Can you just keep it in a sling when you're on a public footpath? Or should it be in an air rifle case?

Q: My son has permission to shoot air rifles on a large estate to control squirrels and rabbits. The estate has a number of public footpaths running through it. He knows not to shoot near, across or towards the paths, but is he legally allowed to carry his rifle on a sling over his shoulder and not in an air rifle case or gun box when walking the paths?

Hidden in an air rifle case?

A:  This is an interesting question. The location of the footpaths is critical. You say they cross the estate. That being so, there is no offence committed by shooting over one if by so doing nobody is endangered or injured.

As your son has permission to shoot on both sides of the paths, the pellet never leaves the premises where he has permission to be. A footpath is a public place in law. Section 19 of the 1968 Firearms Act makes it an offence without lawful authority or reasonable excuse to have an airgun (whether loaded or not) in a public place.

In my opinion, it would be a reasonable excuse to have an airgun in a public place in such circumstances. However, given that the purpose of a footpath is to pass and repass, it would be unwise to actually shoot from it. There is nothing in law that says that any firearm must be in a cover while in a public place. However, in most instances it is common sense to do so.

Great discretion should be observed and the test of whether or not it was reasonable to have an uncovered gun in public applied. ‘Reasonable’ has to take account of all circumstances. If in doubt, always err on the side of caution and carry a gun in a slip. Lastly, never underestimate the powers of misperception. Most members of the public have little experience or knowledge of firearms. Consequently, a pest controller in drab clothes with an air rifle can all too easily become a terrorist in camo carrying a Kalashnikov by the time someone calls it in to a police control room.