Airgun laws and security requirements you need to know
Every responsible airgunner in the UK should read and learn these
Airgun laws in the UK as they stand
Airgun shooters are being urged to conform with new legislation relating to the storage of their guns and ammunition.
- Owners of airguns MUST stop under 18’s gaining unauthorised access and will face a fine if they fail in this duty. It is an offence to fail to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent young people under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to an airgun.
- As of 31 July 2023, airguns must be stored securely and out of sight when under-18s are present.
- Airgun ammunition must also be stored separately from airguns
- While pellets must be stored in a separate place from airguns, they do not need to be locked away.
- To keep air rifles away from the wrong hands store them in a lockable cupboard or a gun cabinet. The keys must be kept away from the cabinet separately and in a secure place. If the cupboard does not have a lock you can use a secure locking device to attach the air rifle to the fabric of a building or a fixed feature. Government guidelines state acceptable means of secure airgun storage as a robust lockable cupboard, a lockable hard transit case, a locking device which secures the airgun to the fabric of the building or a secure anchorage point, or an existing gun cabinet used for the storage of shotguns or firearms.
- The airgun law is different in Scotland. There you need an Air Weapon Certificate or a visitor permit to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air rifle. (Read our guide to air rifles in Scotland.)
- Air rifles and ammunition must not be sold to anybody under 18. This is illegal.
- In Scotland the police have to visit gardens to judge them suitable for plinking. In England such checks are not required for garden airgunning.
- Those using air rifles should take careful note of boundaries. If an air pellet is fired that goes beyond the boundaries of any premises then an offence has been committed. (Read this useful article on garden airgunning and use of safe backstops.) This includes a supervising adult who allows a person under the age of 18 to use an air rifle for firing a pellet beyond the boundaries of any premises. (Read our guide to the best airgun pellets.)
- Airguns with a muzzle energy of more than 12ft/lbs can only be held on a firearm certificate. Read how to get an FAC for your air rifle here.
- It is a criminal offence to fire an air rifle / pistol pellet beyond the land where you have permission to shoot, unless the person holding the shooting rights of the neighbouring land has given you permission. Where someone under 14 is shooting, both the young person and the supervising adult can be prosecuted.
- You can shoot in places where you have been authorised by the landowner or person with the sporting rights and that you know precisely where the boundaries are.
- Whenever you are in a public place your rifle should be in a gun cover, unloaded and not cocked.
Q: Can my ex-husband buy an air rifle for our nine-year-old? Is it legal? My son seems a bit young for one.
A: It is against airgun laws for anyone under the age of 18 to buy or own an airgun or airgun ammunition, even if it is given as a gift. An adult aged 18 or over can, however, buy and own a legal-limit (sub12ft/lb) airgun and allow a child as young as your son to shoot under very close supervision on his or her own property or on land where they have permission to shoot. Whilst you might think that this is buying an airgun for your son, in fact the airgun must be owned, kept and controlled by the parent.
The airgun should also be stored out of sight, away from pellets in a lockable cupboard. (Read our advice on the best gun cabinets here.)
Airgun laws at different ages
Under 14 years
- An air rifle can be used under supervision on private premises with permission from the occupier – normally the owner or tenant.
- The supervisor must be at least 21 years old.
- An air rifle or ammunition cannot be bought, hired or received as a gift, or shoot, without adult supervision.
- Parents or guardians who buy an air rifle for use by someone under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the home or garden.
- An air rifle and ammunition can be borrowed
- You can use an air rifle, without supervision, on private premises where you have permission
- You cannot buy or hire an air rifle, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift.
- Your air rifle and ammunition must be bought and looked after by someone over 18 – normally your parent, guardian or some other responsible adult.
- You cannot have an air rifle in a public place unless you are supervised by somebody aged 21 or over, and you have a reasonable excuse to do so (for example, while on the way to a shooting ground).
18 years and above
- Those above the age of 18 can buy an air rifle and ammunition, which can be used wherever permission to shoot has been given.
What are reasonable precautions?
- Store your airgun out of sight and separately from pellets
- Use a robust, lockable cupboard and keep the keys separate and secure
- Always store your airgun inside a house rather than in an outbuilding, such as a garden shed
- Never store a cocked or loaded airgun
- When using your airgun, keep it under close supervision and never leave it unattended.
Owning an air rifle
You have a responsibility not to bring your sport into disrepute which means following airgun laws to the letter. Here’s what you need to know.
- Keep your airgun under close supervision at all times and to never leave it unattended. Where you have no option but to put your air rifle down for short periods, unload it and gather up all the ammunition.
- Prevent anyone under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to your air rifle – which might mean attaching it to a fixed object using a security cord or similar device, or locking it out of sight in a car.
- Always treat an airgun as though it were loaded.
- Never point an airgun at another person
- Never load an airgun until it is ready to be fired
- Never fire an air rifle unless the shot is safe (make sure a backstop or pellet catcher is used and nobody is nearby who could be in danger).
- Never rely on a safety catch to make the air rifle secure
- Never put a loaded airgun down. Always safely discharge or unload and uncock it first
- Transport airguns in a gun slip. (Read our list of best air rifle cases.)
- Never store an air rifle loaded
- Store air rifles out of sight and away from pellets
- Store air rifles inside a house rather than in a garden shed
- Endeavour to make a stored air rifle incapable of being fired.
- If you are shooting live quarry do not shoot beyond the bounds of your ability. (Read more about shooting rats with an air rifle.)
This article was originally published in 2014 and is kept updated with any changes to airgun laws