The law on the use and purchase of airguns has only recently been changed, in the 2007 VCR Act. This act, with Violent Crime Reduction as its theme, included a change in the age at which you can legally buy an airgun, raising it from 17 to 18 years of age. It also changed the way in which airguns can be bought from shops.
From October 1st 2007 shops selling airguns as part of their business have become Registered Firearms Dealers and you can only buy from them direct, and not by mail-order. This restriction only applies to airguns and silencers, not to scopes, mounts or any of the huge range of airgun related accessories available from gunshops, and neither does it apply to private airgun sales as available, for instance, in Airgun World Bullseyes or Air Gunner Swapshop.
Our sport is governed by laws that are among the most strict in the world and all responsible airgunners see it as their duty to conduct themselves in accordance with those laws. Running alongside the laws of the land, are another set of rules that in their own way are every bit as important. These rules cover general and specific points of safe gun handling and must be learned, used, abided by and taught to others, every time we handle our airguns. Our total respect for safe gun-handling isnt just a requirement of airgunning, its a fundamental shooting skill without which our sport would not exist. Shooting safely and with full regard for the law is the only way to maintain our high standards and to represent our sport as it really is.
The penalties for breaking the laws that govern airguns are, rightfully, severe and those penalties bring airgunners entirely under the jurisdiction of the full firearms laws. In simple terms, when used unlawfully, airguns are regarded by the legal authorities as firearms, and carry exactly the same legal status as shotguns and live-ammunition guns, with no concession in law for the airguns vastly reduced power levels. Criminals using airguns face huge penalties, including terms in prison, again fully in-line with the laws covering firearms.
Using an airgun
It is legal for anyone above the age of 14 to shoot an airgun, unsupervised, on private land where full permission to shoot has been given. Those below the age of 14 may shoot airguns only if closely supervised by someone over 21 years of age. The supervising adult is legally responsible for the actions of the junior shooter.
Airguns may be used only on land where the user has full permission to shoot. This may be your garden, or private land owned or leased by an individual or club. Remember, wherever you shoot, you must ensure that all of your pellets remain within the boundary of the land to which your shooting permission applies.
It is illegal to shoot an airgun on any land, including common land, river banks, public land, recreation areas or playing fields and land covered by water, i.e. lakes, ponds, canals and rivers where you do not have full permission from the lands owner or its tenant. It is also illegal to fire an airgun closer than 50 feet (15 metres) from the centre of a public highway, bridleway or footpath, if your shooting causes upset or inconvenience to those using the highway.
It is legal for persons authorised by the landowner or tenant to carry out vermin control with an air rifle. The legal airgun quarry species include brown rats, magpies, carrion crows, rooks, jays, squirrels, woodpigeons, feral pigeons and collared doves. Other species, such as lesser black backed gulls, herring gulls and greater black backed gulls are best left to professional pest controllers.
The legal muzzle-energy limit for air rifles is 12ft.lb and for pistols, 6ft.lb. You do not require any form of licence for sub legal-limit airguns. For rifles producing more than 12ft.lb,a Firearms Certificate (FAC) is required. Air pistols that produce more than 6ft.lb are prohibited.
Airguns must always be transported in securely-fastened cases that do not permit the airgun to be fired whilst in the case. Since the implementation of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003, airgunners between 14 and 18 years of age are no longer allowed to transport an airgun to the venues at which they shoot. These shooters must be accompanied and supervised by someone of 21 years or above. Remember, too, that it is now illegal to have an airgun loaded or not in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. This restriction applies to all airguns, even those that are being carried in securely-fastened gun cases.
As with all airgun laws, the responsibility lies with the user and the potential penalties are extremely severe. You must therefore make it a priority to learn and understand these laws as they apply to you and your shooting.
I think we can actually allow ourselves to believe that the good weather's here to stay for a while, and that we really can start to plan some extensive shooting days in the field, without needing to wear full weather-protection gear...