BB guns look like real guns. They are designed to fire 6mm spherical projectiles (BBs) of different weights using a variety of methods. Spring-action guns usually fire plastic BBs. More powerful BB guns (used in airsoft skirmishing) use compressed gas propellants or batteries and fire lead, steel plated with zinc or copper projectiles.
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 provides details of colour requirements for imitation BB guns which differentiates them from realistic imitation firearms (RIFs).
BB guns can only be held by those over 18. It is an offence to carry an imitation gun in a public place without a legitimate reason. It is an offence to modify an imitation firearm to make it realistic.
See 'Gun Law' pages.
The Office of National Statistics have published data relating to 2015 which demonstrates that over 80% of offences involving imitation firearms involved BB guns or soft air weapons.
Because BB guns look like real guns it can be impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is real or a BB, imitation, airsoft, replica, toy or paintball gun or an airgun*. 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’ or ‘shotguns’ are likely to involve BBs and other non-licensed guns* which look like weapons that fire live ammunition.
*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.