Airsoft guns are realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) capable of discharging 6mm spherical plastic or metal projectiles (BBs) by virtue of a spring/piston or compressed gas. They are exact replicas of prohibited guns and the most dangerous military weapons. They are collected and used in simulated military situations by gun enthusiasts who dress up and act out violent combat warrior fantasies.
Airsoft guns can only be possessed by those over 18 who can prove they are eligible to claim the defence against prosecution provided to those having RIFs for legitimate reasons defined in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It is an offence to carry an airsoft gun in a public place without a legitimate reason. It is an offence to manufacture, bring into or cause to be brought into Great Britain or sell realistic imitation firearms. It is also 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 airsoft guns look exactly like the guns they are designed to represent it is impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is an airsoft, replica, bb, imitation, toy 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 they are categorised as ‘unidentified’. Many press reports which refer to ‘handguns’ or ‘shotguns’ are likely to involve airsoft, imitation, replica, airweapons* and other non-licensed guns which look like handguns or shotguns.
1. AIRSOFT GUNS – FATALITIES
There have been several instances in the United States when an individual carrying an airsoft gun has been shot by police with fatal consequences.
2. AIRSOFT GUNS - VIOLENT CRIME
Airsoft and other non-licensed guns are frequently used to enable crimes including armed robbery, domestic violence, sex crimes, drug related crimes, intimidation, drive-by shootings and vandalism. Victims fear they are about to die and the consequences are traumatic and long lasting. Incidents can require police investigation, hospital treatment, court costs, insurance and repairs. Victims and families endure pain and suffering, time off work, loss of income and disruption to daily life. Airsoft gun crime is paid for by individuals, the community and the taxpayer. (See 5)
3. AIRSOFT GUNS - CRIMINALS BANNED FROM OWNING GUNS CAN STILL BUY AIRSOFT GUNS
Criminals banned by the courts from possessing guns, and those banned from possessing guns by virtue of having served prison sentences who are registered members of an UKARA airsoft skirmishing group, may register with a UK airsoft gun dealer to buy airsoft guns, and may also buy airsoft guns through other outlets as no further background checks are required (See 10. UKARA)
4. AIRSOFT GUNS – MENTAL HEALTH, ALCOHOL AND SUBSTANCE ABUSE
Individuals suffering from mental health issues and those involved in alcohol and drug abuse who are registered members of an UKARA airsoft skirmishing group, may register with a UK airsoft gun dealer to buy airsoft guns, and may also buy airsoft guns through other outlets as no further background checks are required.
5. AIRSOFT GUNS – CRIMINAL DAMAGE, VANDALISM, ANIMAL CRUELTY AND COST TO THE PUBLIC
Incidents of criminal damage, vandalism to public and private buildings and animal cruelty are difficult to investigate and criminal prosecutions are rare. In cases of animal cruelty farmers pet owners and animal charities are faced with considerable veterinary costs. There are financial cost implications for society and for individuals in terms of police time, the judiciary, insurance costs, local authority services, time off work, disruption to daily life, commerce, industry and transport. Airsoft gun crime is paid for by individuals, the community and the taxpayer.
6. AIRSOFT GUNS – CAPABLE OF CONVERSION TO LETHAL FIREARMS
Evidence has emerged from Japan of large numbers of airsoft guns capable of being converted into lethal firearms. We are aware of several shootings and one fatality in Japan involving airsoft guns ‘tricked out’ to fire at a greater kinetic energy.
7. AIRSOFT GUNS – IRRESPONSIBLE STORAGE AND THEFT
Airsoft guns are not subject to any safe storage conditions. They are left in parked cars, sheds, lorries and outhouses by owners and dealers and on airsoft skirmish site premises, where security is inadequate and unregulated, consequently airsoft guns become easy targets for thieves.
8. AIRSOFT SKIRMISHING – RACISM
Muslim leaders have expressed their concerns regarding racist scenarios played out during some skirmishes. Sites recreating Afghanistan-style villages are promoted and images of ‘captives’ in subservient poses wearing traditional Arab headdress and other inappropriate clothing have given offence.
9. AIRSOFT GUNS - SMIRMISIHING - PLANNING PERMISSION
The Airsoft skirmishing industry uses indoor or sprawling outdoor derelict and semi-derelict sites and buildings in countryside terrain to recreate military battle scenarios. These locations are frequently problematic to owners with issues over site security, maintenance costs, asbestos, nuisance complaints, safety and vandalism. This predisposes owners to solve the problems by handing over sites for skirmishing. Planning procedures do not include background checks on site promoters, and Local Authorities grant planning permission/change of use for airsoft skirmishing without due consideration of criminal activity associated with airsoft weapons or wider public safety issues. The Home Office fails to collect data or monitor the number of airsoft skirmish sites in the UK.
10. AIRSOFT GUNS – UNITED KINGDOM AIRSOFT RETAILERS ASSOCIATION (UKARA)
The Violent Crime Reduction Bill 2006 was drafted to include a ban on the manufacture, trade or import of realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) in response to their increasing use in crime. Seven airsoft gun dealers formed the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) intent on protecting their lucrative realistic imitation firearms trade, and a last minute defence using a system of registration and databases was proposed to enable the airsoft industry to continue trading in realistic imitation guns without risk of prosecution.
The proposals included skirmishing sites having public liability insurance and being registered with UKARA, and skirmishers being over 18, having their application forms stamped by a registered site, taking part in three skirmishes with a waiting period of two months from the first skirmish and being registered with an UKARA dealer to buy airsoft guns. Dealers must consult the UKARA database to verify customers buying airsoft guns are eligible to claim the defence. The proposals proved acceptable. Section 363(2)(a) of the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Act contains a defence for airsoft skirmishing activities.
Airsoft guns are frequently sold through forums, websites and magazines. UKARA ‘self-regulates’ the airsoft industry. It is not clear how private trading of imitation realistic firearms is ‘self-regulated.’
See 'Gun Law' pages for details of legislation.