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"I am not, nor have I ever been, a Solicitor (A Solicitor is a properly qualified and accredited UK Legal advisor, similar to a Lawyer in the United States of America). Should you require legal advice within the United Kingdom, you should approach a recognised and properly qualified and accredited UK Solicitor. While I have taken every reasonable care to ensure that the factual data in this article is accurate, I take no responsibility whatsoever for any use, misuse, or other action(s) that you might take in regard to this article."

"This article was originally written in October 2000, amended in November 2000 (which added clarification regarding select and semi-automatic airsoft models), and amended again in February 2002, to note what can be taken to mean 'Private' and 'Public' Places, and to add a clarification on what charges might be levelled against offenders under UK Law."

It should be noted that this advice may be updated in 2002; discussions are taking place with the UK Authorities, to determine what the legally recognised maximum muzzle energy is, before an Airsoft model becomes classified as a firearm (Low Power Air Weapon) under the Firearms Acts 1968-97; this page will be updated when this information is to hand.

IMPORTANT: Change in Legally permitted muzzle energies (13thth December 2003)

These pages will shortly be updated to reflect new Home Office and Forensic Science Service guidlines to Police.

Current wisdom from the FSS/H.O. seems to indicate that they have reviewed the point at which a toy becomes a 'lethal barelled weapon' in the eyes of the Firearms Acts 1968-98. Until recently, this was viewed to be 1.35 Joules (in Airsoft terms, a muzzle velocity of 377 feet per second using a 0.2 gram 6mm Airsoft BB pellet). As you note from the heading above, this has apparently changed. In the light of this new interim information, Practical Airsoft is recommending that no Airsoft model be upgraded to be capable of firing above the generally regognised playing site limit of 1 joule (328 feet per second using a 0.2 gram 6mm Airsoft BB pellet); this new recommendation also includes all single-shot rifles and pistols, not just gas blow back and Automatic Electric Gun series Airsoft models.

I will post more definitive advice once it becomes available.

Update: Firearms Consultative Committee 11th report (30th April 2002)

In early 2002, the Home Office Firearms Consultative Committee (FCC) issued its' eleventh annual report. This made recommendations to the Government, on how firearms legislation might be changed. A response to this document can be found here; please note that the recommendations outlined in that document have yet to be made into law, and are the subject of governmental consideration at this time.

Update: New UK Gun Laws (25th January 2003)

I've been asked by several visitors to this site what the effects of new laws regarding firearms in the UK will be. Truth be told, I don't know yet - and neither does the Home Office or Parliament.

The recent proposals announced by the Home Secretary following the Manchester shooting tragedy, centre around certain Blank Firing guns and Brocock Air Weapons: Not Airsoft models. Essentially, the Home Secretary is proposing to remove certain Blank Firing and Brocock pistols from public circulation, as they 'may readily be converted to fire live ammunition'. Since an Airsoft model cannot be made to fire live ammunition, this facet of his announcement need not concern us whatsoever.

The part of his announcement that has been causing some of you concern, is the proposal to send to prison for a minimum of five years, any person arrested with an imitation firearm in a public place. Well, folks, this has been on the Statute Book for ages anyhow: It is an offence under the Firearms Acts to be in a public place with a firearm or air weapon, unless carried in an approved condition, i.e. unloaded, etc (see below on this page), so the net effect is stil the same as before. You need not worry, provided that you keep your models in sealed bags or cases, and out of the sight of the General Public.

I will however, be keeping a close eye on the situation as it emerges, and will let you know of any developments.

The law as it relates to the Airsoft hobby sport…

Executive Summary:

Airsoft models are regarded as toys; they are not, in law however, toys, as they do not meet certain legal requirements under law. As such they are unrestricted, and may be possessed by almost anyone, except that they must not operate above a mazimum power level, which is the level at which they might be "capable of inflicting a more than trivial injury". This can be taken, under current Home Office guidelines to the Police and Courts, to be no lower than 1.35 Joules, or roughly one (1) Foot/Pound.

