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Air weapons discharge a projectile by means of compressed air or carbon dioxide. Low-powered air weapons are commonly possessed for target shooting and vermin control.


The licensing of air weapons is different across the UK:

Age restrictions

It an offence to sell or gift an air weapon (or ammunition) to a person under 18. It is also an offence to fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent those under the age of 18 from gaining illegal possession of the air weapon.

Whilst people under the age of 18 cannot buy, hire or be gifted an air weapon, they may possess an air weapon under certain circumstances. Under 18s may possess an air weapon if:

  • They are supervised by someone aged 21 or over,
  • They are shooting as a member of an approved target shooting club,
  • They are shooting at a shooting gallery/ rifle range,
  • They are aged 14 or older and are shooting on private premises with the consent of the occupier.


In the year ending March 2019, there were 3,028 recorded crimes involving air weapons in England and Wales, which accounted for just under one third of all crimes involving firearms.

There are no official statistics on attacks on animals using an air weapon, however the RSPCA records around 900 such cases per year, relating to around 1,100 animals.

Since 1 January 2017, Scotland has had a system of licensing air weapons. At the latest count (2014/15), the number of air weapons offences per 100,000 people was around the same rate in Scotland as in England and Wales.

Since 2006-07 the number of recorded air weapons offences fell by three quarters in Scotland (-74%). This was a slightly higher relative decrease than in England and Wales over the same period (-64%).

Government review

The Government announced a review of air weapons regulation in England and Wales on 10 October 2017. The review was commission following a request from a Dr Peter Dean (Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Suffolk), who wrote to the Minister following the death of 13-year-old Benjamin Wragge. Benjamin died after being accidently shot with an air weapon.

The Government said that the review would (amongst other things) consider “evidence from Scotland and Northern Ireland, where air weapons are subject to a licensing regime.”

Animal welfare groups and the families of children who have been accidently shot by air weapons have long supported the introduction of a licensing system for England and Wales. Members of the sport shooting community have opposed the idea. They say a licensing system would create a barrier for prospective sport shooters.

The Government published the findings of their review in November 2020 as part of its consultation on firearms safety. It has decided not to introduce a licensing regime for England and Wales. Instead it is proposing to amend the existing age restrictions for air weapons. It said this represents “targeted action which will address the key risks without introducing additional administration and cost for police forces or air weapon users”.

The Government is proposing to:

  • amend the existing offence of failing to take reasonable precautions to prevent children accessing air weapons. The Government is proposing to clarify that ‘reasonable precautions’ must include locking the air weapon out of sight when not in use and storing the ammunition separately
  • removing an exemption which currently allows children aged over fourteen to use an air weapon on private land unsupervised with the permission of its occupier.

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