Is it illegal to carry a bb gun in a public place?

17 August 2020

Not reviewed after the date of publication

Question: 

Is it illegal to carry a bb gun/pellet gun in a public place?

If so, does the possession of a bb or pellet gun constitute as an offence of 'possession of a firearm' or 'possession of an imitation firearm'? 

Answer:

Unfortunately we are unable to give a definitive yes or no answer, as 'BB guns' can vary so greatly in their model and design. Ultimately, it is the design and capability of each individual gun, that will determine whether or not an offence is committed / and in particular, which offence has been committed, by the person carrying it in a public place.

We have given a few points that may assist below, but please read the full guidance provided by the CPS on Firearms and Air weapons legislation (see link below). If you are unsure on determining the lawfulness of possession of a certain 'gun', we advise that you seek advice from your firearms department: https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/firearms

A few points to draw from this:

1. Section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968 provides details of the weapons that are subject to prohibition and creates offences for their possession, in public or otherwise.

2. Section 1 of the Firearms Act creates offences in relation to possession of a 'firearm' without a certificate. In section 57 a firearm is defined as:

'(a) a lethal barrelled weapon (see below – as stated in section 57(1B));
(b) a prohibited weapon;
(c) a relevant component part in relation to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon (see subsection (1D));
(d) an accessory to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon where the accessory is designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon;

57(1B) In subsection (1)(a), lethal barrelled weapon means a barrelled weapon of any description from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than one joule at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.'

If a certain 'bb gun' falls within this definition, it would be an offence to possess it without a certificate. There are 'softer types' of BB gun that are on the market, that are usually low powered and designed to fire plastic/aluminium pellets which are not likely to be deemed a 'lethal barrelled weapon' for the purposes of this section.

Please also be aware of the following exceptions:

section 1(3)(b) which provides an exception for an 'air weapon' (a type that doesn't fall within section 1).

section 57A of the Firearms Act 1968 which provides an exception for 'airsoft guns' and describes what an 'airsoft gun' is for the purposes of this Act.

3. Rules 2 and 3 of the Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) Rules 1969 specify what constitutes a 'dangerous air weapon'. Such a weapon is deemed a section 1 firearm, therefore a certificate is required to possess one.

4. The definition of 'imitation firearm' is provided in section 57(4) of the Firearms Act 1968:

'imitation firearm means any thing which has the appearance of being a firearm (other than such a weapon as is mentioned in section 5(1)(b) (weapon designed or adapted to discharge any noxious liquid gas or other thing) of this Act) whether or not it is capable of discharging any shot, bullet or other missile'

For a BB gun to be classed as an imitation firearm, it will need to fall under this definition. D48 on PNLD explores the meaning of imitation firearm in more detail. Possible offences to consider for possession of an imitation firearm are:

Section 16A of the Firearms Act 1968 - possess an imitation firearm with intent to cause fear of violence

Section 19 of the Firearms Act 1968 - possess an imitation firearm in a public place

To read more legislation about this, login to the legal database. 

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