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Air Laws

Conventional air weapons do not fall within the remit of the Firearms Enquiry Team, as they do not, except in certain circumstances, require certification.  However many people are interested in this subject and have asked for information.

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 has made changes to existing firearms legislation, which affects the following:

(1) Possession of firearms in a public place.

(2) Air weapons ages limits.

(3) Prohibition of self-contained gas cartridge system air weapons.

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.

It is an offence for a person under 17 years old 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 is not fired beyond those premises.
  4. From the age of 14 years old, whilst on private premises with the consent of the owner. 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 (a) and (b) 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 as 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.

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. We cannot all be "Buffalo-Bills", but by 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.

Such practice will ensure that most shots will bring about a clean kill, but if that is not the case, wounded quarry should always be despatched quickly and with the minimum of suffering. 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.

If hunting for quarry other than that listed above, an air rifle with a muzzle energy of more than 12 ft/lbs should really be used. Remember that such a weapon can only be legally held on a firearm certificate.

It is very important to feel comfortable whilst carrying and using a firearm, and the wearing of suitable and sensible clothing appropriate to the land and prevailing weather conditions, will go a long way towards providing this.

If you are not shooting alone, select a leader for your group, normally the most experienced hunter. Have a hunting plan that each of you are fully familiar with, and always be aware of the location of other members of your group as well as others outside your party.

Safety first

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

Such practice can result in severe injury or even prove to be fatal. For your own safety and the safety of others nearby, it is imperative that the following measures are adhered to:

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

Good behaviour

  1. Always get permission from the land owner/occupier/tenant and advise him in good time of your intended shoot and quarry.
  2. Always respect the owner's property, crops and livestock and keep your dog, if you have one with you,  under proper control.
  3. Never point your airgun at anything other than the intended target.
  4. 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.
  5. Always prove a weapon before handing it to someone else or receiving it yourself.
  6. Before firing your airgun consider the trajectory of the pellet, particularly if it were to miss, or go straight through the target.
  7. Always be aware of the various surfaces surrounding you and the possibility of a ricochet.
  8. Never put down, leave unattended or hand a loaded air weapon to anybody.
  9. 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.
  10. Remember the Country Code.
  11. 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 www.psni.police.uk/.

 
 
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Chesterfield And District Rifle And Pistol Club
Last modified: May 03, 2016