As of May the 2nd 2017, the latest amendments to the Policing and Crime Act 2017 have been commenced (acting law). The act outlines some important changes to the way that airsoft weapons are classified under the eyes of the law and, as such, it’s very important that airsofters understand these changes to remain safe and legal.
Firstly, a little bit of background. Why have these changes suddenly happened? What was wrong with previous regulations? Back in August 2016, drafts of the new Policing & Crime Bill laid out a new law to set a 1 Joule limit (330fps) at which barrelled devices become defined as air rifles. Airsoft has previously always had home office guidance, allowing RIFs to fire 1.3j (370fps) full auto and 2.5J (520fps) Single Shot (not law, more of an ‘agreement’). However, around the same time an amendment was added to the new bill that would remove all mention of airsoft – essentially ensuring that any RIFs and IFs would need to be limited to 1j (regardless of firing mode) or be classed as a more dangerous weapon, such as an air-rifle and therefore regulated by the fire-arms act.
Due to the hard work and perseverance of many UK airsoft bodies and players, (namely UKAPU, UKARA and ATB, but countless others), this amendment was withdrawn.
However, as of May 2nd 2017, UK airsofters have firm legal limits to their airsoft weapons and full recognition from the UK government that Airsoft is and always will be a legitimate sport and pastime, alongside firearm shooting, paintball and air guns; something that the sport did not have previously.
What is the exemption?
The exemption in the PCA outlines that airsoft guns, regardless of their power source, are not classed as firearms if they are designed to fire a plastic spherical projectile, no larger than 8mm with a muzzle energy no greater than 1.3 joules (full auto capable weapons) or 2.5 joules (single shot weapons).
Overarching the entire PCA is that weapons must not be ‘readily convertible’ into other categories of weapon. Leaving uncertainty for HPA and GBB weapons, read more on this below.
These rules are now law, meaning that they can be relied on during a criminal investigation (something that airsoft did not previously have).
What are the gun limits?
If you’re not familiar with Joules, we suggest that you get familiar. You can read our post about measuring airsoft guns in Joules here.
The rules for guns are relatively simple. A gun capable of firing multiple shots with a single trigger pull (full auto and burst), must fire below 1.3 joules of energy. This is 370fps using a 0.2g BB.
A gun that fires 1 shot per trigger pull has a higher limit of 2.5 joules, or 520fps using 0.2g BBs.
If your guns are within the majority of site’s limits (350fps and 500fps) then there is very little to worry about, you are automatically within the limits.
This does not mean that skirmish sites will start allowing guns to fire at 370fps. The repercussions of firing over the limits are not worth the small gains.
What happens if your gun is over the limits?
If your gun is firing above the specified limits, it is no longer classed as an airsoft weapon. However, what this means in the eyes of the law remains to be seen.
Only the courts will decide what happens to someone who is found to be in breach of these rules. Technically, speaking anyone found in possession of a Section 5 firearm without a license is sentenced to a mandatory 5 years in prison. Not to mention the implication of firing a section 5 firearm at someone else.
No one has publicly been prosecuted (under previous law or current), so this leaves uncertainty as to how they will be treated by the courts.
What about HPA and Gas Weapons?
One of the primary concerns in these new rules is what is known as ‘Readily Convertible Provisions’.
An imitation weapon will be treated as a firearm to which section 1 of the Firearms Act 1968 applies if:
it has the appearance of such a weapon; andit can be readily convertible into a weapon from which a shot, bullet or other missile can be discharged (ss1(1) an 1(2) Firearms Act 1968)."Readily convertible" means "it can be so converted without any special skill on the part of the person converting it and the work involved in converting it does not require equipment or tools other than such as are in common use by persons carrying out works of construction and maintenance in their own homes." (Section 1(6) Firearms Act 1982).
Simply adjusting a HPA regulator, using higher power gas or a quick change spring system will push a RIF above its FPS limits and cause it to be classed as a firearm. Since it can be argued that this can be done without specialist knowledge or tools, there’s a chance that they are automatically considered to be firearms.
Clarification on the law surrounding these specific systems is currently being sought by the UKAPU, until then we have no specific guidance.
In conclusion, providing that your RIFs and IFs come in under the specific Joule limits, you can play and tech without worry. If you suspect that your weapons are over the limits, we suggest that you change the spring inside to bring them within limits as a matter of utmost priority. If you’re not comfortable doing so, contact your local airsoft shop or tech and they will be happy to help.