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Buying your first Airsoft gun in the UK

You could be forgiven for thinking that buying your first airsoft gun would be a simple step. A matter of selecting the one you like best, handing over some cash and taking it home to treasure but unfortunately it’s not quite that easy. Buying your first gun is more complex than it may seem and causes a great deal of confusion amongst new players.

It’s not uncommon for people first exposed to airsoft or airsoft guns to exclaim “is that even legal?!” It’s true, certainly in the UK the majority culture seems to be one that is terrified of anything even remotely shaped like a gun and the incorrect notion that all guns are illegal is rife. That said, one of the most appealing things airsoft holds over your average day playing paintball is that you CAN own a realistic looking replica gun and you can take it home and customise it to your hearts content. It goes without saying that airsoft IS 100% legal when carried out on private premises or at an organised event with the appropriate insurance. It might come as a surprise then to find out that in the strictest interpretation of the law, it’s actually illegal to sell a Realistic Imitation Firearm.

The laws stating that the sale of such items were passed as part of the Violent Crimes Reduction Act 2006. This did not specifically state that airsoft guns where illegal, moreover lumped airsoft guns into the category of RIFs. A RIF is simply anything that could be perceived as a weapon, regardless of its ability to fire any kind of projectile. This could be made from wood, foam or be a functional airsoft gun. As those laws stood, unopposed, they would have meant that all airsoft guns would have needed to have been converted to, or sold as an Imitation Firearm instead, (Notice the omission of the “Realistic”). In practical terms, this would likely have meant the end of airsoft as we know it.
Section 38 defines a “realistic imitation firearm” as “an imitation firearm which has an appearance that is so realistic as to make it indistinguishable, for all practical purposes, from a real firearm”.

To qualify as an IF, a gun must be coloured predominantly in a unrealistic and bright colour. (These specific colours are set in law, the most commonly used are bright red, bright blue, bright green and bright orange.) There is some ambiguity about how this colouring can be applied and in what proportions, but in practical terms, the gun should be less than half black or a realistic colouration and the rest should be visibly an “unrealistic colour”.

Many guns we find imported to the UK are manufactured for the US market. This means they have a bright orange section around the muzzle. There is nothing in UK law pertaining to this and as such, a bright orange muzzle on a gun means absolutely nothing in UK law.

After these laws were proposed, extensive lobbying from the airsoft retail industry bought to light the then niche activity of airsoft in the eyes of the Government and as a result, a defense was established for the sale of Realistic Imitation Firearms.


The word “defense” is used in relation to RIFs and it’s important. There is no “license” to own an airsoft gun although providing you have legitimate reason to use a RIF in a law-abiding manner, under some pre-defined activities, exception can be made.

Due to the manner in which this defense was granted and the disparate and varied circumstances under which a defense is given, the airsoft industry was asked to be “self policing” and as such, there is no centralised scheme or membership system that is fully recognised by authorities across the board.

In order to purchase or sell a RIF from a retailer, you must be able to convince them that you are a legitimate airsofter eligible for a defense under law. How you do this is down to the self-policing policy of the retailer in question.
If a retailer were to take a customers word that they were an airsofter with legitimate intentions for their purchase, and that individual turned out to be lying and wished to use the RIF in illegal activities, it is likely that the retailer would find themselves under the scrutiny of the authorities. As something of an insurance policy, and a manner in which to diligently record their checks and measures, many retailers require players to be part of a number of schemes that record their airsoft activity to an extent where it is possible to demonstrate they believe the person in question to have legitimate use for an airsoft gun.

Memberships and Defenses

There are a number of schemes and clubs in place that allow airsofters to join in order to track their activity and prove their activity within organised airsoft (and therefore a defense in law). None of these schemes are currently recognised as an official or legally endorsed method, however some retailers prefer customers to be members of one or another.

Examples of these schemes and club include:
British Airsoft Club

Being a member of one of these schemes or clubs still does not give you a license as such, because individual retailers may only recognise and feel comfortable with dealing with customers that are members of certain clubs or schemes. This is the individual retailers decision to make and they withhold the right to refuse a sale if they are not satisfied that the customer has a legitimate use for the product. It’s important to check with your preferred retailer to find out which schemes or clubs they recognise and use.

