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Guide to air weapon licensing in Scotland

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2. Definition of an Air Weapon

Section 1 of the 2015 Act sets out the meaning of "air weapon" for the purposes of the licensing regime.

Generally, only air weapons within the meaning of section 1(3)(b) of the 1968 Act are devolved to the Scottish Parliament and are regulated by Part 1 of the 2015 Act. This does not include a weapon which is prohibited under section 5(1) of the 1968 Act or which has been declared specially dangerous by the Secretary of State.

Against this background the definition of air weapons for the purposes of the 2015 Act covers all air weapons with a muzzle energy exceeding 1 joule (0.74 ft/lbs), but not those required to be held on a firearms certificate under the 1968 Act i.e. air rifles or air guns with a muzzle energy exceeding 12ft/lbs (16.27 joules), or 6ft/lbs (8.13 joules) for an air pistol.

The licensing regime also covers the component parts of such air weapons and any accessory designed or adapted to diminish the sound of their discharge.

Exclusions

There are a number of specific exclusions from the licensing regime. These are:

  • Air weapons which are not firearms within the meaning of section 57(1) of the 1968 Act (i.e. those which are not lethal barrelled weapons of any description from which any shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged);
  • Air weapons which are not capable of discharging a missile with a muzzle energy of more than 1 joule;
  • Airsoft guns, within the meaning of section 57A of the 1968 Act.[1]
  • Air weapons designed for use only under water, such as spear guns;

In addition, Part 1 does not regulate ammunition for air weapons – i.e. pellets or other missiles.

Specific examples of the types of weapon which will not, under normal circumstances, fall within the licensing regime are as follows:

  • BB guns are generally designed to fire low energy plastic pellets and are not included in the regime. Some high energy BB guns may, however, be capable of discharging a missile with muzzle energy of more than 1 joule and would therefore fall to be regulated under Part 1 of the 2015 Act. Owners or users should contact Police Scotland for specific advice on such weapons.
  • Paintball guns are generally powered by carbon dioxide and are designed to be used in adventure games. The Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law notes that, in proper and normal use, they are unlikely to cause serious injury. As such, they are not considered to be firearms and do not, therefore, fall within the air weapons licensing regime. Paintball guns owned or used for other purposes, or used to fire non-standard ammunition, may need a certificate – such owners or users should contact Police Scotland for advice.
  • Certain airsoft guns (used for airsoft skirmishing) are not regarded as firearms for the purposes of the 1968 Act. They are fully automatic airsoft guns with a muzzle energy of 1.3 joules or less, and single shot (or semi-automatic) airsoft guns with a muzzle energy of 2.5 joules or less, which discharge airsoft BB 8 m plastic pellets. Airsoft guns with a muzzle energy which exceeds those levels may require a certificate – owners or users should contact Police Scotland for advice.