Position Statement:

Subject: Air Weapons

Shooting is an elite sport at which Scotland excels, our most successful Commonwealth Games medalist is shooter Alister Allan and many within the shooting world will likely have owned an air weapon (AW) prior to progressing onto responsible gun ownership. It is estimated that there are 500,000 AWs in circulation in Scotland. Despite this high number there has been just 171 offences recorded by the police in 2012-13 (figures have not been published for 2013/14).

Following the Calman Commission the power to legislate on AWs (except ‘specially dangerous’[1] AWs) was devolved to the Scottish Parliament under The Scotland Act 2012. A Scottish Firearms Consultative Panel[2] was tasked by the Government with examining the practicalities of licensing air weapons and in May 2014 the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill was introduced to Parliament. Oral evidence is being heard by the Local Government and Regeneration Committee throughout December 2014. The Bill was introduced on the grounds that there is a need to protect and reassure the public in a way which is proportionate and practicable, only people with a legitimate reason for possessing and using an AW[3] will have access to them in future, and that AWs will be taken out of the hands of those who would use them illegally.

The Association does not agree that the Bill’s terms are proportionate and practicable. It sets the age limit for requiring an Air Weapons Certificate (AWC) at 14 and given that the 2011 Census counted 695,000 people in the 15-24 age group, where potentially the highest number of recreational users of AWs sit, the Association counters that it will place a resource intensive, impracticable bureaucratic burden on Police Scotland. The Bill does not protect the public as officers would have to be removed from the front line to resource its administration. Moreover, the Association does not agree that the legislation will take AWs out of the hands of those who would use them illegally, rather it places a disproportionate censor on our communities to counter what is in fact a marginal misuse. Criminals are unlikely to hand over their AW during an amnesty or apply for a license; they will likely continue to use the AWs that they already have in their possession, which the police have no means of identifying in order that they be seized.

Current Legislation:  

The Firearms Act 1968 provides the following offences:

  • A person cannot fire an AW beyond premises;
  • A person under the age of 18 cannot have with him an AW or ammunition for an AW unless: o under the supervision of a person aged 21 or over;
    • engaged as a member of a rifle club in, or in connection with, target shooting; o using the weapon or ammunition at a shooting gallery where the only firearms used are either AWs or miniature rifles not exceeding .23” calibre;
    • on private premises with the consent of the occupier (if aged 14+).
  • A person cannot make a gift/part with the possession of an AW or ammunition for an AW to a person under the age of 18, except where that person is not prohibited.
  • A person in possession of an AW must take reasonable precautions to prevent anyone under the age of 18 from having the weapon with him, except where that person is not prohibited.

Proposed Legislation

The Bill proposes that it will be an offence for any person:

    • to use, possess, purchase or acquire an AW if that person does not hold an appropriate AWC, except where the person is subject to an exemption;
    • to manufacture, sell, transfer, expose for sale or transfer, repair or test an AW by way of trade or business, or to possess an AW for one of these purposes (except for a Registered Firearms Dealer);
    • to sell or transfer an AW to someone without first confirming[4] that the recipient is entitled to have an AW by: o showing a valid AWC; o demonstrating that an AWC is not required by the recipient; or o by virtue of being a Registered Firearms Dealer.The tests for granting/renewal of AWCs would be broadly similar to those in place for more powerful weapons under S1 Firearms Act 1968 and would last until the applicant turned 18, thereafter they would have to be renewed every 5 years[5]. The Bill allows the police to visit an applicant’s home, or any other place where AWs are to be stored or used, and conduct enquiries before granting or renewing an AWC.


This would be a very heavy administrative burden, as the C/Cons would have to ensure that the applicant:

    • Is fit to be trusted with an AW;
    • Is not prohibited from possessing an AW or other firearm under S21 Firearms Act 1968;
    • Has a good reason to use, possess, purchase or acquire an AW; and
    • Can be permitted to possess an AW without danger to the public safety or to the peace.

Youths under 18 years

Any application made by a young person would have to be countersigned by a parent or guardian.  The AWC would last until that person becomes 18 and would specify the types of shooting permitted, including:

    • Target shooting on suitable private land or at an approved club;
    • Pest control;
    • Protection of crops or livestock; and 
    • Participation in events and competitions.

Every AWC granted would be subject to prescribed mandatory conditions set out by way of subordinate legislation, e.g. the need to keep AWs securely when not in use and the need to inform the C/Cons of any change in circumstances.   The C/Cons would be able to impose further conditions at the time of granting, renewing or varying an AWC and could also vary any of the conditions on an AWC or revoke it at any time.  Failure to comply with any of the conditions attached to an AWC would be an offence and liable, on summary conviction, to a fine not exceeding level 3 on the standard scale (£1000). Police permits could be issued to cover transient situations, e.g. Executor of an estate taking possession of an AW when gathering together a deceased’s property or an auctioneer selling an AW.

Police Permits

Temporary visitor’s permits, lasting no more than 12 months and with mandatory and discretionary conditions attached, could be issued to those wishing to travel to Scotland to shoot AWs.   The C/Cons would have to be satisfied that the visitor:

  • had a good reason;
  • would not present a danger to public safety or the peace; and 
  • was not prohibited from possessing one.

Exemption from AWC’s

  • An individual could borrow, hire, use and possess an AW at an event without holding an AWC e.g. a local gala, fair or highland games air shooting component.

Source Documents:

Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) BillSPICe Briefing for the Public Petitions Committee: PE1485

National Records of Scotland: 2011 Census

ACPO/ACPOS Manual of Guidance on the Police Use of Firearms

Date: December 2014

Date of Next Review: April 2015




[1] Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons)(Scotland) Rules 1969 apply to an air rifle/gun/pistol which (a) is capable of discharging a missile with kinetic energy in excess of 6 ft. lbs. (air pistol) or of 12ft. lbs. (air rifle/air gun) or (b) is disguised as another object. Such AWs are declared to be ‘specially dangerous’. This does not apply to a weapon in (a) above which is designed for use only when submerged in water.

[2] The Panel consists of the Police, COPFS, British Association for Shooting and Conservation, Scottish Target Shooting Federation, Gun Trade Association, British Shooting Sports Council, Scottish Air Rifle and Pistol Association, Gun Control Network, Scottish Community Safety Network, Convention of Scottish Local Authorities and the Scottish Government.

[3] AW defined as one which is capable of producing a kinetic energy between 0.7 and 6 foot pounds in the case of an air pistol, or between 0.7 and 12 foot pounds in the case of an AW other than an air pistol. BB guns, paintball and airsoft guns are exempt from the proposed legislation.

[4] Section 24(2)(c) of the Bill allows a RFD to sell an AW without requiring to see an AW certificate or evidence that an exemption applies, provided that: the AW will be sent out of GB without first coming into the possession of the purchaser; and where the purchaser is an individual, the individual must be aged 18 or over.

[5] Applicants who already hold a firearms or shotgun certificate could apply for a co-terminus AWC, enabling the police to conduct all assessments at the same time. AW clubs would have to be approved by the C/Cons and could be granted co-terminus with that of an existing approved rifle club.