If you are unable to qualify for a defense or unable to convince your chosen retailer of it in a manner that suits their business practice, you may be offered a “two-tone” gun, as outlined above as an IF, if you are over 18. Unless you subsequently qualify for a defense, it is illegal to “manufacture a RIF” by painting or otherwise modifying the gun.
What a defense allows
When you have a defense, you may purchase airsoft guns but that is the extent of what it allows you to do. Under no circumstances, defense or not, are you allowed to brandish or display a RIF in a public place or carry one in public without an adequate bag or box that completely conceals it from public view.

The VCRA and Airsoft

Since October 2007 you can only buy a realistic imitation firearm (one that looks like a real gun) if you meet one of the following conditions:

You must be over 18 years of age to buy either a realistic or an imitation firearm.
You are an airsofter with membership of an insured skirmish site.
You are a member of a properly insured historical re-enactment group or society. – Historical re-enactors also include living history associations such as the military vehicles trust. You will need to prove membership.
You are a film, television or theatre production company. – Think plays, operas, that kind of stuff. You and a buddy with a camcorder do not cut the mustard here. You need to be a genuine, registered film production unit.
You are (or are acting on behalf of) a museum – Refers to a museum that is open to the public – a private collection just for you is not good enough.
You are a Crown Servant in pursuance of your Crown duties – You must have specific relevance to obtaining a RIF such as if you are in the forces or similar and are using it as a training aid.
If you cannot meet any of these criteria, you can still buy an imitation firearm, one who’s principle colour is significantly different to that of a real firearm – i.e. bright green, bright blue etc.

The VCRA 2006 concerns itself with sale, manufacture and import ONLY. If you buy an imitation firearm and either gift it to someone else, or allow them to use it – regardless of their age – you are not contravening the Act. So, a parent can buy a two-tone airsoft gun and give it to their child to use or keep.


Ai Volume 10 Issue 9 On Sale Now!

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 15.39.13CONTENTS – VOLUME 10 ISSUE 9

8-12 – Gallery – Reader’s images from around the globe.

14-17 – The Outer Limits – Tabletop war-gaming and it inexplicable ties with airsoft.

18-20 – New Gear – Hot new news from the airsoft world.

21 – Friendly Fire – Enter your custom gun to win £500

24-25 – Ready Room – Another new team under the spotlight this month.

28-29 – Local Load Outs – Two load outs from different sides of the planet!

32-35 – Lantac – We showcase a UK-based brand you should be up to speed on!

38-39 – Firepower – Find out a little real-steel history about the popular P90

42-49 – Kit Up – All Weather Warrior – How to keep fighting through the winter, and win!

50-51 – Proof of Life – Resurrect your waterproofs with this simple guide!

54-58 – Gear Zone – Load up on Madbull goodies with this sweet selection

61 – Staff Shooters – TM/G&P M14 EBR, a retrospective look at the one that got away.

66-69 – ICS M3 Grease Gun – WW2 replica iron on test.

72-75 – LCT AK AIMS – LCT’s top end AK replica scrutinised!

76-79 – ICS PAR Mk3 – A new licensed AEG from ICS is the first of its kind.

82-85 – Classic Army Arsenal 105 – Revisiting an old favourite in the form of this tactical AK.

88-92 – Tried and Tested – Top gear given a working out by the Ai team. We try before you buy!

94-95 – Firing Point – Frenchie sticks his head above the parapet and gives us what for with this month’s rant.

97-99 – Workshop – Jay continues on with Project Pallas and it’s really starting to come together.

101-107 – Devil’s in the Details – Gas Panic! Fix leaks and keep your gas blaster ticking over this season.

109 – French Letter – Another insight from north of the border from our favourite, shouty Scotsman!

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Airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 8 On Sale!

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 22.03.46Ai Volume 10 Issue 8 is on sale now! Check out your local store or newsagent to pick up a physical copy or click here to buy digitally!

What’s inside this BIGGEST EVER issue…

Page  8-12 – Gallery – Your images from skirmish fields around the world!

Page 14-17 – Skunkworks Interview – Meet the man on a budget, the guy behind the DIY minigun!

Page 18-19 – Friendly Fire – Find out how to win £500 with your customised gun!

