Loophole allows Airsoft 'skirmishers' to evade new gun legislation

by Gun Control Network on 02-05-2017


Airsoft guns are exact replicas of real, modern-day military weapons. They fire projectiles, airsoft pellets, that have the potential to cause serious damage to vulnerable parts of the body. If you thought these would be banned under UK gun law, you’d be wrong. They are legally used by ‘skirmishers’ across the country to play mock killing games often with racist and xenophobic overtones. (See pictures from airsoft internet sites below.)

The new Crime and Policing Act 2017 that comes into force on 2 May defines a ‘lethal’ gun as one that discharges a missile with a kinetic energy of more than one joule. Lethal barrelled guns are either subject to licensing or are prohibited under the provisions of The Firearms Act of 1968. That is - unless they are airsoft guns. Airsoft guns are specifically exempt from the legislation and don’t need a licence until they exceed 2.5 joules. They are, therefore, the only potentially lethal guns for which you don’t need a licence.

So why has this happened and does it matter?

In 2006, the Government acted to control realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) through the Violent Crime Reduction Act. One intention of that Act was to prohibit the sale, manufacture and import of realistic imitation guns that were being used in a significant number of crimes precisely because they look identical to real firearms but are far cheaper to purchase. At the last moment, Home Office Minister, Tony McNulty, succumbed to pressure from the gun lobby and inserted an exemption for airsoft guns. This fundamentally undermined the legislation and has done so ever since.

According to information obtained from the Home Office, there are over 50,000 airsoft skirmishers across the country. GCN’s research suggests this is a significant underestimate, and as some skirmishers accumulate personal arsenals of weapons, this adds up to a disturbingly large number of replica military weapons in circulation. Skirmishers are supposed to acquire their weapons from a registered retailer but our evidence suggests that they are freely bought and sold via the internet. They can then be used at one of the 167 official skirmishing sites around the country, although GCN is aware that skirmishing also takes place at many unofficial sites. The official sites are licensed by local authorities but are not monitored by the police or the Home Office, only by the industry’s own body, UKARA (UK Airsoft Retailers Association).

The significance of this loophole is threefold:

First, these weapons are lethal but not licensed.

Second, this is an uncontrolled industry that appears to be growing and is a potential threat to public safety.

Third, the Home Office data on gun crime, published by the Office of National Statistics, underplays the fact that, by their own estimate, over 80% of imitation gun crime is committed with airsoft weapons or BB guns.

The UKARA is a powerful lobby group which still retains the ear of ministers, despite the obvious dangers to the public associated with the easy availability of realistic imitation military weapons.

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

“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 now classified as ‘lethal’ but still do not require a licence, nor are they subject to the same restrictions as other imitation guns. This loophole in the law needs to be closed. Public safety should take a higher priority than game playing”.