The legality of airsoft may sound complicated, but in practice it is fairly simple. Below is a brief explanation of airsoft and the law in The U.K., which is not exhaustive but highlights the Key points. If you have any questions at all, Bristol Airsoft Shop staff are friendly, knowledgeable and approachable. If you any questions, please contact us on:
Phone: +44 (0)117 2440125.
Airsoft and The Law.
Airsoft replicas are a legal and safe method of providing props for films etc, for training and for re-enactment purposes such as airsoft skirmishing. Airsoft skirmish sites impose velocity restrictions upon airsoft replicas to be used at the site. These limits are normally well below the implied legal maximum. Each site has a chronograph that can measure the velocity of airsoft replicas to ensure that they are under the velocity limit of the site. Responsible Airsoft retailers will also check the velocity of all airsoft replicas they sell to ensure they are within normal site velocity restrictions. This ensures that airsoft is a very safe sport or pass time. The most common injury by far, on an airsoft site is a twisted ankle. However, good quality eye protection must be worn at all times when in an area that potentially has a loaded airsoft replica within it.
Some airsoft replicas are not easily distinguished from their real counterparts and so have to be sold and used in a reasonable manner. To this end there are legal requirements as well as protocols self-imposed by the industry to ensure the responsible retailing and use of airsoft replicas. There are differing interpretations of these, but the core principles are universal.
Most airsoft replicas are similar dimensions and profile to their real counterparts. An imitation firearm (IF) is a replica of the same proportion but has the majority of the externals coloured a bright warning colour to distinguish it from a real firearm. A realistic imitation firearm (RIF) is the same as an imitation firearm but in realistic colours. These are often indistinguishable from a real firearm externally.
We follow what we regard as “best practice” and use the following criteria.
1 - You have to be 18 years or over to purchase an airsoft replica (Law). However, you do not have to be over 18 to use an airsoft replica. (Most airsoft sites will allow children from 11 years old and upwards, as long as they are with a responsible adult.)
2 - to purchase an airsoft replica (realistic or imitation), certain criteria need to met:
(a) - you must be 18 years of age or over.
(b) – (Realistic only) you regularly attend airsoft skirmishes AND belong to an airsoft club that has the minimum of third party liability insurance and permission to use the land.
To check that a player is an active member of an airsoft club or site we utilise the UKARA database. This is a database of players entitled to buy realistic airsoft replicas, and was set up by the industry in order to promote safe and legal use of RIFs. (realistic imitation firearms.) To be added to this data base, a player needs to play 3 games, at the same site, in a period no less than 2 months (i.e. the quickest you can get on the database is 2 months). Once a player has completed this process, they can be added to the database which all UKARA registered retailers can access. This acts as a great tool to establish if a player is entitled to buy a realist replica or not.
There are other ways to verify if a player is entitled to purchase, but the UKARA database is the biggest, most widely used and in our opinion, by far the best way to check that a player is legally entitled to purchase a RIF.
Anyone can give airsoft a try, (children and adults) by purchasing a rental package for a day, at a local skirmish site. For around 30-50 pounds, you will be able hire a good quality airsoft replica, a number of plastic BB’s (more can subsequently be purchased) and eye/face protection.
Airsoft should not be regarded as a dangerous sport provided basic safety protocol is followed. The minimum recommended safety equipment is:
- Good quality impact rated eye protection
- Rugged footwear with good ankle support
It is also recommended that full face protection is worn. In very rare instances teeth have been damaged by an airsoft plastic pellet. Gloves should also be considered as airsoft sites often have brambles or nettles etc.
Film and TV
If the replica is required as a prop for a film, TV or theatrical production, or for use in photography, there is a different verification procedure. The company buying the prop or replica needs to provide company details and a copy of the company’s liability insurance to the retailer, to the point where the retailer is confident that the purchase is taking place for the legitimate reason stated.
Re-enactors can also legally purchase realistic replicas. However, again there are criteria that need to be met. To demonstrate that buyer is legally entitled purchase a RIF, photo ID relevant to the re-enactment society is usually required. The society will also be contacted and asked to provide proof of third party liability insurance and to confirm that the purchaser is currently a member of the re-enactment society/club
"Service to The Crown”.
Airsoft replicas can also be sold to those who can prove that the replica will be used for ‘Service to The Crown”. However, this does not mean that military personnel or law enforcement officers can purchase a RIF as an individual, unless it can be specifically proven that it will be used in ‘Service to The Crown”.
Transport + Storage of Airsoft Replicas
Airsoft replicas are often indistinguishable from real firearms externally. Therefore care must be taken when transporting RIF’s. An airsoft replica must be in closed container and not visible, nor should it be loose in a car boot. It is recommended to be stored in a gun bag or case in transit, with the magazine removed and disconnected from the power supply.
You should have a valid reason for having it with you. For example, you’re on your way to or from an airsoft skirmish; you're taking it to a theatre production where it will be used as a prop etc. When not in transit a replica should be stored at home, out of sight from passers-by, preferably in a cupboard or case, out of reach of unsupervised children. The magazine should always be removed from the replica; ideally with the power source disconnected e.g. battery.
Use of Replicas
Airsoft replicas should only be used on private land with the consent of the owner, normally an airsoft site, theatre, training establishment, or similar. The airsoft pellets should not leave the boundaries of the land as they can be a potential hazard, which should be remembered if shooting in a back garden for example. Common sense should be used, even if you own or have permission to use an airsoft replica on privately owned land. If the area in question, is, in anyway, overlooked e.g. by. Other properties, pavements, footpaths etc. then having airsoft replicas on display or in use should only be considered, if you are certain that there is no chance that an onlooker could conclude that real firearms are possibly being used. In practice, this really only means an established and well sign posted airsoft skirmish site. If an onlooker does mistake the replica for the real thing, there is the possibility that The Police could be called, with potentially serious consequences.
Until relatively recently (2006/7) airsoft replicas were regarded as toys in the eyes of the law. As stated the above is not exhaustive. The above should be enough information, most of which is common sense, to keep you out of trouble. However, if you require more detailed information, the relevant legislation is The VCRA OF 2006 and subsequent amendments in 2007.