Air Weapons

Conventional air weapons do not normally fall within the remit of the Firearms Licensing Office, except in certain circumstances whereby certification is required. However for those who are interested it is hoped the following information is of assistance.

An air weapon differs from a conventional firearm by the fact that it, and the pellets discharged, do not contain any explosive substance.

When the trigger is pulled the pellets are forced from the barrel either by the release of a coiled spring, or the discharge of compressed gas from a cylinder.
Most air weapons are of such limited power that they do not require to be licensed, however there are exceptions to this rule.

The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 require that certain air weapons can only be held legally on a firearm certificate. It is possible to measure the velocity of pellets, discharged from an air weapon, by the use of an electronic chronograph. From these measurements the kinetic energy of the pellet at the muzzle can be calculated.

  • Air weapons deemed specially dangerous have a muzzle energy in excess of:
  • In the case of an air pistol: 6 ft/lbs
  • In the case of an air weapon other than an air pistol: 12 ft/lbs
  • Such weapons are classified as Section 1 firearms and are required to be held on a firearm certificate. These weapons are subject to all the controls and regulations pertaining to Section 1 firearms, although the "ammunition" (pellets) are not.


These rules do not apply to an air weapon designed for use only when submerged in water, e.g. harpoon gun.

The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, Section 39 creates an additional category of prohibited firearm to be added to Section 5 of the Firearms Act, 1968 in that

Any air file, airgun or air pistol which uses, or is designed or adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system.

From January 20th , 2004 it is an offence to manufacture, sell, purchase, transfer or acquire any air weapon using a self-contained gas cartridge system.

Anyone who already owns one of these firearms on that date will be able to keep it ONLY if they obtain a firearm certificate from the police. Applications for firearm certificates must be made before May 1st, 2004.

Alternatively, existing owners can hand their weapon into the police for disposal. Again this must be done before May 1st, 2004.

From May 1st , 2004 it will be an offence, punishable by a minimum of 5 years and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, to possess a self-contained gas cartridge weapon unless it is held on a firearm certificate.

What is banned:
The ban applies to any air rifle, air gun or air pistol that uses, or is designed or adapted for use with, a self- contained gas cartridge system.



What is NOT being banned:
The ban does not apply to air weapons that use CO2 bulb systems because CO2 bulbs do not contain a projectile and are not therefore completely self-contained.

Existing Owners

Anyone who owns a self-contained gas cartridge firearm and wishes to keep it beyond January 20th, 2004 MUST apply to their firearms licensing authority for a firearm certificate, or if a firearm certificate is already held, to apply for a variation for the weapon to be added to their authorised firearms before May 1st, 2004.

Alternatively, you may hand it in to the police for disposal. You will not be able to sell the weapon or give it away nor claim compensation for the surrendering of the firearm. Application forms 101 and 125 should be available from any main police office or firearms licensing authority, and may also be downloaded from this site.

The police must be satisfied that an applicant is fit to be entrusted with the firearm, is not a prohibited person and will not represent a danger to public safety or to the peace. Because self-contained gas cartridge firearms are not currently subject to certification and are often used for informal shooting pursuits, the legislation exempts applicants from the usual requirement to demonstrate a good reason for wanting to retain their firearm.

However, applicants will be required to put in place, at their own expense, appropriate security measures to prevent unauthorised access to their firearm(s). The level of security required will be the same as for other weapons held on a firearm certificate. The precise arrangements are for the police to determine based on the level of risk involved in each case, taking account of factors such as local crime rates and location of the property.

A fee will be payable.

Existing owners who do not wish to keep their firearms may hand them in to the police before May 1st, 2004. This can be done at any police station. Compensation will not be paid for any firearms handed in.


Anyone who manufactures, sells, purchases, transfers or acquires a self-contained gas cartridge weapon on after January 20th, 2004 will commit an offence under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and is liable to a minimum e of five years and a maximum of 10 years imprisonment.

Anyone who is found in possession of a self-contained gas cartridge weapon on or after May 1st, 2004 without it being held on a valid firearm certificate will also commit an offence under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and is liable to the same penalty.

No offence will be committed where someone has applied for a firearm certificate before May 1st, 2004 and the application remains outstanding or is the subject of an outstanding appeal.


Retailers will not be able to trade in self-contained gas cartridge weapons from January 20th, January 2004 although they may continue to possess their existing stock until May 1st, 2004. If they wish to sell the firearms abroad or to provide a repair service, they must apply to the Home Office for the Secretary of State's authority under Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 and to register with the police as a firearm dealer. Applications must be submitted before May 1st, 2004.

The information within these pages are intended to assist you understanding the changes made to firearms legislation by the Anti-Social Behaviour act, 2003. They are not exhaustive and there may be other information available from the Home Office. If you cannot find the answer to your query here then please contact the Firearms Licensing Officer for advice.

Conventional air weapons, although not requiring to be held on certificate, are still subject to other legislation, particularly as to age restrictions as follows.

Under 17 years old

It is an offence to give an air weapon, or ammunition for it, to a person under 17 years of age. It is not an offence for that young person to receive it.