Provided, therefore, your Airsoft model does not exceed the UK limits, as recommended by the majority of UK Airsoft Site Operators, and you do not brandish or display your Airsoft model in a "Public Place", you should have no problems regarding your Airsoft model. These limits stand at 328fps for any airsoft toy capable of semi-automatic or automatic fire, and 500fps for any single action airsoft toy. A Public Place can be taken to mean any place that is not privately owned; Private land can be taken to mean your own home, or a freinds' home, or a recognised and properly organised and convened Airsoft Gaming site, where the site operators either own, or have permission to use (from the freeholder), the land for that purpose.

The information below explains the legal basis for this guide, the potential legal implications of upgrading your airsoft toy above these limits, and the UK Law relating to assault and Air Weapons.

Airsoft models are NOT Airguns or Firearms:

Firearms legislation in the United Kingdom is historically extremely strict.

Every Airsoft Skirmish gamer should therefore be aware that there are several ways in which you can fall foul of the law. I would note that this relates only to the law as it applies to England and Wales; Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands may (and probably do) have different legislation in place, but with broadly the same meaning.

Firstly, some definitions.

From the Home Affairs Select Committee Second Report, 6th April 2000:

"25. The Firearms Act 1968 defines a firearm "a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged". In this context, a "lethal weapon" means a weapon capable of firing a projectile with sufficient force to inflict more than a trivial injury, i.e. with a force sufficient to puncture the skin. The force with which a firearm is able to deliver a projectile is normally expressed in terms of the kinetic energy it generates at its muzzle - the "muzzle energy". This force is normally expressed in units of foot pounds (ft/lb) or joules (J)."

"26. The Home Office and the Forensic Science Service considers that the lowest level of muzzle energy capable of inflicting a penetrating wound is one foot pound (or about 1.35 joules): below these power levels, weapons are "incapable of penetrating even vulnerable parts of the body, such as the eye"."

Further to this, is a memorandum, which was included in the minutes of Evidence to the Committee. This memorandum was sent by a Home Office department, to the Secretary Of State For the Home Office, and which is available by visiting the House of Commons Website, and performing a search using the keyword 'Airsoft'. The link to the on-line document is here.

"B. Controls on Air Weapons


"For the purposes of the firearms legislation, an airgun is a weapon with a barrel through which a missile is discharged by the use of compressed air or carbon dioxide. It must be borne in mind, however, that not all airguns can be classed as "firearms".

"Section 57 of the Firearms Act 1968 defines a firearm as a lethal barrelled weapon capable of the discharge of any shot, bullet or other missile. Thus, in order to be classed as a firearm, an object must be a weapon, it must have a barrel through which some kind of missile is fired and the effect of the missile on the target must be lethal. Lethality is defined as "capable of inflicting a more than trivial injury" - a trivial injury being one in which only superficial damage such as bruising occurs. In essence, if the pellet from a particular gun is capable of penetrating the skin, that gun is a firearm.

"Expert advice from the Forensic Science Service is that the lowest power level at which a penetrating injury can occur is at a muzzle energy of about one foot pound, which roughly equates to 1.35 joules. Some airguns, those of the type generally referred to as "airsoft" guns, have muzzle energies well below this level - usually about half a foot pound or less - and because of this they do not fit the definition of a firearm and do not come under the control of the Firearms Act."

This is the official interpretation of the law, that allows Airsoft models to be sold, possessed, and used in England and Wales. You will notice that due to this interpretation, Airsoft models are NOT air weapons, or firearms in the eyes of the law. However, the memorandum further states:

"The expert view is that, at those very low power levels, such guns are incapable of penetrating even vulnerable parts of the body, such as the eye, although a direct hit from very close range would cause bruising."

This is also important to bear in mind. You will find that the generally accepted view on this, is, to be absolutely sure that Airsoft models do not fall foul of the law, that all Airsoft models have a maximum permitted (accepted by the organisers of Airsoft game sites) limit of 1 joule. This equates, for everything barring single shot Airsoft models, to roughly 328 feet per second, using a 0.2 gram 6mm BB (due to the provisions of Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968, which governs semi-automatic and military grade air weapons and firearms).

