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Can a local registered firearms dealer ‘confiscate’ an air rifle?

Is confiscating air rifles legal? Bill Harriman advises.

Weihrauch HW35E air rifle

Using a bench, the air rifle was accurate out to 30 metres

If you’re a responsible airgunner then you’ll know your airgun law, know about using gun slips and you’ll do everything you can not to put your sport into disrepute. A while ago I was contacted by a Shooting Times reader who had had his air rifle confiscated, in his view unfairly. So what did I advise? And what if it happens to you? (Read our advice on the best air rifle pellets, tried and tested.)

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 chronograph 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? (Read our list of the best chronographs .) 

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 chronograph was calibrated and accurate. (Read air rifle laws every UK shooter should be aware of.)

Dieseling air rifle

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. (Read our advice on getting an FAC for your air rifle.)

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.

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. (Read why all shooters should be members of a fieldsports organisation.)

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.

This article was originally published in 2016 and has been updated.