The government has announced plans for stringent new laws on air weapons

A new government consultation proposes to strengthen air rifle law to keep air guns from being used by unsupervised under-18s. In addition, owners of small gun ranges will have to have a licence and inform the police before buying weapons.

Policing Minister Kit Malthouse said: “Our gun laws are among the toughest in the world – we are determined to ensure they stay this way to keep the public safe. These measures will tighten controls on air weapons and minimise the risk of tragic accidents, which have devastated families in the past. They will also close loopholes in our laws to prevent dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands.”

Currently teenagers aged 14 to 18 are permitted to use air rifles on private land or premises without supervision.

Proposed new air rifle law

The new restrictions include:

  • Preventing individuals from the age of 14 to have unsupervised possession of air weapons on private premises
  • Making it an offence to fail to lock up an air weapon and its ammunition separately when not being used and in a property where under-18s reside.
  • Consulting with suppliers and retailers to improve the safe keeping of air weapons and advice when sold.

“More restrictions”

Shooting UK asked air rifle writer and expert Mat Manning for his reaction. He said: “The proposed change to airgun legislation could impact on farmers and gamekeepers who rely on responsible young airgun shooters to assist with pest control, and strikes me as being another case of law-abiding shooters facing yet more restrictions.

“My feeling is that the onus should be on the proper enforcement of existing restrictions rather than introducing new ones. I would urge anyone with an interest in airgun shooting to read the consultation and respond.”

No licensing yet

The policing minister has not proposed introducing a licensing system for air guns, although rural dwellers are concerned that teenagers will now find it difficult to learn shooting skills for essential control of rats and other vermin.

Jack Knott of BASC  spoke to Shooting UK saying: “Any proposal put forward by the Home Office needs to be evidence-led and proportionate. On first view their proposal to restrict the use of airguns on under-18s will impact young gamekeepers and pest controllers. BASC will work with the government to ensure the legitimate shooting community are not left disadvantaged.”

Learning to shoot

BASC pointed out the positives of air rifles for learning to shoot. “Pest control is where air guns are extremely important. They can be used in areas where other guns cannot and are incredibly accurate and silent.

“You can’t teach a child how to shoot using a 12-bore or a powerful rifle. Air rifles are the way to do that because they are not too powerful or too overwhelming.”

Stringent new air rifle law was introduced in Scotland on 31 December 2016 requiring owners to have an air weapons certificate and in some cases, a permit.

The government consultation will close on 16 February 2021. Anybody who wishes to put forward their views and participate in the firearms safety consultation can do so here.