Naturenet: Guns and Weapons

Guns and Weapons

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Gun law is complex. Be sure to check the law before you take any action. The following are guidelines and advice only and do not specifically state the law.

These paragraphs refer mostly to guns used in unauthorised situations, and do not generally apply to guns used, for example for sporting purposes, by persons authorised by the landowner.

Guns are often encountered by countryside professionals, and are frequently used legally and effectively without problem. Occasionally a landowner will encounter someone using or carrying a weapon which is not authorised. In a public place, such as a country park, this can call for sensitive, quick, action. A good knowledge of the law can help the countryside professional in such cases. The following is derived partly from guidelines produced for staff at an urban country park where unauthorised shooting was a problem.

The law may be thought to be a little complicated but it is designed to make sure that guns can be properly used by people without danger to anyone else, or the environment. Obeying the law will not prevent anyone from enjoying responsible gun ownership, and safe use of the countryside. Countryside professionals are strongly advised to familiarise themselves with these laws if they are likely to be encountering those abusing them - gun users are often very familiar with the law.

Air weapons

Adapted from a leaflet entitled AIRGUN LAW published by the Shooting Sports Trust Ltd; updated to include elements of the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 and the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006.

Airguns in Public Places

Guns powered by compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) are treated in the same way as air weapons, i.e. if they have a muzzle energy less than 12ft lbs for rifles and less than 6ft lbs for pistols no firearms certificate will be required.

It is against the law for anyone to have an airgun in a public place unless they have some proper reason for doing so - for example, it has just been confiscated from an offender. A public place is anywhere where the public are allowed to go, regardless of who owns the land, and even though they may have to pay. Roads, streets, footpaths, canal towpaths, public parks, play areas are all examples of public places. If the general public have some sort of right or permission to be in a particular place, that is a public place and you are not allowed to have an airgun in that place.

It is an offence to fire an airgun within 50 feet of the centre of a public highway, if by doing so you cause any member of the public using that highway to be injured, interrupted or endangered. This applies even if you are on private property adjacent the highway. Public highways include roads, bridleways and public footpaths.

If you go on to any land, including over water and in buildings, without permission you are trespassing. If you have an airgun with you it is classed as 'armed trespass' which is a serious criminal offence even if the gun is not loaded.

It is an offence for a person, other than a registered firearms dealer, by way of trade or business, to sell or transfer an air weapon, expose such a weapon for sale or transfer or have such a weapon in his possession for sale or transfer. All sales will have to be face to face and the buyer must be at least 18 years of age.

Airguns and Young People

These restrictions apply to young people. Two age groups are involved, those aged between 14 and 17 years and those under 14 years. You must be 18 or older in order to purchase air guns and ammunition, but you do not require a firearms licence so long as the power is not greater than the UK legal limit, which is 12 foot pounds of force (12ftlb) for air rifles, and 6 foot pounds (6ftlb) for air pistols.

Persons aged 14 to 17 years

No one under 18 may buy or hire an air rifle, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift.

No one under the age of 18 can have with him/her an air weapon even if it is in a securely fastened gun cover so that it cannot be fired unless they are supervised by someone who is aged at least 21, except::

  1. As part of an approved target shooting club or shooting gallery.
  2. If a young person aged 14 to 17 is on private premises and has the consent of the occupier to have an air weapon with him/her.

In this age group a person can use an airgun on private property where they have a right to be and permission to shoot, without supervision although it is an offence for an unsupervised person aged between 14 and 17 to fire airgun pellets beyond the boundaries of private land on which they have permission to shoot.

Persons under 14 years
If you are under 14 years the restrictions on using an airgun are very strict indeed. All those restrictions which apply to adults and people in the 14 to 17 age group apply to you and there are more. You may not buy or hire an airgun or ammunition and may not even accept an airgun as a gift. If anyone gives or sells an airgun or ammunition to a person under 14 years he commits an offence. Persons who wish to buy an airgun for a person under 14 years must keep control of it at all times and must not allow the child to be in complete control, though he can be allowed to use it under supervision by a person over 21.

If you are under 14 years you can have an airgun and ammunition temporarily in your possession only when supervised by a person over 21 and only then in two special situations:

For all practical purposes a person under the age of 14 years must be supervised by someone over the age of 21 years at all times when he has an airgun in his possession, even within his own home.


It is an offence to fire any weapon within 50 feet of the centre of any roadway, if by doing so you cause a nuisance. This offence could be committed by someone on private property close to a road who used a gun in a way which upset people on the road.

Protection of birds

PidgeonMost birds are completely protected by law. It is sometimes thought that those birds which are often called vermin can be killed at any time by anyone. That is not so. Birds which are often regarded as pests (crows, pigeons, starlings, etc.) may only be killed by what the law calls an 'authorised person', that is the person who owns the land or who has permission to shoot pests. A trespasser or a person who shoots at such a bird in a public place will commit offences against the Firearms Act for having a gun and also against the law on the protection of birds by killing, or even trying to kill, a wild bird when he is not an authorised person.

Other firearms

Any gun is a serious matter. It is normally an offence to have any firearm in a public place, unless safely covered. Even if it is safely stowed any firearm other than an airgun, unless obviously for an innocent purpose, could reasonably be reported to the police by a ranger. Anyone firing any weapon on or over a piece of land without the permission of the landowner is probably guilty of an offence, and should certainly be reported to the police.

Any unauthorised non-airgun should definitely be dealt with by the police. Weapons such as crossbows, bow and arrow, or even large catapults can be just as dangerous. It is also an offence to be in possession of an imitation firearm in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, so if it looks like a gun, assume it probably is one and behave accordingly. If a person is behaving dangerously with any weapon, or seems likely to, call the police and tell them there is an armed person in a public place - they will be quick to help you deal with the situation.

The 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act prohibits handguns as from 1 July 1997. It defines a handgun as "any firearm which either has a barrel less than 30 centimetres in length or is less than 60 centimetres in length overall".

In any case of doubt about any weapon:

The law regarding age and firearms

Information below from Metropolitan Police age restrictions (shotguns and firearms).

Under 14 years old

  • Hold a shotgun certificate.
  • Hold a firearm certificate.
CANNOT (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate): Purchase or hire shotguns until 17 years old OR
Receive a gift of a shotgun until 15 years old.

Under 15 years old

  • Hold a shotgun certificate, and
  • Hold a firearm certificate.
CAN (If authorised by the relevant certificate):
  • Receive a gift of a Section 1 firearm from the age of 14 years old.
CANNOT (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate):
  • Purchase or hire a shotgun until 17 years old.
  • Purchase or hire a firearm until 17 years old.
  • Receive a gift of a shotgun until 15 years old.
  • Possess an assembled shotgun unless:
    • supervised by a person over 21 years old, (preferably a shotgun certificate holder), or
    • the gun is so covered with a securely fastened gun-cover that it cannot be fired.

Under 17 years old

  • Hold a shotgun certificate, and
  • Hold a firearm certificate.
CAN (If authorised by the relevant certificate):
  • Receive a gift of a shotgun from the age of 15 years.
  • Receive a gift of a firearm from the age of 14 years.
  • Possess a shotgun if covered and secured from the age of 15 years.
CANNOT (Even if the holder of a relevant certificate):
  • Purchase or hire shotguns until 17 years old.
  • Purchase or hire firearms until 17 years old.