Airsoft guns and other realistic imitations are weapons of choice in crime

by on 15-05-2023

Realistic imitation guns (RiFs), which include blank firers, air pistols and airsoft weapons, are now the criminal weapons of choice according to the police and ONS. They are cheap, easy to acquire, legal and, above all, they look dangerous. Many of them are actually dangerous too, either because they can be converted to firing real bullets or because they are intrinsically lethal.  

The recent figures are evidence of two trends of particular importance. First, the use of handguns has dramatically reduced over the last 20 years, and second, the use of imitations has been increasing, dramatically, by 22% over the last year. Why has this happened? The answer is legislation.

 Legislation in 1997 following the Dunblane tragedy introduced a ban on handguns, so we have seen the misuse of these weapons decreasing. On the other hand, legislation in 2006, which was intended to ban realistic imitation firearms, allowed specific exemptions for air pistols, airsoft weapons and blank firers. We are now seeing the effect of such exemptions. The chickens have come home to roost! 

The ONS figures are alarming. Unfortunately, there is no clear breakdown of type of weapon within the broad category of ‘Imitation’, but anecdotal evidence indicates that many of them are airsoft weapons, which are legally classified as ‘lethal’ because they fire projectiles of over one joule kinetic energy. 

Airsoft guns are exact replicas of real modern-day military weapons.  They are legally used by ‘skirmishers’ across the country to play mock killing games, often with racist and xenophobic overtones. Now, the evidence is that they and other RiFs are the weapon of choice for criminals. 

Worryingly, the Home Office and police appear to know almost nothing about how the airsoft industry works. It is ‘self-regulated’ by the vested interest body, UKARA (United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association).  We don’t know how big it is, nor what danger it may be to the public.  This needs to change urgently.  

Gill Marshall-Andrews Chair of the Gun Control Network says: 

“These weapons are completely legal and unregulated.  No-one seems to know what’s going on but the fact that imitations of all kinds are now the weapon of choice for criminals should be raising alarm bells. We need a proper analysis of the situation by police and the Home Office and we need it urgently. Some of the games men play with these airsoft weapons are racist and degrading. The weapons are frequently more than one joule in power, which means they are officially classified as ‘lethal’, so why aren’t they subject to the same restrictions as other lethal or imitation guns. This loophole in the law needs to be closed. Public safety should take a higher priority than game playing”.   


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