For single shot Airsoft models, the figure rises to a maximum (accepted by the organisers of Airsoft game sites) of 381 feet per second, using a 0.2 gram 6mm BB, which is right on the 1.35 Joule limit. It's therefore important that you verify, before taking possession of ANY Airsoft model, that it does not exceed the required limits of its' type, lest you find yourself in court!

NOTE: Most sites in the UK permit single action Airsoft 'sniping' rifles to fire at 500 feet per second. The muzzle energy for this (with a 0.2 gram Airsoft projectile) is 2.32 Joules, and for this reason, they restrict the minimum range at which you can fire a sniping rifle at someone, to roughly 20 to 25 feet.

While, technically, this is firing a low-power air weapon at your opponent, Paintball games (see below) use much higher ratings of power for their weaponry, often at point blank range. Therefore it is, while not exactly within the spirit and letter of UK Law, not prohibited in Airsoft gaming within the UK to use such 'sniping' rifles.

Interpretation of the Firearms Acts 1968-88

The Firearms Act 1968 provides:

5(1) A person commits an offence if, without the authority of the Defence Council, he has in his possession, or purchases or acquires, or manufactures, sells or transfers -
5(1)(a) any firearm which is so designed or adapted that, if pressure is applied to the trigger, missiles continue to be discharged until pressure is removed from the trigger or the magazine containing the missiles is empty;
5(2) The weapons and ammunition specified in subsection (1) of this section are referred to in this Act as "prohibited weapons" and "prohibited ammunition" respectively.

This is the section of the Firearms Act 1968 that defined what a 'Section 5' weapon is; it further states who may possess a section 5 firearm. This means that unless you are a serving member of the Armed Forces or Armed Forces reserves, ir an 'Authorised Shot' in an armed branch of a Home Office approved Police Service, you should not possess a weapon capable of actions under s5(1)(a) FA 1968. Thus, if your airsoft model is capable of semi-auto or automatic fire, it SHOULD NOT fall into the low-power air weapon category or higher, instead, it should produce a demonstratively lower level of muzzle energy than that of a 'low power air weapon', or you would be guilty of an offence under the above subsections of the Firearms Act 1968, and liable to arrest, trial, and punishment.

Further, the FA 1968 states:

57(1) In this Act, the expression "firearm" means a lethal barrelled weapon of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged, and includes -
57(1)(a) any prohibited weapon, whether it is such a lethal weapon as aforesaid or not; and
57(1)(b) any component part of such a lethal weapon or prohibited weapon; and
57(1)(c) any accessory to any such weapon designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon;

Now, the Firearms (Amendement) Act 1988 re-classified some firearms as Section Five prohibited Weapons:

1(2) For Paragraph (a) of subsection (1) there shall be substituted -
"(a) any firearm which is so designed or adapted that two or more missiles can successively be discharged whithout repeated pressure on the trigger;
(ab) any self-loading or pump-action rifle other than one which is chambered for .22 rimfire cartridges;

This further reinforces the requirement that semi-automatic and fully automatic airsoft weapons be so constructed, that they DO NOT exceed a muzzle energy of 1.35 joules, or 381 feet per second muzzle velocity. Note that most Airsoft Gaming sites enforce a lower limit on auto and semi-auto models, of 1 joule (328 fps), not only for a safety margine, but as an acceptable power level for close-range shots taken during games.

In addition, several people have mentioned their desire to design, construct, and use, 'rocket launchers' within the Airsoft Game. Not only is this, in my considered opinion, foolhardy, irresponsible, and downright dangerous (and not only to the user, but the potential targets about him as well), but it's also illegal, due to the last provision of this section, which provides that:

(ae) any rocket launcher, or any mortar, for projecting a stabilised missile, other than a launcher or mortar designed for line-throwing or pyrotechnic purposes or as signalling apparatus;"

Can it be any clearer?

Now, while this shows that under present (Early 2002 AD) English law, unmodified, or carefuly modified Airsoft models are legal to own, it does NOT remove the obligation under the Firearms Acts to behave responsibly when in possession of such models.