However, it is an offence for a person under 17 years of age to be in possession of an air weapon, or ammunition for it, except:

  1. As a member of an approved club for target shooting
  2. Whilst at a shooting gallery where only air weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding .23 calibre are used.
  3. Whilst under the supervision of a person aged 21 years or over, or whilst shooting, on private premises, including land, provided the missile does not leave the boundaries of the land/premises.
  4. From the age of 14 years old, whilst on private premises with the consent of the occupier of the land. An occupier is generally seen as the owner or someone with shooting rights. No supervision is required.

It is an offence for a person under 17 years of age to be in possession of an air pistol in any public place except as at (1) and (2) above.

A public place means any highway or place or premises to which, at the material time, the public have or are permitted to have access, whether on payment or otherwise. You may not have an airgun in a public place without proper reason. An airgun is deemed loaded if there is a pellet, dart or anything else in the gun or magazine whether cocked or not.

You should be aware that it is unlawful to trespass on any land (including on water), or in any building whilst in possession of a firearm, including an airgun.

Simply going onto private land without permission is trespass. If you are in possession of an airgun at the time, it is trespassing whilst in possession of a firearm, a serious criminal offence which is punishable by up to six months imprisonment and/or a fine of £1000.

It is also an offence to discharge a firearm, including an airgun, within 50 feet of the centre of any highway. This includes roads, bridle-paths or public footpaths. The offence is complete if a member of the public is injured, endangered or even just alarmed by the incident.

The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981

It is commonly thought that all birds considered as vermin can be shot at any time and by anyone. This is not strictly true. All birds and animals are protected by law and only "authorised" persons who have proper permission can lawfully do so. See also Vermin Control and Deer Stalking.

Always ensure that you shoot within the legal boundaries and with the proper authorisation. Only use a conventional air rifle on suitable quarry, where you know that a clean kill is likely. It is generally accepted in proper shooting circles that such quarry only includes the following:
woodpigeon, feral pigeon, collared dove, magpie, jackdaw, jay, rook and crow. Also brown rat, grey squirrel and rabbit.

Good Hunting Practice

Every hunting sportsman has the responsibility for recognising his quarry and knowing when and where the safest circumstances arise for a quick kill. Never shoot until you have positively identified the quarry, and established that it is safe to do so.

By practising on targets, and not live quarry, the hunter will know his limitations and be able to establish the maximum range at which he is effective to ensure a clean kill. Knowing at what range you can consistently hit the kill zone, usually the head within a 1 inch diameter, you can establish your own safety net.

Always ensure that your rifle is powerful enough to bring a clean kill to the quarry in question. Shots of over 35 metres distance should not be attempted. Never shoot at partially obscured quarry or those that are close to cover, where they may lay wounded and out of reach. Any wounded quarry should always be despatched quickly and with the minimum of suffering.

If hunting for quarry other than those listed above, an air rifle with a muzzle energy of more than 12 ft/lbs is strongly recommended and such a firearm can only be legally held on a firearm certificate.

Safety First

Every shooter should be aware of the dangers of shooting near overhead power lines and insulators.

Not only for your own safety but also for safety of others nearby. It is imperative that the following measures are adhered to:

  • Do not shoot at or near power lines or insulators.
  • Familiarise yourself with the location of power lines and other electrical equipment on the land where you are going to shoot.
  • Do not use power line poles or towers to support any of your shooting equipment.
  • Be aware that some power lines may not be obvious and obscured by trees.ake notice of all warning signs and keep well clear of electrical apparatus.
  • Avoid the use of lofting poles in the vicinity of overhead power lines.
  • Remember electricity can "jump" a considerable distance if shorted out.
  • If an accident does occur involving electricity, keep well clear. Call the emergency services via 999 and inform the local Electricity Company.


Good Behaviour

  • Always get permission from the land owner/occupier/tenant and advise him in good time of your intended shoot and quarry.
  • Always respect the owner's property, crops and livestock and keep your dog, if you have one with you, under proper control.
  • Never point your airgun at anything other than the intended target.
  • When carrying your air rifle always point it at the ground and always be aware if it is loaded or not. Notwithstanding this, always treat an air weapon as if it were loaded.
  • Always 'prove' a weapon (ensure it is unloaded and safe) before handing it to someone else or receiving it yourself.
  • Before firing your airgun consider the trajectory of the pellet, particularly if it were to miss, or go straight through the target.
  • Always be aware of the various surfaces surrounding you and the possibility of a ricochet.
  • Never put down, leave unattended or hand a loaded air weapon to anybody.
  • Always leave your shoot in the condition you would like to find it. Never leave litter behind and, where possible, clear up the litter left by others.
  • Remember the Country Code.
  • Above all be safe and sensible and enjoy your sport.


Although conventional air weapons are not required to be licensed in England, Scotland and Wales, they are currently required to be licensed in Northern Ireland. Consequently, shooters wishing to take their air weapons to Northern Ireland are required to obtain a valid certificate of approval issued by the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

Advice on obtaining approval can be found at: