Just as many American children are hoping that Santa Claus leaves them a BB or pellet gun under the Christmas tree, the Government of the United Kingdom is moving forward with plans to deliver a lump of coal to British subjects. According to a press release from the UK’s Home Office, the government has contacted stakeholders as part of a review into the air gun laws in England and Wales.
Making clear that their intent to further restrict air gun ownership in those regions, the review asked stakeholders for their views on:
- the storage and safe-keeping of air weapons, including possible requirements for increased security e.g. trigger locks or locked cabinets
- whether further measures are needed on manufacturing standards to prevent accidental discharge of air weapons or to prevent modification of air weapons post-sale in order to increase their power; and
- evidence from Scotland and Northern Ireland, where air weapons are subject to a licensing regime
In England and Wales, most air long-guns that produce less than 12 ft/lbs of muzzle energy are not considered firearms and ownership is largely unrestricted. Long-guns that produce greater than 12 ft/lbs of muzzle energy are classed as “air rifles,” are considered firearms, and require a certificate. Air pistols that produce greater than 6 ft/lbs of muzzle energy are prohibited. UK law also prohibits “any air rifle, air gun or air pistol which uses, or is designed or adapted for use with, a self-contained gas cartridge system.”
As Home Office documents make clear, it is already illegal for airgun owners to “fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent a person under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorized access to it.” In order to comply, the government agency suggests storing an air gun “in an existing, suitably robust, lockable cupboard,” or using a cord or chain to anchor the firearm to a building.
The Home Office appears interested in making Scotland’s air gun restrictions the law throughout the UK. In 2015, Scotland’s Air Weapons and Licensing Act was enacted. The act covers all air guns that produce muzzle energy greater than 0.74 ft/lbs that do not exceed the 12 or 6 ft/lbs UK-wide thresholds for rifles and pistols.
Under the act, which went into effect at the beginning of 2017, current and prospective air gun owners are required to obtain an air weapon certificate. Applicants must fill out an intrusive form that includes personal medical questions. The application also requires prospective certificate holders to state a “good reason” for owning the gun, detail their storage arrangements, and provide a reference. The application carries a fee of £72.00, or about $96. Even current firearms and shotgun certificate holders are required to obtain an air weapon certificate before they obtain an air gun. The Scottish government’s propaganda materials warn non-compliers that they “may be subject to a fine or, in some cases, imprisonment of up to two years.”
Officials estimated that Scots owned about 500,000 air guns prior to the act. Following the law going into effect about 21,000 air guns were surrendered.
The UK shooting community has expressed concern about the Home Office’s recent interest in airguns. In a message from the British Association for Shooting & Conservation titled “No further airgun restrictions needed,” BASC firearms team manager Paul Dale explained that the organization “will respond in robust terms to this consultation and will be reminding the government that there is already plenty of good law to deal with those who abuse airguns.” Dale also stated, “Our view is that the solution lies in the education of youngsters and their parents and enforcement of existing law.”
Likewise, Liam Stokes of the Countryside Alliance pointed out that the UK has experienced “an enormous fall in air weapon crime over the last 15 years,” and therefore there is “little justification for new and potentially expensive and impractical restrictions.” Stokes went on to note,
The Countryside Alliance will work to ensure the Government recognises the value of air weapons to hundreds of thousands of people who use them for pest control and sport shooting. Air weapons play a vital role in introducing people to accessible, sociable and healthy shooting sports, something the Government should welcome and encourage.
As American gun owners sit down this holiday season to enjoy “A Christmas Story,” or watch the delighted face of a child who just unwrapped their first air rifle, they would do well to take a moment to remember the plight of their British counterparts. Gun owners must be ever vigilant of the insatiable nature of our opponents, as routinely evidenced by increasingly petty conduct of the UK government.