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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.

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Call to Arms

If you are particularly active within the airsoft community, you may have already been made aware of and indeed read through the recently publish paper from The Law Commission, entitled “FIREARMS LAW: A SCOPING CONSULTATION PAPER”.

In short, the paper has been published to solicit responses from invested parties regarding the reformation of the current UK Firearms law and it is encouraging at this point to see that Airsoft activities have made it into consideration already.  This is undoubtedly due to the work of Frank Bothamley and Dan Collins of UKARA, names you may already be familiar with who are mentioned in the acknowledgements.

Once comments and responses have been collated, they will be put forward to Parliament and will be taken into earnest consideration as part of the formation of new laws. A great many complaints have been voiced about the state of the current UK laws in this area and now is the chance to make your voice heard before it is too late.

Amongst other points, the paper seeks to discover if and what the “Lethality Threshold” of projectiles should be and then and how this would influence the air weapons trade. Questions put forward then go on to consider if Airsoft should be given a specific exemption from these limits.

The document is available to read below in PDF format and  the Law Commission are open for comments regarding the matter up until  21 September 2015.

By email to:


By post to Karl Laird, Criminal Law Team, Law Commission of England & Wales,

1st Floor Tower, 52 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AG.

Tel: 020 3334 3162 / Fax: 020 3334 0201

If you send your comments by post, it would be helpful if, whenever possible, you could also send them electronically (for example, on CD or by email to the above address, in any commonly used format).


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Airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 11 on sale now!

11025213_10152748194117469_7733366682887379518_oCONTENTS – VOLUME 10 ISSUE 11

10-12 – Gallery – Reader’s images from around the globe.

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

16-19 – Viper: Evolved! More new gear from Viper Tactical

20-21 – News – What to look forward to in the world of airsoft.

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 – Electric Eye – How have personal cameras influenced our beautiful game?

38-39 – Tac House Spartan – The Gun Ho team give us the low-down on this CQB site.

42-49 – Kit Up – PMC – We interview a genuine former PMC to find out how to pull off the look!

54-58 – Gear Zone – Get a solid footing with our pick of the best boots for any budget.

61 – Staff Shooters – TM/Guarder Glock 17, Benno’s oldest shooter gets a spin in the limelight.

66-69 – ICS G33 – Futuristic, well priced and perfect for any would-be CQB bandit!

72-77 – Plastic Fantastic – The lightweight, polymer-bodied BO Dynamics SHIELD Lt 5.95 on test.

78-79 – Frenchie’s ideal… GBB – This month Frenchie ponders what would make his ideal GBBR

82-85 – The Ugly Duckling – Socom Gear’s PLR-16 GBB is given a going over.

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  concludes Project Pallas and gives it a field test.

101-107 – Devil’s in the Details – 25 top tech tips that you need to know!

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

Tokyo Marui HK417 Recoil Airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 10

Airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 10 on sale now!

Airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 10 Kit Up For Under £100

Airsoft International DPM L85 Load Out Get started Cheap

airsoft International Volume 10 Issue 10 is ON SALE NOW.

You can buy online here or purchase for you digital device via Pocket Mags!

For a ruin down of what you can find inside, check out below!

10-12 Gallery – Your great images from airsoft games and events around the globe!

14-15 Friendly Fire – The place your custom shooter could win you £500 to spend at Fire Support.

16-17 – Viper: Evolved – Viper Tactical have a new direction and a swathe of amazing new products.

18-21 – News – Monthly updates on the movers and shakers in the airsoft world.

24-25 – Team Scene – Showcase your team, be it a hardcore Mil-Sim group or just a gang of loonies!

28-29 Local Load Outs – Your kit, your rules on these pages. Get involved us and tell us how you play.

32-35 – Hop to it! – Sam Liggat of Kingdom of Airsoft explains to us why the much-vaulted R-Hop is a vital upgrade.

38-39 – Battery Power – An overview of some fantastic new-generation battery technology for you AEGs.

42-51 – Cheap As Chips – Get started in airsoft for just £100, that’s our budget and we are sticking to it!

54-58 – GEAR ZONE – Top tactical treats from Strike Systems, ASG’s nylon brand.

61 – Staff Shooters – Each month we showcase a favourite from the AI Armoury.

66-67 – Tokyo Marui M&P9 V-Custom – A lovely rendition of the fantastic M&P9.

68-69 – Tokyo Marui Hi-Capa E – One of Marui’s most popular gas guns gets the AEP treatment…

72-77 – Tokyo Marui HK417 Recoil – The new big boy on the block, Marui give the 417 the recoil treatment.

78-79 – What Makes the Perfect Gun? – Frenchie asks this vital question this month concerning AEGs.

82-85 – RW Nighthawk GRP Custom – Stop reading, turn to page 82 and make sure you are sitting down.

88-91 – Tried and Tested – As ever we rip through a mass of kit to let you know where to invest.

94-95 – Firing Point – Frenchie lets another barrage off his chest. Find out what this month’s point of contention is.

97-99 – Workshop – Jay has been beavering away on the tools again. New the end is in sight!

101-107 – M870 Takedown – Follow these step-by-step instructions to dismantle your M870.

109 – French Letter – Some closing words from Frenchie to round out another healthy dose of Ai.