Air weapons discharge a projectile by means of compressed air or carbon dioxide. Low-powered air weapons are commonly possessed for target shooting and for vermin control. There have been long standing concerns about the safe use of air weapons. Members of the sport shooting community argue that the current legislative framework is strong enough to police their use.Jump to full report >>
In the year ending March 2017, there were 3,200 recorded crimes involving air weapons in England and Wales, which accounted for one third of all crimes involving firearms.
The most common type of offence involving an air weapon is criminal damage, followed by violence against the person. In the year 2014/15, 300 offences involving air weapons resulted in injury (10% of the total).
There are no official statistics on attacks on animals using an air weapon, however the RSPCA records around 900 such cases per year, relating to around 1,100 animals.
Since the 1st January 2017, Scotland has had a system of licensing air weapons. At the latest count (2014/15), the number of air weapons offences per 100,000 people, was around the same rate in Scotland as in England and Wales.
Since 2006-07 the number of recorded air weapons offences fell by three quarters in Scotland (-74%). This was a slightly higher relative decrease than in England and Wales over the same period (-64%).
In England and Wales there is no need to acquire a licence to hold an air weapon. There is a separate licensing scheme for air weapons in Scotland. In Northern Ireland air weapons are covered in the licensing scheme that applies to all firearms.
The RSPCA have argued in favour of a licencing scheme for air weapons in England and Wales. They say that air weapons are used to harm and kill pets. The Government are looking at the licensing arrangements in Scotland and Northern Ireland as part of a review on air weapons regulation.
The Government announced a review on 10 October 2017 of air weapons regulation in England and Wales. The announcement came following a request from a Dr Peter Dean (Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Suffolk), who wrote to the Minister following the death of 13-year-old Benjamin Wragge, who was accidently shot with an air weapon.
Commons Briefing papers SN03641
Authors: Jennifer Brown; Georgina Sturge; Alison Pratt