Received yesterday ; Bold & highlighted by me...
Thank you for your email. This subject is very complicated; however BASC’s position is clear
The Section 5(1)(ab) prohibition does not include an exception for “air weapons” as defined by Sectin 1(3)(b) of the Firearms Act 1968 i.e. low powered air rifles, airguns and air pistols. Section 5(1)(ab) expressly prohibits “any self-loading or pump-action rifled gun other than one which is chambered for .22 rim-fire cartridges;” As such; it is clear that semi-automatic air “rifles” and “pistols” are caught within this provision under the term “gun”. However care must first be taken in defining each and every air weapon as to how it operates.
I have not seen the mechanism or any expert report in respect of some of the air weapons being talked about. My initial thoughts to contribute to the discussion (these are not fully developed nor intended in any way to be an official position) are that the interpretation of "self loading" is provided by section 25 of the 1988 Firearms (Amendment) Act which states "In this Act Self Loading ......in relation to any weapon mean(s)... that it is designed or adapted so that it is automatically re-loaded..."
It is interesting to review further what constitutes the critical term "loading" or being "loaded". To my mind the term "loaded" is practically used in a number of ways. "Self-Loading" when it is traditionally related to the context of a "self-loading" rifle would most usually refer to the automatic chambering of the round of ammunition. In armed forces terms however, to "load" is simply to place a charged magazine onto the firearm as distinguished from being "made ready" which would be to chamber a round. However this last use of the term "loaded" (i.e. placing a loaded magazine onto a firearm) is certainly not the action being referred to in the normal use of the term "Self-Loading Rifle."
There is of course an interpretation of a loaded air weapon under S.57(6) of the principal Act which for the purposes of the Act states (b) a shot gun or air weapon shall be deemed to be loaded if there is ammunition in the chamber or barrel or in any magazine or other device which is in such a position that the ammunition can be fed into the chamber or barrel by the manual or automatic operation of some part of the gun or weapon.
The above 57(6) interpretation of "loaded" is again not consistent with what is typically understood by the descriptive use of the term "self-loading" in connection with a mechanism.
With regard to true semi-automatic air weapons; Home Office Circular 68 from 1997 says; self-loading air weapons are not caught so long as they conform to the definition in Section 1(3)(b) of the 1968 Firearms Act i.e. they are not ‘specially dangerous’ (they are low powered under 12 ft lbs). The circular has not been revoked and cannot be, it remains public policy and relates to other matters within the Act.
The Crown Prosecution Service web site supports the circulars text as follows: "The Home Office regard self-loading or pump action rifled airguns (including paintball guns) as outside the scope of the Firearms Act,
unless they are sufficiently powerful to fall within the category of a "specially dangerous" air weapon (Archbold 24.8a). Paintball guns could be considered imitation firearms. "
Anybody prosecuted for owning such a firearm can immediately rely on the circular and the CPS website, however it remains to be seen if any law change has been recommended. BASC has recommended to the law commission that the law be amended for semi-automatic air rifles as well as cartridge operated firearms to be expressly allowed in the Act.
We will not be releasing anything further for publication at this time nor entering into any debates on forums.
Senior Firearms Officer
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation
Tel: 01244 573010
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