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Wherever you live in the UK or Ireland

P.O. Box 3,


SA43 1BN

01239 698607



The SRA is an unincorporated membership organisation: founded in 1984, the SRA’s interests were and still are the representation and support of members whose legitimate activities are, or may become, the subject of legislative control. That makes us an advice line with a political monitoring department. We look for solutions to members’ firearms related problems. We have intervened directly with police firearms departments as necessary and prepared briefings for lawyers and expert witness evidence when needed. We represent our members’ interests collectively in dealing with government, Parliament and its committees.

The shooting sports have changed in the past forty years. Some firearms types have been banned; new types have been invented and all of them have become of legislative interest to one degree or another. Policy toward the shooting sports has changed, and not for the citizen’s benefit. We guide our members through that minefield with individual advice. We publish a periodic Journal to keep members up to date with events. The association holds a public liability policy to field claims against our members by third parties for losses arising from our members’ negligence while engaged in any of the lawful live ammunition shooting activities; plus battle re-enactment, living history and airsoft skirmish.

The Firearms Act, 1968, identifies a firearm as a lethal barrelled weapon from which any shot, bullet or missile can be discharged. It recognises four ‘classes’ of firearm: the section numbers quoted are from the 1968 Act.

  • Section 1 firearms; held on a firearm certificate, this includes rifles, magazine-fed shotguns and muzzle loaded pistols or revolvers, flare pistols and some cartridge handguns exempted from prohibition.
  • Section 2 shotguns; held on a shot gun certificate and are smoothbored, less than 2 inches in bore diameter, barrels more than 24 inches long and if it’s a magazine repeater, fixed magazine of two-shot capacity and an overall length of more than 40 inches.
  • Section 5 prohibited weapons; held on the authority of the Secretary of State at the Home Office - machine guns and automatic rifles, walking stick and some other shotguns, pistols and revolvers, mortars, rocket launchers and most military ammunition.
  • Exempted from (some) controls: This category includes antiques (section 58(2)) and some low-powered air weapons (section 1(3)(b). No certificate required to possess these in England and Wales; but there may be age limits and other restrictions, such as one needs to be registered as a firearms dealer to sell air guns and the general exemption for possessing antiques no longer extends to people prohibited from possessing firearms by section 21 of the Act. The definition of antiques is in a state of flux following the Policing and Crime Act 2017 coming into force: air weapons are subject to certification in Scotland and Northern Ireland and the question is being considered by the Home Office for England and Wales.

Other ‘firearms’ types are recognised elsewhere in law. The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 recognised deactivated firearms as no longer subject to the controls, only to be overturned by the Policing and Crime Act 2017 declaring them all to be ‘defectively deactivated’ until modified to new specifications. These can still be possessed without restrictions, but can’t change hands without new modifications. The Firearms Act 1982 regulates ‘readily convertible imitation firearms’ – replicas, blank firers etc. These subsequently became known as ‘realistic imitation firearms’ (along with air soft products) by way of the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, and the construction regulations were last updated in 2011. (SI 2011 1754)

Any real, realistic or deactivated firearm can get you caught up in other crime – public order offences relating to scaring someone who sees you with your property in public, that sort of thing. The Forensic Science Service did have a go at including paintball in the mix and secured at least one section 5 ‘prohibited weapon’ conviction before the 2006 legislation settled on excluding paintball because they aren’t ‘realistic’ enough to count as firearms.

Buying and selling the products that aren’t regulated by the 1968 Firearms Act is a mix of controls. You have to be registered as a firearms dealer to sell air weapons by way of trade or business. Defectively deactivated firearms can only be sold to persons outside the EU unless first brought up to the new spec, which devalues what made older spec variants more valuable in the first place.

