air rifle

There are thought to be around four million air rifles in the UK. We are not concerned here with the legal use of air rifles, but their illegal use: for example the frequent reports of people using air rifles to illegally shoot wildlife in parks (swans seem to be a favourite target) or in their gardens.

A licence is not required to own an air rifle but it’s important to note that the law makes no distinction between air rifles and more powerful guns for which a licence is needed – they are all classed as firearms. This means that the police will respond to calls where an air rifle is being used illegally, and any offence can carry a very heavy penalty.

Note that in Scotland it is an offence to discharge any gun (including an air rifle) in a culpable or reckless manner. This means that it is a crime to shoot without caring about the safety of others.



Let’s help tackle illegal use of air rifles


At what age is it legal to own and use an Air Rifle?

The Crime and Security Act 2010 makes it an offence for a person in possession of an air gun to fail to take “reasonable precautions” to prevent someone under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to it.

It is also illegal to sell an air rifle or ammunition to a person under 18 years of age.

green tickAnyone over 18 years or older:

  • can buy an air rifle and ammunition, and use it wherever they have permission to shoot.

green tickAnyone between 14 – 17 years:

  • can borrow an air rifle and ammunition
  • can use an air rifle, without supervision, on private premises where they have permission

red crossBut a person between 14 – 17 years may NOT:

  • buy or hire an air rifle, or ammunition, or receive one as a gift
  • have an air rifle in a public place unless supervised by somebody aged 21 or over, and has a reasonable excuse to do so (eg on the way to a shooting ground)

green tickA person UNDER 14 years can:

  • use an air rifle under supervision on private premises with permission from the occupier – normally the owner or tenant.
  • Must be supervised by someone who is at least 21 years old

red crossA person UNDER 14 years CANNOT buy, hire or receive an air rifle or its ammunition as a gift, or shoot without adult supervision.

  • Parents or guardians who buy an air rifle for use by someone under 14 must exercise control over it at all times, even in the home or garden.

red crossAny air rifle, air gun or air pistol that uses, or is designed or adapted for use with a self-contained gas cartridge system is prohibited. It is an offence to manufacture, sell, purchase, transfer or acquire such a weapon.


Where can someone shoot with an air-rifle?

Anyone using an air-rifle must have permission from the landowner or person with the sporting rights and must know precisely where the boundaries are.

Going on to private land, or water, without permission is trespassing (a civil offence only), but if someone is carrying an air rifle it becomes armed trespass – whether the gun is loaded or not. Note that an air rifle is treated as loaded if there is a pellet in the breech even if the compression necessary to fire the gun is not present. Armed trespass is a serious criminal offence carrying heavy penalties.


Firing pellets beyond a permitted boundary

It is an offence to fire an air rifle pellet beyond the land where a shooter has permission to shoot, unless the occupier of the neighbouring land has also given permission. An air rifle used in a garden or residential area is therefore being used illegally if pellets are fired in to someone else’s garden without the owner’s permission.

Where someone under 14 is shooting, both the young person and the supervising adult can be prosecuted.


Using an air rifle by a highway

It is against the law, in England and Wales, to fire an air rifle within 50 feet/15 metres of the centre of any highway (a road or track used by a vehicle) if this results in someone being injured, interrupted or endangered .

An offence could be committed, for example, when someone is shooting in their garden close to a road and the pellets ricochet onto the highway.


What can be shot with an air rifle?

Nearly all wild birds and wild mammals are protected in law and it is not legal to shoot them. However those species (both birds and mammals) on the General Licence may be shot (including with an air rifle) but only to protect public health and safety or prevent serious damage to crops.

If you see someone shooting at birds, the shooter must be able to prove that the bird is a risk to public health and safety or is damaging a crop and that all other means of solving the problem have been tried before resorting to shooting.

  • An air rifle used in a garden or residential area to shoot birds is therefore almost certainly being used illegally no matter what species are being targeted.


Transporting airguns

Air rifles must always be transported in securely-fastened cases that do not permit it to be fired whilst in the case. The Anti-Social Behaviour Act, 2003, made it an offence for airgunners between 14 and 18 years of age to transport any airgun to the venues at which they shoot: they must be accompanied and supervised by someone of 21 years or above.

  • It is illegal to have an air rifle loaded or in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse: this restriction applies even when airguns are being carried in securely-fastened gun cases.



  • If you see someone committing a crime with an air rifle – and if it is safe to do so – take as many photographs as you can. Recording the offender’s face is important of course, but their clothing, the bags they’re carrying, the equipment they’re using are all important too.
    Do NOT try to get too close – air rifles are powerful weapons and taking even a few long-distance images is better than being shot at or being attacked and hurt.
  • Note the location as accurately as possible, preferably using a grid reference (free smartphone apps are widely available). If the crime is in an urban area note the address or any other recognisable description of the location.
  • If in the countryside take wide angle photographs of any landmarks (a tree, a distinctive fenceline, a hill) that might help officers relocate the crime scene. Imagine we were trying to find the same site again – what information might we need?
  • Photograph any vehicle registration numbers that are or might be related to the incident. Even if we’re not sure whether the vehicle is involved or not it is legal to record a registration number if we suspect that the vehicle has been or may be used in a crime. The number may well be useful to the authorities in the future and help build up a more complete picture.
  • If possible collect any used pellets. They won’t identify which individual rifle is being used, but an offender may have packs of the same pellets on them (or in their car/at home) and a collected pellet may be be useful evidence.