Why is this so important?

Now, why have I said this, when Airsoft models are, by definition and legal interpretation, just toys? Simple. If you modify, or have modified, or cause to be modified, your airsoft model to equal or above the limits noted above, the model becomes governed by the Firearms Act, as being a "lethal barrelled weapon".

In addition, despite being toys, Airsoft models are very realistic representations of real-world firearms. As such, they count as replica weapons in some circles. Because of this, and the untrained eye of the general public, if you show such a toy in a public place, Joe Public will be well within his rights and responsibilities as a citizen, to contact the Police, and tell them that there's 'someone in the street' (or wherever) 'with a gun!'. The most likely reaction is the arrival of a Police Armed Response Team, the most frightening is that you could be shot by same. Think - and keep it hidden in public places!

Air Weapon legislation and penalties

The table below gives a list of the offences and penalties under current English legislation regarding air weapons. You should note that the law regarding firearms is much, much, harsher. The link to the on-line document is here.


Maximum penalty

Carrying a loaded air weapon in a public place

6 months imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine

Trespassing with an air weapon

3 months imprisonment and/or £2,500 fine

Trespassing on private land with an air weapon

3 months imprisonment and/or £2,500 fine

Possessing or using air weapon if sentenced to 3 months or more in custody:

In addition:

- if original sentence up to three years
- if sentence of three years or more

3 months imprisonment and/or £2,500 fine


5 year ban on use or posession of firearms.
Life ban on use or posession of firearms.

Killing or injuring any bird or protected animal unless authorised

£5,000 fine

Firing air weapon within 15m/50ft of a road or street


Selling or hiring air weapon or ammunition to person under 17

6 months imprisonment and/or £5,000 fine

Making a gift of air weapon or ammunition to person under 14

£1,000 fine

Having air weapon or ammunition with intent to damage property

10 years imprisonment

Having air weapon with intent to endanger life

life imprisonment and/or appropriate fine

Using air weapon to resist or prevent arrest

life imprisonment and/or appropriate fine

Threatening others with an air weapon (even if unloaded) to cause them to fear unlawful violence

10 years imprisonment and/or appropriate fine

Now, you'll notice that firing an air weapon within fifteen metres of a public highway, road or street, is a criminal offence. This means, in practice, that all Airsoft Skirmish sites must be well away - at least fifteen metres - off any public road, in order to prevent misunderstandings or errors in model velocity ratings. In addition, any form of trespassing with an Airsoft model could be construed as a criminal act under existing legislation, so Airsoft skirmish sites MUST have permission from the land owner, or lease holder, to operate on that land.

A small aside - While I've noted above the law regarding producing an Air Weapon in a public place, you could, instead, be prosecuted for producing an imitation firearm in a public place - the minimum penalty on conviction in a Crown Court is typically two years imprisonment - AGAIN I SAY: THINK BEFORE YOU MAKE A COSTLY MISTAKE!

While it's a potential minefield of trouble, don't be put off.

The Legal Status of Airsoft, and some sensible precautions

Therefore, with the above in mind, and under present legislation, the hobby sport is perfectly legal, provided that you take the proper and common sense precautions.

A final note

Now, as to using an Airsoft model in a skirmish game environment. Strictly speaking, the offence of Actual Bodily Harm is committed by someone causing any injury of a trivial or minor nature (Section 47, Offences Against The Person Act, 1861).

However, since the introduction of paintball in the UK, it is generally accepted that a person taking part in a paintball skirmish game should expect that another person may fire, and hit him with ammunition fired from a paintball gun. This meaning has crossed over to the Airsoft Skirmish game, so you should have no problems whatsoever, as the principle is exactly the same.

I hope that this article has been of some help to you. Have fun, and be both legal and safe!

My thanks to Will Moy, and Michael Wong, who contacted me after I posted this article, to point out some confusion in the manner that I had laid the article out, and who offered clarification on a couple of points.

Off-Line References

On-Line References

Other Notes and References on Practical Airsoft

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