Airsoft and airsoft guns occupy a bit of a grey area of British law. For years, the government failed to differentiate replica firearms and airsoft guns from the real thing. The result? An intolerant legal system with little sympathy for authentic airsoft enthusiasts and heavy limitations on legitimate businesses. From the 2nd May 2017 the Policing & Crime Act (2017) introduced an exception from the classification for airsoft guns as firearms, so long as they meet certain criteria. But it’s taken us quite a while to get here…
Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003
The Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 set out restrictions on the possession of airsoft replicas, which came in with the introduction of the ASBA (Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003) Amendments. These amendment s prohibited the possession of any replica firearms in public without good cause (to be concealed in a gun case or container only, not to be left in view of public at any time). The prohibition of self-contained gas cartridge firearms can arguably apply to MOSCARTs and BB-Shower grenades, although it is intended to ban the sale of BACS revolvers. The Brocock Air Cartridge System (BACS) was by far the most popular air cartridge product on the market, with revolvers the mainstay of the range, although there were a few rifle models based on the air cartridge system. Thanks to the Anti-Social Behaviour Act, owners had to hand in their BACS guns or put them on licences.
Violent Crime Reduction Act
According to Section 36 of the Violent Crime Reduction Act (VCRA), which came into effect on 1 October 2007, Realistic Imitation Firearms (RIFs) may not be sold, imported, or manufactured. Unrealistic imitation firearms (IFs) must have their principle colour as transparent, bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright blue, bright green, bright pink, or bright purple or have dimensions of no more than a height of 38mm and a length of 70mm (as defined in the Home Office regulations for the VCRA). Exceptions to the act are available for the following:
- museums or galleries
- theatrical performances and rehearsals of such performances
- the production of films and television programmes
- the organisation and holding of historical re-enactments
- crown servants
The Airsoft Defence
The important thing about the VCRA is that it established two new defences for both site organisers and individuals. This critical defence provided much-needed recognition of airsoft as a legitimate activity. The notes for the VCRA state the following: “The regulations provide for two new defences. The first is for the organisation and holding of airsoft skirmishing. This is defined by reference to “permitted activities” and the defence applies only where third party liability insurance is held in respect of the activities.” and “The defence for airsoft skirmishing can apply to individual players because their purchase of realistic imitation firearms for this purpose is considered part of the “holding” of a skirmishing event.” The airsoft defence is based on whether or not a person is a skirmisher. One of the measures put in place by retailers was the forming of a centrally recorded and maintained database. This system is managed by the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association or UKARA. We explained the UKARA database in an earlier blog.
Policing and Crime Act 2017
You can read a full information release about the changes to the Policing & Crime Act 2017 in our earlier blog. But essentially the changes are:
How does the Act affect airsoft?
The Policing & Crime Act introduced an exception from the classification for airsoft guns as firearms, so long as they meet certain criteria. Airsoft guns, regardless of how they are powered, are not considered firearms if they are designed to fire a spherical plastic missile that is no bigger than 8mm in diameter and they have a muzzle energy that is no greater than 1.3 joules if they can fire successive shots or 2.5 joules if they can only fire individual shots. So, 1.3 joules for auto-fire airsoft guns and 2.5 joules for single shot or semi-auto airsoft guns.
Mandatory 5 year prison sentence for Section 5 firearms possession.
Possession of a Section 5 Firearm without correct documentation comes with a mandatory 5 year prison sentence. If you’re not careful with your upgrades, you could be upgrading your airsoft gun into a Section 5 firearm by simply changing a spring. If you’re in any doubt about your muzzle energy, check out our FPS Calculator to help you keep your airsoft gun within limits. The changes in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 have certainly made significant inroads into clearly defining the safe and responsible use of airsoft guns in the eyes of the law, but there are still more steps to take. There is some ambiguity regarding HPA airsoft guns and GBB airsoft guns, that can easily be made to fire beyond the limit. But at for now, airsoft guns within the criteria will be excepted from the definition of a firearm, giving certainty where we previously did not have it and that, I think we can all agree, is a good thing.