Every responsible airgunner should read and learn

Are you up to speed on airgun laws? Can a parent, friend or relative buy a youngster an airgun? Here’s a query we recently received from a concerned parent.

air rifle range at fete

Air rifle range overseen at a village fete.

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 the law 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. (Read more about visiting airgun ranges.)

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.) 

Shooting an air rifle in the garden is a popular pastime, but some key safety rules must be stuck to and airgun laws followed. (Read more on garden airgunning here.)

Junior sized airgun

Children aged under 18 are allowed to use legal-limit airguns under adult supervision

Owning an air rifle

An air rifle is useful for pest control, garden plinking and target shooting. The sort of air rifle you choose will largely depend on what you plan to use it for. (Read our advice on how to choose an air rifle that’s right for you.)

The airgun laws as they stand

  • Owners of airguns MUST stop under 18’s gaining unauthorised access and will face a fine if they fail in this duty.
  • To keep air weapons 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.
  • 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 weapon.
  • Air weapons and ammunition must not be sold to anybody under 18. This is illegal.
  • 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 weapon for firing a pellet beyond the boundaries of any premises.
  • Airguns with a muzzle energy of more than 12ft/lbs can only be held on a firearm certificate

Read our list of best air rifle targets here.

Airgun lesson

The airgun supervisor must be at least 21 years old

Airgun laws at different ages

Under 14 years

  • An air weapon 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 weapon or ammunition cannot be bought, hired or received as a gift, or shoot, without adult supervision.
  • Parents or guardians who buy an air weapon for use by someone under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the home or garden.

14-17 years

  • An air weapon and ammunition can be borrowed
  • You can use an air weapon, without supervision, on private premises where you have permission
  • You cannot buy or hire an air weapon, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift.
  • Your air weapon 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 weapon 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).
airgun laws

Although airgun shooting is very accessible you can still fall foul of the law if you don’t stick to the rules relating to their use and ownership.

18 years and above

  • Those above the age of 18 can buy an air weapon 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 the law 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 weapon 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 weapon – 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 air weapon as though it were loaded.
  • Never point an air weapon at another person
  • Never load an air weapon 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 air weapon down. Always safely discharge or unload and uncock it first
  • Transport air weapons 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.)

You might also like to read our advice on the best airgun pellets for you.

Save money by taking out a subscription to your favourite fieldsports magazine here