Two occasions on which guns have been 'confiscated'. Is it legal?

All responsible airgunners should know their airgun law correctly so that their activities don’t put the sport into disrepute. But what happens if an air rifle is confiscated by a firearms dealer? Here’s what our legal expert advised when a reader felt he had a justified complaint as to how he had been treated.

A reader has had his air rifle ‘confiscated’

Q: I have just taken my air rifle into my local registered firearms dealer (RFD) for some work. While he had it, he tested it over a chronoscope and said that with a heavy pellet it produced 12.4ft/lb of energy and because of that he is not allowed to give it back to me. Is he allowed to do that and what should I do about it?

A: Contrary to popular misconception, RFDs are not the enforcement arm of the police. They have no right nor duty to seize and detain another person’s property simply because that person may be in illegal possession of it. If the dealer insists on retaining it he is guilty of the civil tort (wrong) of “conversion” and you could sue him for the return of your air rifle. Some dealers think that they have a duty to hang on to anything that is illegally owned just because the police have told them to do so. That is not the case.

I do not think that simply because your air rifle appeared to exceed the legal limit with just one heavy pellet it can be reasonably concluded that it really is over the legal limit on a consistent basis. You do not know what test regime the RFD used and whether his chronoscope was calibrated and accurate. Some air rifles occasionally exceed the legal limit because there is oil in the gas air cylinder or barrel. This causes what is known as “dieseling”. The oil is vapourised into an explosive mixture and is then ignited by the friction of the air being compressed, like a diesel engine. This increases the velocity and sometimes the rifle runs over the limit. Consequently, the test results sound most unreliable. I doubt that they would stand up in court.

Take your custom elsewhere

My advice is that you should threaten to sue the RFD for the return of your property and be prepared to enforce that threat if he won’t comply. The rifle should then be tested in a reliable manner to determine its true capability. While the choice of where you shop is a matter for you, I would no longer take my custom to a dealer who had treated me like this.

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Confiscation after dispute

Q: I should have joined BASC but thought that I would never need its cover for legal advice. Big mistake. The police confiscated my guns after they attended my house following a dispute with my neighbour about noise. The neighbour, who was recently moved in by the local authority, was arrested and the police took statements from my wife and me. They informed me that they were going to confiscate my shotguns and said that the incident called into question my suitability to possess firearms. I offered to have a friend take them until things were sorted but they refused. They checked all serial numbers but I do not have a receipt for the items they have taken. Could you advise as I feel I have abided by the law and been unfairly penalised.

David Frost says: Seizing your guns in these circumstances without giving you a receipt is unlawful. I suggest you ask for a meeting with the firearms licensing manager – don’t be fobbed off with a firearms enquiry officer. It may help if you could take a friend or relative with you. Explain your case and find out what they intend to do. If you get an unsatisfactory answer or the manager refuses to see you then you should take the matter up with the professional standards department as a formal complaint. You may need to do that anyway because of the lack of a receipt. Then you need to tackle the housing manager at the council. You may have grounds for getting the neighbours moved. Here too, it would be useful to be accompanied. If you do use a solicitor you must to to one specialising in firearms law.