It is illegal to sell ‘realistic imitation firearms’ unless one of the defences afforded by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 applies. It is not an offence to possess one, nor is it an offence to gift one to someone else, as that’s not a sale. The Act seems deliberately complicated: three defences for vendors are set out in section 37:

  1. An intention to make the Realistic Imitation Firearm available for the purposes of:
  • a museum or gallery;
  • theatrical performances and of rehearsals;
  • the production of films;
  • the production of television programmes;
  • organizing or holding historical re- enactments organized by persons specified by regulations made by the Secretary of State;
  • or functions that a person has in his capacity as a person in the service of Her Majesty.
  1. An intention to make a realistic imitation firearm unrealistic, such as by painting it in one or more of the bright colours (a) specified in the 2007 regulations.
  1. An intention to organise or hold a permitted activity (b) for which public liability insurance is held in relation to liabilities to third parties arising from or in connection with the organization and holding of those activities; or for the purposes of a display at a permitted event (c). The way our legislation is drafted is such that a word or phrase used has its ordinary dictionary meaning unless an interpretation is incorporated into the legislation itself. These interpretations are taken from the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (Realistic Imitation Firearms) Regulations 2007:
  1. The colours are bright versions of: red, orange, yellow, green, pink, purple and blue.
  2. ‘Permitted activity’ means the acting out of military or law enforcement scenarios for the purposes of recreation.
  3. ‘Permitted event’ means a commercial event at which firearms or imitation firearms (or both) are offered for sale or displayed.

It’s worth reiterating ‘bright colours’: real firearms are routinely produced in dull green and other dull colours for camouflage purposes. ‘Blue’ is a traditional oil finish and ‘brown’ was achieved by stabilizing rust. The bright colours that don’t count as bright for imitation firearms are gold and silver. Gold is used as a finish on some real firearms; silver isn’t, but nickel plating looks silver and has been used for over a century as a tropical finish.

So the seller commits an offence under the Act unless the buyer is the right sort of person or entity. Museums and galleries have premises with which to satisfy the vendor of their integrity. So do theatre, film and TV productions. Crown servants have ID cards. All these potential buyers will have letter-headed stationery on which to confirm their orders to the vendor’s satisfaction.

Persons holding or taking part in a permitted event establish their credentials to a vendor, according to the Act, by having appropriate public liability insurance. We don’t know for sure, but back in 2006, SRA membership with public liability insurance as a benefit of membership was already a well-known credential in battle re-enactment and living history circles and had included air soft skirmish as a named activity since the 1990s. An immediate off-the-shelf solution to the ‘problem’ the then violent crime reduction bill sought to address. And that problem was that these various classes of non-firearms were on free sale.

The 2006 legislation introduced the 2007 regulations quoted above and also brought in new age limits, created an offence of supplying imitation firearms to under-18s and paved the way to the 2011 regulations for production of realistic imitation firearms. Vendors then had to satisfy themselves as to the integrity of the buyer – in much the same way as RFDs have to be satisfied that their potential customer is neither drunk nor insane at the time of the transaction – but with the advantage that the documentary evidence to satisfy that objective is easy to determine from the legislation itself.

SRA membership is a broad church. Back in 1984 we were all about live ammunition shooting: antiques and replica collectors didn’t need us for anything, but one member asked us to extend to battle re-enactment because that was his thing during the game closed season. So we did. ‘Living history’ was added because a lot of re-enactment isn’t battles. Its people demonstrating archery, blacksmithing, spinning wool, cookery, camping, jousting etc. in period costume and using tools and weapons contemporary to the costume. Our insurers extended our cover last year so that people who do living history demonstrations for a fee are included - and that is standard now for all members.

Airsoft was added in the 1990s because the 1997 legislation that banned handguns also took CO2 weapons out of the controls, so CO2 repeaters and airsofts were what bereft pistol shooters turned to. Skirmish has its origins in battle re-enactment and by borrowing from paintball has become a recreational activity in its own right; a participant activity rather than a spectator one. So whatever you want to do that’s legal, the SRA can support you.

Richard Law, SRA Secretary since 1985

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