Page 20-21 – New Year, New Gear – Find out what some major industry players have planned for you in 2015

Page 24-26 – Ready Room – Teams from around the world form up and show us what they have got!

Page 28-29 – Local Load Outs – Your gear under the spotlight. Show us what you play in!

Page 32-35 – Game Report – The Bolsheviks hit BlueStreak airsoft for some Russian action!

Page 38-39 – Red Dot Evolution – How the ubiquitous red dot sight came to be and how it ended up as it is today.

Page 42-51 – SBS – The Battle of Qala-I-Jangi – A classic load out revisited and re-photographed with some in-depth info in the mission!

Page 54-58 – Viper: Evolved – New gear from Viper Tactical is available for 2015. Brace yourself for some great value!

Page 61 – Staff Shooters – An insight into the AiHQ Armoury and the specimens that lie within!

Page 66-71 – Tokyo Marui M320 – A new 40mm gas system turns the traditional MosCart on its head!

Page 74-75 – ASG Mk23 SOCOM – It’s a silent assassin that’s also great for winter use.

Page 76-79 – KTW Winchester 1873 – Spring powered and totally different to the norm.

Page 82-85 – G&P XM177E1 – A true classic in every sense of the word revisited for another evaluation.

Page 88-92 – Tried & Tested – In-depth insights into new gear and equipment from in and around the airsoft world.

Page 94-95 – Firing Point – Frenchie let’s of a few round towards something that’s been on his mind each month.

Page 97-99 – Project-  Jay plays with the heavy tools and Project Pallas is really starting to form up.

Page 100-106 – Devil Is In The Details: art two of our guide to upgrading your recoil HK416 with a little help from ASG Ultimate.

Page 107 – French Letter – More musings from everyone’s favourite Scotsman, Frenchie!

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Ai Volume 10 Issue 7 on sale now!

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Page 8-12 – Gallery – A great spread of action shots from around the world. – Send them to

Page 14-15 – F&O The Towers – A brief report and a selection of images from the recoil-only event at The Towers

Page 16-17 – WE Airsoft Europe – They might be a new name on the scene but they have been making waves with their Nuprol range

Page 18-19 – Task Force Sparta – We catch up with a SEALs impressionist group based in Spain, Portugal and Gibraltar!

Page 22-23 – The integration of computer technology and firearms progresses and we take a look at an interesting app/mount combo called Inteliscope

Page 24-25 – Firepower – Since we have adopted a Russian theme this month, here’s a brief history of the AK

Page 28-35 – The Old Enemy – Thanks to Ian Stokes and friends, we bring you a guide to going Russian! It’s a welcome change!

Page 38-42 – Stocking Fillers! A heavenly host of great gifts and gadgets to fill your stocking this festive season!

Page 45 – Staff Shooters – The KISS Cannon! Sometimes bare-bones is best and with this gun, less is definitely more.

Page 48-50 – Custom AK – Mick Johnson has been tinkering again and this time he’s come up with a premium performer at a sensible price point.

Page 52-54 – Guns of 2014 – 12 of our favourite guns from the last year, from pistols to rifles these are all outstanding in their field.

Page 56-57 – UAR – APS Urban Assault Rifle. It’s a bit of an ugly duckling but in testing Frenchie warms to its quirks!

Page 58-60 –  Stark Arms S17 Match – A quality custom style CO2 pistol with some delightful extras included. Check it out now!

Page 62-64 – Tried & Tested – This month we have been putting the Helicon Direct Action DUST pack through its paces along with testing the new mesh eye-pro from Nuprol to destruction.

Page 68-69 – What’s the best gun? The age old question that will never be truly answered. It doesn’t stop us pondering the facts though!

Page 70-71 – Never Go Full Auto! – Frenchie mulls over the impact that losing full auto completely would have on how airsoft is played. Would it be better or worse?

Page 74-75 – Project Pallas – Jay’s custom gas gun is really coming together now. Check out the complex work he’s been up to this time round!

Page 77-80 – Pump Up The Jam! – A step by step guide to stripping down a recoil 416 and beefing up it’s power-plant!

Page 82-83 – Gripping Stuff – The humble fore grip is the subject of great contention. We take a look how it evolved through the ages.

Page 86 – French Letter – How your gun defines you! Do you choose your guns or does it choose you?