It is a serious offence to use an air rifle illegally, and the police will respond to any call.

If the crime is taking place or if there is any threat or danger to yourself or anyone else call 999 immediately.

If you wish to report a historic event then call the police on 101, or call Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111


We’ve been assured that our help is welcomed and that if we’re in any doubt that what we’re seeing is the illegal use of an air rifle we should report it anyway. Remember, if what we see ‘feels’ wrong, it probably is!



Page updated August 2014.

Any comments, corrections, additions? Please let us know.


  1. Agnes G.
    April 3, 2016

    I would prefer that we follow the law with air rifle . Cause we should not allow our childs to play wih this . It can cause severe damage and nowadays the air rifles are more advanced and can cause much more damage. The law also differs from region to region.

  2. mark
    November 17, 2014

    My neighbours sons fire an air rifle out of the bedroom window aiming it at the wood pigeons in a tree in there garden. I feed the birds all of them ( pigeons an all) and find this very up setting, can I stop them from doing such a cruel thing, its not sport it is totally unnecessarily

    • admin
      November 18, 2014

      Mark, if the pellets are not contained within the neighbour’s garden (ie the pellets reach land he doesn’t have permission to shoot over) and he has not taken all reasonable steps to remove the pigeons another way, then he is committing a firearms offence and the police should be informed.

  3. ShawJohn
    October 21, 2014

    A family owned building has recently sustained damage from a rapid firing BB type gun; From a range of about 70′, 5 windows, which are approx 8m above ground have been penetrated multiple times.

    This happened whilst I was in the building, directly below the windows, resulting in me being showered in particles of glass.

    A college of mine went outside and actually saw two young men continuing to fire the gun.

    The police where called immediately and a report made.

    An officer attended, and took statements.

    Recently been told that the Police are not going to pursue this as they have got insufficient evidence to identify the shooters after repeated attempts to make contact with the people living in this property have failed…

    Basically they don’t answer the door to the Police!

    We have suffered approximately £250 worth of damage, and almost had personal injury, as a result of illegal use of a firearm, but the Police want to drop the case because no one answers the door!

    What should I do next?

  4. My Best Air Rifle
    September 11, 2014

    This is the best review I have come across and the first to have a honest accurate comparison of this line of air rifles. This from a person that sold his NP prematurely on the NP2 marketing hype

  5. Julie Guy
    September 10, 2014

    We live on a housing estate .Our back garden backs onto the garden of someone who fires his air rifle every evening. The gardens are quite small and our boundaries are marked by 6 feet by 6 feet wooden fence panels.I have noticed some pellet holes in our fence and I am concerned for the safety of our 4 year old Grandchild who spends time playing in our garden. Is our neighbour allowed to do this?

    • admin
      September 11, 2014

      Hi Julie. We’re not police officers, but as we understand the law provided no pellets are entering your garden then your neighbour is within his/her rights to shoot in their garden. However, if there are holes in your fence made by the pellets passing through it into your garden then that is illegal (and very dangerous). The police do take firearm offences very seriously and if you are concerned please consider having an informal chat with them (or Crimestoppers) for advice.

  6. jack
    August 6, 2014

    so can you carry an air gun in a gun bag over a footpath on land I do not have permission to shoot on to get to land I do have permission to control the rodent.

    • admin
      August 6, 2014

      Interesting question Jack. From what we understand, if you are over 18, the gun is not loaded and can not be fired while in the bag, you have a proper reason for carrying the gun in a public place, and the landowner who’s land the footpath you are on doesn’t object then it would seem perhaps that you can. Surely, though, if you are using an airgun to control rodents with permission of a landowner there must be another way to get onto his/her land other than walking across someone else’s land?

      • barrie
        September 1, 2014

        i am currently in the progress of being charged with trespassing with an air rifle. now i have lived on a farm all my life so i am not careless or unsafe when it comes to firearms. i was on a camping trip doing a bit of fishing when 4 police men approached because a park ranger had seen a gun bag. when asked about the gun i showed it to them without any trouble and the air rifle and pellets were still in the gun bag. i am just wondering if u would know if this is going to get me in allot of trouble or not as i am realy worried.

        • admin
          September 1, 2014

          Barrie, we’re not lawyers (or police officers) and you don’t say how old you are, but taking an air rifle onto private land without permission is considered armed trespass whether the gun is loaded or not which is a serious offence. I’m afraid that we’re not in any position to say what might happen (and it would be wrong of us to even guess), but typically first-time offenders tend to be dealt with less severely than someone with previous convictions for a similar crime.

  7. best air rifle
    May 15, 2014

    If i use an air rifle, first i need to know air rifle law – so interesting article i like this thanks.

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