Airguns are real guns. They are cheap, accessible to buy on impulse and no background checks are required*.  The power of airguns is measured in muzzle (or kinetic) energy. This is the energy at which the projectile leaves the muzzle of the air weapon. The vast majority of air pistols (muzzle energies of less than 6 foot pounds), and the vast majority of air rifles (muzzle energies of less than 12 foot pounds) are referred to as 'low powered’ and can currently be held without a licence*. 

Th Law Commission Report on Firearms Law - Pressing Problems in December 2015 recommended that a lethal gun be defined as one with a muzzle energy of more than 1 joule (0.74 foot-pounds). If all lethal guns were licensed this would mean that most airguns and Airsoft weapons would be brought into the licensing regime as they have been in Scotland.

Those with greater muzzle energies and those which use a self-contained gas cartridge system can only be held on firearms certificates issued by a police firearms licensing department.

It is an offence to carry an airgun in a public place without good reason.


It is often impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is an airgun, airsoft, replica, bb, imitation, toy or paintball gun.  Victims of armed crime are traumatised and not surprisingly unable to identify the gun being used to assault them.  Media reporting is unreliable and unless guns are fired or recovered and can be authenticated they are categorised as ‘unidentified’. Many press reports which refer to ‘handguns’ are likely to be airguns or other non-licensed imitations which look like handguns.




Thirteen year old Ben Wragg died after being shot with an airgun in Thurston Suffolk on 1st May 2016. Two teenagers were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter and released. No charges have been brought.  


To read about other airgun child and adult fatalities visit our 'Airgun Deaths' page. To read about all airgun incidents see select 'airguns' on the 'Gun Incidents' page.


*The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill was passed by the Scottish Parliament in June 2015 and received the Royal Assent in August 2015. Under the provisions of the Act it will be an offence for a person to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon in Scotland without holding an air weapon certificate.

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