It’s certainly not as simple as popping down to your local shop and picking up an air weapon. There are strict laws which govern their use and ownership.
What’s the legal age? (Over 18s, aged 14-17, under 14)
Much like most things in life, different age ranges are granted access to differing privileges when it comes to air rifle usage. The changes between age groups are subtle, but very important to note and adhere to.
Not at all surprisingly, this is the age bracket which experiences the toughest restrictions on air weapon usage.
Children aged below 14 are allowed to fire air guns, but they must be kept under the strict supervision of a responsible adult at all times. The law states that this guardian must be at least 21 years of age.
You must also have the full permission of the landowner or tenant of the premises you’re shooting on, and they must also be made fully aware a minor will be shooting. It is their duty to forbid an under-14 from plinking if they are not accompanied by someone aged 21 or over.
It is also illegal for someone of this age to buy, hire or receive an air weapon (or ammunition) as a gift.
Children aged 14-17
The regulations are reduced somewhat for children in this age range, with teenagers allowed to borrow an air weapon and ammunition for use.
They are also allowed to fire without the supervision of an adult, but only on private premises with permission to shoot. However, it is still prohibited for someone in this age range to buy, hire, or receive a weapon (or ammunition) as a gift. Ammunition must be purchased by a guardian (aged over 18) and kept in safe storage by that person.
14 to 17-year-olds also can’t carry an air weapon in public unless accompanied by someone aged 21 or over. Even in this instance, they must have a legitimate excuse for carrying it – for example, as a result of being on their way to a field target range.
18 Years and Older
When a teenager reaches 18 years of age all those rules are thrown out the window. While you must naturally still adhere to the basic rules of air rifle use, you’re able to purchase, borrow and hire air weapons and ammunition freely in the eyes of the law.
Firing beyond your boundary and trespassing
If you’re concerned about where you can legally walk and shoot with your rifle, don’t worry. The regulations are somewhat complicated, but if you follow the advice below, you should avoid breaching any of the rules that are put in place to ensure safety.
Firing beyond your bOUNDARY
It is imperative when you’re shooting you never find yourself firing beyond your specified boundary.
This law is incredibly stringent and faces tough penalties if breached. It is the duty of the person most responsible in attendance to guarantee a pellet or BB does not cross over the area of land where you have been granted access.
If a shot does cross over into a neighboring field – and you do not have the permission of this landowner to fire – there is a chance you could be prosecuted.
In this instance, both the responsible adult in attendance, as well as the child will be handed criminal charges.
Trespassing is also taken very seriously by prosecution services, with this particular offense falling into three categories:
- Civil Trespassing – This specifies when someone who is carrying a firearm crosses over onto a property where they have not been granted access to shoot. It is within the rights of the landowner to use substantial force to remove someone from their premises – and anyone, whether a fellow civilian or member of the police, is allowed to help them in the removal process. While this type of trespassing is strictly forbidden, it will only result in a criminal case if the landowner decides to take the matter to a private court of law. The risk of this happening should encourage people to refrain from this practice. This action could incur a £2,500 fine and even a three-year prison sentence.
- Armed Trespassing – Armed trespassing is considerably worse in the eyes of the law than its civil counterpart. In this instance, an intruder is adjudged to have entered a building or area of land (including those covered by a body of water), with a firearm. If there is proven to be no lawful reason for them carrying the weapon inside, then, under section 20 of the Firearms Act of 1968, they are liable to be prosecuted.
- Aggravated Trespassing – The third and final form of trespassing is a little more complicated. This is covered under both section 68 and 69 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994. Firstly, should someone enter a land with the intention of intimidating them or obstructing a lawful activity they are breaching the law, but can’t be prosecuted (section 68). If they are encouraged by the police to leave, but don’t, or return again in a similar vein within the next three months, they are liable to face legal prosecution (section 69).
While the three separate types of trespassing offer very different punishments, you are actively encouraged to avoid breaching all forms of this rule. Remember, civil trespassing does not have to be taken to the courts, but it can be if the landowner feels it’s required.
Where is it illegal to fire an air weapon?
There are several locations which prohibit the use of an air rifles. These are almost entirely restricted to public places.
In England and Wales, it’s illegal to fire an air rifle within 50 feet of a highway system if you end up injuring, endangering or interrupting a user of the carriageway (section 161(2) of the Highways Act of 1980). It is specified in the act that it must be lawfully proven that someone’s path has been interfered with – as in, that they had to make a detour or swerve to avoid damage. Places where this section of the highway act comes into effect include:
Highways – these byroads are incredibly busy, with members of the public, vehicles and on occasion even horses travelling down them. Understandably, firing in this area is discouraged as a result of the potential harm you could do to someone or something.
Carriageways – similarly to highways, these areas comprise of a lot of traffic. Again, they are far too congested an area to be firing an air rifle in.
Rights of Way
The law becomes a little bit more complicated over rights of way. If a private landowner has a public footpath on their land, they are within their rights to fire over that footpath at a target, but must pay attention to people walking through their line of fire. Similarly, members of the public also have the right to walk on the path, but must be wary of someone shooting on their own property. In this instance, both parties have a right to the path and must ensure they do not obstruct each other.
To complicate things further, it becomes classified as trespassing if you shoot in the direction of land that you do not own, and the pellets fall into that area. While this will not see you prosecuted, it does constitute a civil matter and could still see you land in hot water.
This changes dramatically when you are shooting in a public sphere. Firing a weapon over a footpath in a section of land that you do not own when a person is using it, is classified as armed trespassing, and will result in you committing a criminal offence.
This issue can be bypassed if you position two people at opposite ends of the path, who can monitor to see if the area you are shooting across is clear. Unsurprisingly, it is also an offence to shoot in a public place like a street, or anywhere else where there are a large collection of pedestrians walking across your path of fire. This law applies to:
Bridleways – these are areas of land over which the public have the right to walk, as well as ride or lead a horse. Cyclists are also allowed on these through-ways.
Private rights of way – these include both the aforementioned footpaths which are owned by the user of the air weapon, as well as the public paths which everyone can use.