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Anyone know anything about UK air rifle laws?

18 replies

ErrorError · 08/02/2013 00:55

I sadly found my cat dead today, after being missing for 2 days. Fairly close to home so I thought she'd be able to hobble herself home if injured. Was very suspicious, especially the way she was laying, so requested post mortem from vet who confirmed she was shot and killed with an air rifle. Absolutely devastated and shaking with rage that someone could do this for a laugh!

Police are involved and investigating but I doubt there's much they can do without witnesses (though they have the pellet removed from her for evidence.) I was wondering what the laws are about air rifles in the UK. Do people need a license to own etc. As I have noticed some being sold in my area on those buy/sell/swap facebook pages (even though it's apparently against site regulations to sell weapons.) I'm not trying to exact vigilante justice here and take names, just want to make some sense of this awful situation and see what the law can do for my family. That's if the evil sickos are caught! And it won't bring her back. RIP ErrorCat1. Sad x

OP posts:
JaneLane · 08/02/2013 03:12

Sorry I don't know anything about air rifles but couldn't read and run - am so very sorry for your loss. Some people are so heartless.

A google comes up with this, this and this which might answer some of your questions.

Lonecatwithkitten · 08/02/2013 14:09

If it was a pellet it was an air gun rather than an air rifle and the laws are very flakely for them. Vets regulary pull pellets out of all kinds of animals, but particularly cats unfortunately.

Fluffycloudland77 · 08/02/2013 17:30

You don't need a licence for them, or a gun cabinet. I hated having one in the house, very fidly to load but perfect for kids to load.

Dh had one but only shoots clay.

I don't see why they shouldn't be subject to the same laws as shotguns. Especially as you can make them more powerful, illegall but easily done.

I'm so sorry about your cat though, I'd like to boil people like that in oil.

cozietoesie · 08/02/2013 20:20

So very sorry to hear of your bad news, Error.Sad

I have just a feeling that there is some sort of plan on the books for restricting air rifles more than at present. If I find the reference later I'll post it.

mercibucket · 08/02/2013 20:24


So sorry about your cat

mercibucket · 08/02/2013 20:24


So sorry about your cat

deleted203 · 08/02/2013 20:27

DH says this is the current law:-

Following the enactment of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, listed below are the current regulations relating to the purchase, ownership, sale and possession of airguns and ammunition.

Persons under the age of 14:

  1. No person under the age of 14 may purchase, hire or be given an airgun or ammunition.
  2. A person under the age of 14 must at all times when shooting be supervised by a person over the age of 21.

    Persons over the age of 14 but under 18:
  3. No person under the age of 18 may purchase, hire or be given an airgun or ammunition.
  4. A person in this age group may shoot unsupervised on private land with the permission of the landowner but must be supervised by somebody over the age of 21 if in a public place.
    It should be noted that this means that a person aged seventeen and a half who may have a driving licence cannot take an air rifle from home to his club to shoot unless the gun is possessed by somebody over the age of eighteen or the seventeen and a half-year old is supervised by a person over the age of twenty-one.

    Persons over the age of 18:
    A person over the age of eighteen can buy an airgun and pellets and use them unsupervised.
cozietoesie · 08/02/2013 20:28

Sorry - there are consultation proposals relating to air weapons but they're likely to be Scottish and not English.

\link{\consultation on new proposals for air weapons}

I suppose the only thing is that there might be some following suit from the rest of the UK.

Porkster · 08/02/2013 20:33

So sorry for you, op, how terribly sad and pointless.

Sowornout, I'm interested to read the rules as I have an air rifle obsessed 1; yr old. He shoots targets/tin cans etc in or garden though.

Porkster · 08/02/2013 20:33

God, 14 - not 1!

deleted203 · 08/02/2013 20:40

LOL! I was thinking, 'Shit, she's got some sort of child prodigy! Mine couldn't necessarily walk at that age, never mind fire a gun!'

If he's 14 he can shoot unsupervised on private land with your permission.

(I have a 54 year old DH who is even more obsessed, although with rifles rather than air guns. To be fair to him he used to compete for his country at rifle shooting, so I can sort of accept it).

Porkster · 08/02/2013 20:44

He does shoot in our garden. Relatively unsupervised, if you don't count me peering anxiously out of windows.

Ps he didn't walk until 17 mo!

thixotropic · 08/02/2013 20:45

It is illegal for anyone to use one on land if you dont have the landowners permission. That is the fairly serious offence of armed trespass, before you have even loaded the thing. Also can't be used within 50m (i think, bit rusty) of a public highway.

So they can only be used by someone who falls within the age restrictions above, not near a road (most gardens aren't 50 m from a highway) on land for which the landowner has given (usually written) permission.

In my experience if the landowner gets the slightest whiff that someone they allowed on their land was taking potshots at anything other than whatever it was agreed they could shoot (vermin) they would withdraw permission sharpest.

Chances are the scrote who shot your cat may well be using the gun illegally in some way. Penalty for that can be pretty stiff. Here's hoping they catch them.

thixotropic · 08/02/2013 20:53

You don't need a licence if the power of the gun ls less than 15 foot pounds. You will need a firearm certificate if it is above this, though many guns can have the power increased by turning a screw somewhere on the gun, no lawful owner would risk doing it. Nor would they have any reason to bother.

