anyone over the age of 18. In Northern Ireland any air rifle or air pistol generating more than 0.737ft.lbs (1 J) is considered a firearm and as such requires a FAC.
It is the airgun owner's (or the person using the guns) responsibility to ensure that the gun being used is below the FAC level if he/she does not hold the appropriate FAC. It is highly recommended that guns be regularly checked with a calibrated chronograph with the heaviest pellet available. Most airgun clubs should be able to make one available.
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 prohibits online or mail-order sale of new airguns in the UK. UK transactions for new items from retail UK shops must be finalised face-to-face, either at the shop where purchased, or through a Registered Firearms Dealer (to which an item may be posted and the transfer completed). Since February 2011, The Crime & Security Act 2010 (S.46) made it an offence "...for a person in possession of an air weapon to fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent any person under the age of eighteen from having the weapon with him...". This legislation essentially relates to the storage of airguns and the requirement of owners to prevent unauthorised access by children. Failure to do so renders owners liable for a fine of up to £1,000.
Any person on private property (land or water), not in possession of the written permission of the landowner, is trespassing; possession of an airgun when doing so, with or without ammunition, loaded or unloaded is armed trespass, and is considered a more serious criminal offence and subject to heavy penalties.
Purchasing and importing new or second hand air pistols and air rifles from outside the UK and which conform to UK power levels (ie: NON FAC), from another EU member state - is perfectly legal for UK consumers/citizens to do. The UK is part of the EU Internal market, and thus consumers are free to obtain airguns from other countries in the EU Internal market.
Airguns must always be transported in securely-fastened cases that do not permit the airgun to be fired whilst in the case. Since the implementation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003, air gunners between 14 and 18 years of age are no longer allowed to transport an airgun to the venues at which they shoot. These shooters must be accompanied and supervised by someone of 21 years or above. Remember, too, that it is now illegal to have an airgun - loaded or not - in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. This restriction applies to all airguns, even those that are being carried in securely-fastened gun cases.
As with all airgun laws, the responsibility lies with the user and the potential penalties are extremely severe. You must therefore make it a priority to learn and understand these laws as they apply to you and your shooting.
For more information please refer to the BASC guide -
and also http://basc.org.uk/airgunning/advice/airgun-guidance-and-fact-sheets/
Offence Penalties (at time of writing Feb 2016)
The Penalties for breaking current UK firearms laws with Airguns are as follows:-
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.
Following the enactment of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, listed below are the current regulations relating to the purchase, ownership, sale and possession of airguns and ammunition.
Persons under the age of 14:
1) No person under the age of 14 may purchase, hire or be given an airgun or ammunition.
2) A person under the age of 14 must at all times when shooting be supervised by a person over the age of 21.
Persons over the age of 14 but under 18:
1) No person under the age of 18 may purchase, hire or be given an airgun or ammunition.
2) A person in this age group may shoot unsupervised on private land with the permission of the landowner but must be supervised by somebody over the age of 21 if in a public place. It should be noted that this means that a person aged seventeen and a half who may have a driving licence cannot take an air rifle from home to his club to shoot unless the gun is possessed by somebody over the age of eighteen or the seventeen and a half-year old is supervised by a person over the age of twenty-one.
Persons over the age of 18:
A person over the age of eighteen can buy an airgun and pellets and use them unsupervised.
1) It is an offence to have an airgun in a public place “without good reason”, the proof being the responsibility of the possessor.
2) It is an offence to discharge a firearm within fifty feet of the centre of a highway.
3) When shooting over private land it is an offence for the pellet to go beyond the boundary of the premises on which the gun is being used unless there is permission from the adjoining landowner.
4) Persons who by way of trade deal in airguns, pressure bearing parts or component parts must be a Registered Firearms Dealer and any transaction must be face-to-face. Ammunition for airguns may continue to be sold by post.
1) It is not an offence for a person to have with him an airgun or ammunition whilst being a member of a Home Office Approved Club in connection with target practice.
2) Air rifles with a muzzle energy in excess of 12 foot pounds (which require licensing) are not subject to the general restrictions listed above.
3) An “airgun” with the kinetic energy of less than one joule is considered a toy and is therefore not covered by the above restrictions but may be considered a realistic imitation firearm (if it looks like a gun). The sale of realistic imitation firearms is now banned with one or two minor exceptions, mainly for historical re-enactment, museums and television/film/theatrical performances or as a recognized member of an airsoft site affiliated to the Association of British AirSoft.
This means you should be able to recognise your quarry and whether it is legal to shoot it or not. As long as you have permission to be on the land or property where you are shooting, you may legally shoot the following species:
GREY SQUIRREL : Common and destructive pest, especially damages trees. Has displaced native, protected, Red squirrel in many parts of the UK. (E)
CARRION CROW : Major predator on game and songbirds, eggs and chicks, will also peck eyes from newborn lambs. Very wary and difficult to stalk.
FERAL PIGEON: Cheeky chappie town scrounger actually carries a variety of nasty diseases. Creates mess and damages buildings.
COLLARED DOVE: Same size as protected Turtle dove but Collared variety can steal and soil large quantities of stored grain in farmyards. Needs control. (E)
ROOK: Although officially a pest and predator, at certain times of the year they can be beneficial to agriculture, eating harmful insect pests.
WOODPIGEON: Vast flocks hoover-up crops in all parts of the UK. Most destructive pest in constant need of control and very good to eat. (E)
RABBIT: Back in plague numbers in many areas, the rabbit is as destructive and greedy as the woodie and in need of continuous control.(E)
RAT: Public enemy number 1. Untold millions of pounds worth of damage worldwide plus carrier of several highly dangerous diseases.
MAGPIE: One of the most voracious and destructive predatory pests, hitting young broods of garden song birds in particular.
There are other birds, like jays and jackdaws which are defined as pests, but dont as a rule pose the same threat as those listed. Greater and lesser black-backed gulls and herring gulls, although also on the list, are too big or because of habitat not to be considered as suitable air rifle quarry.
All birds, except the named pest species, are legally protected. Even pests may only be shot by authorised persons defined as the landowner, or one who has permission to shoot on the land where the quarry is present. The Wildlife and Countryside Act, which governs avian pest species control, requires that a shooter must be sure that the quarry was causing or about to cause damage at the time it was shot. By definition a pest is a species whose numbers, appetite and destructive nature result in damage to food crops etc. so the need to control their numbers is obvious. Many pest species are also good to eat, as we have indicated with the letter (E) in each brief description (above).