I think15 foot pounds limit is chosen because will easily kill the things classed as vermin like rats / pigeons at 30 yards which is about the limit of accuracy for an average air rifle, but unlikely to seriously harm bigger creatures or humans unless at close range.

hunton1 · 19/02/2013 23:21

Very sad about the OP's cat. If they've actually recovered a pellet then that's pretty solid evidence, but as they say, pretty much impossible to pin down on anyone without witnesses. Actual airgun shootings are pretty rare. My brother is a vet and he gets any number of cats in that have reportedly been shot. On x-raying, the vast majority (8-9/10) have just got a nasty puncture wound from fighting or some other misadventure. Unfortunately "air gun" is the go-to explanation for people who don't want the expense of x-raying and as such is strongly over-reported (especially if the animal has died). It does happen, but thankfully not as much as people think, or there would be a lot more injured cats.
The mis-diagnoses occur because actually, unless there's internal bleeding or something that needs dealing with, trying to extract a pellet will do more damage then it's worth, so they leave it alone, and don't realise actually there's no pellet anyway, they just sew up the wound and pack them off. Surgeons in major trauma units frequently leave bullets in if it's going to be unneccesarily risky to get out. Same principle - they've done all the harm they're going to!

To deal with a few of the misquotes on airgun law:

"If it was a pellet it was an air gun rather than an air rifle and the laws are very flakely for them. Vets regulary pull pellets out of all kinds of animals, but particularly cats unfortunately."

The what hey?
Air gun is a generic term for an air rifle or air pistol. In technical gunsmithing terms a "gun" is smoothbore, as opposed to a rifle which has a rifled barrel, but there is no such distinction in law regarding airguns - only between rifled cartridge firearms and shotguns.
I think you're mixing up air guns (which shoot pellets, and are deemed firearms, but not required to be licensed), and airsoft type ball-bearing guns which are generally low-powered enough to be classed as toys (although subject to the VCRA if they're realistic) . The distinction is that you can commit firearm offences such as armed trespass with an airgun. You can't with Realistic Imitations (although there are some separate offences for RIFs under the VCRA).

Thixotropic - an air rifle does not require licensing if it's muzzle energy is less than 12ft-lb. 15ft-lb will put you in chokey! For air pistols it's 6ft-lb, and you can't have an overpowered one, because that would be classed as a pistol, which is banned. Almost all air rifles are under 12ft-lb. The only ones over that are specifically tuned up for people with a need - such as pest control in or around a stables or built up area that would normally involve a cartridge rifle, but where in the case at hand, that would be dangerous or too noisy. 12ft-lb is more than enough to take rats, rabbits and small game, so licensed air rifles are pretty rare (and expensive) for very specific use-cases.

The rule on use within 50m of a highway is that it's an offence if it disturbs or alarms road users. That means if you're sat behind a hedge backing onto the road, you're probably fine as far as cars go. It's only a concern if there's a pavement on the other side of the hedge that people might be walking down. You also have to be wary of alarming horses. It's a bit of a stupid rule because it's better to be next to a hedge bordering a road shooting INTO a field than on the far side shooting towards the road! Of course it all depends on the layout of the field - hills, banks, whether you've got a high-seat that allows you to shoot down towards the ground (the planet makes a pretty good backstop).

There is a consultation in Scotland on licensing airguns (they've backed off on a ban after they realised that something like 30% of Scotland's Commonwealth Games medals come from the Scottish shooting team). Simply put it won't work. Unlike the pistol ban in 1997, the Police have no list of who has what. In 1997 if you didn't hand you gun in by the deadline you got a tap on the door. With a sledgehammer.

If they introduce licensing, then if someone chooses not to license their air gun and also chooses not to hand it in during the pre-licensing amnesty, the Police literally will not know unless they do something naughty with it. How could they, unless they do a house to house search on every property in Scotland!? The licensing system will rely entirely on people being honest enough to license their airguns or hand them in. Which means the honest people who aren't a problem will do exactly that, and the dishonest people who are a problem won't. And those guns will swill around in a Scottish black market (also, how do you stop people buying airguns in unlicensed England and taking them north!?!? It's why Alex Salmond's dream of doing his own thing regarding firearms legislation is a media-showboating waste of money).

In England and Wales the problem would be even more pronounced with an estimated 10million air rifles and pistols swilling around the country (one for every other home!). And the Police have absolutely NO idea who owns any of them (bar the few that are already licensed as overpowered).

MrsBeep · 20/02/2013 08:02

This is an awful loss. I'm not having children so cats are like my alternative. I'm so sorry.

ErrorError · 21/02/2013 20:49

Thank you all so much for your replies. Very informative and interesting to digest. A pellet was retrieved from ErrorCat1's stomach, so the evidence is conclusive, but still not caught the culprits. Police have been able to tell us that a few 'youths' were warned about using air rifles in residential areas recently, but they could not say that these were the same individuals who killed my cat. I feel totally powerless, as like I said originally, they can't be prosecuted unless there were witnesses. I highly suspect the rifles were obtained and used illegally, but if they were legal, it still all seems very sketchy to me.

On a personal note, ErrorCat2 is really missing her friend, as are the whole family. It still makes me boil with rage to think of what's happened, and even though knowing the above info won't bring her back, it helps me to know as much as possible about the legal aspects so I don't feel quite so useless.

OP posts:
StuffezLaBouche · 22/02/2013 21:11

Whoever did it deserves to have the same done to them. I am so sorry for your loss. What kind of sicko would do that to someone's cat?

Another one who doesn't want babies - if someone did this to my kitten my heart would break.

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