This brings us to a more detailed consideration of component parts: another example of the Home Office changing things because previous things haven’t killed off enough dealers and certificate holders. In 1980 R v HUCKLEBRIDGE (Attorney General’s reference number 3) considered two Lee Enfield rifles. One had been smoothbored and left chambered for .303” and the other had been bored out to and re- chambered for .410” musket. Mr Hucklebridge had acquired both as collector’s items on his shot gun certificate. His local police prosecuted him for possession of section 1 firearms without a firearm certificate i.e. ignoring the new proof marks; his jury convicted on the .303 and acquitted on the .410. The Attorney General wanted the Court of Appeal to decide if conversion of the barrel to section 2 shotgun status (as suggested by the acquittal) affected the status of the other ‘component parts’ of the now smoothbored rifle.
The Court of Appeal decided that both guns were smoothbored with barrels more than 24 inches long and thus both met the definition of a shotgun in the Act. The court further decided that all the component parts are a part of the whole. That works fine while the gun is in one piece. The Birmingham Small Arms Company (BSA) made short Lee Enfield rifles for the government before and during WW2. After the war BSA made .410 shotguns, using up their remaining Lee Enfield bolts. So while that bolt is part of the shotgun, it is a section 2 shotgun and bolt, but separately that bolt would be regarded by the police as a component part of a section 1 rifle: which, to be fair, is what BSA made them as in the first place.
The Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 complicated things somewhat. Based on the rejected McKay Report, it reclassified self- loading rifles (other than .22”s) as prohibited weapons, along with various other military kit: anything with a bore of more than 2 inches, any mortars and rocket launchers. The rest of the prohibitions related to police paranoia – repeating shotguns with barrels less than 24 inches long and/or folding shoulder stocks, rotary drum shotguns and pump action rifles. These items tended to be marketed at police forces in America, so their lobbying for these bans was to make the products exclusive to policing: status envy rather than logic.
Mortars were an interesting target for prohibition, being smoothbored muzzle- loaded devices made before 1939 and having no moving parts. Most of then were old enough to be regarded as antiques in their own right and many had been sold to collectors on shot gun certificates. The 2- inch maximum bore for a shotgun introduced in the 1988 Act supported the end to that practice. The ammunition was section 5, but mortars did decorate clubrooms and mess halls etc. ‘Rocket launchers’ included the Projectile Infantry Anti-Tank (PIAT), which has no barrel and wasn’t classified as a firearm at all prior to the 1988 Act. The ammunition was and is section 5, so the odd ones that passed through antique shops were solely curiosities or film props. And finally, the redefinition of a shotgun was drafted to exclude those bored out Lee Enfields Mr Hucklebridge had. Another example of the Home Office hitting out at the law abiding taxpayers they purport to serve as a way of reducing firearms in the hands of the public to an absolute minimum despite the decisions of the courts.
Section 22 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 created a Firearms Consultative Committee to advise the Home Office on firearms matters. The co-opted membership of this committee came from policing, the Forensic Science Service and the gun lobby. Britain didn’t really have a gun lobby prior to 1973. The National Rifle Association, Clay Pigeon Shooting Association and such were governing bodies of their disciplines’ competitions. Public reaction to the 1973 green paper Cmnd 5297 was so broad that the shooting organisations, led by the Wildfowlers Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (WAGBI) formed an ad hoc committee that met in the longroom at Purdey’s in London. Gunsmith Larry WATKINS launched the Shooters’ Rights Association for the public to join and attended committee meetings. After the green paper was rejected, the longroom committee constituted itself as the British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC), and that became the gun lobby. The late Colin Greenwood repeatedly sneered at their efforts in his Guns Review articles.
The Firearms Consultative Committee published its programme of works each year and invited submissions. When the issue of component parts came up, the SRA suggested it should be defined as ‘pressure bearing parts’, which the committee adopted in their third annual report. In arriving at that recommendation, we took account of the deactivation process. Adopted in the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988, the process of deactivating firearms was over a hundred years old at the time. In the 19th century a Scottish immigrant to the United States (Francis Bannerman) bought civil war surplus muskets to recycle the steel barrels. He re-barrelled the muskets with black- painted broom handles and sold these as ‘Quakers’. The British army deactivated rifles and carbines for drill purposes. These are usually marked ‘DP’ boldly stamped on the Knox form and on each side of the shoulder stock. The conversion work to Drill Practice arms usually included shortening the firing pin and a saw cut across the breech where the metal is not covered by the woodwork. The army were only concerned with preventing the weapon being fired: ‘DP’ rifles will often chamber and cycle drill rounds.
Deactivation in the modern British sense arose from the Firearms Act 1982 that addressed the menace of ‘readily convertible replicas’. It was prompted by an incident at the Trooping the Colour ceremony when a starting gun was fired near Her Majesty the Queen, causing her horse to twitch nervously. The actual ‘problem’ on the Home Office desk at the time was one Major Noel CORRY, resident of Steeple Bumpstead on the border of Essex and Suffolk. Major CORRY had been importing Spanish-made flintlock and caplock replica guns, which happened to be perfect in every detail except that the touchhole was not drilled through. Unlike the dummy guns in Cafferata v Wilson back in 1936, these replicas did not come with conversion instructions. Nevertheless, a few were converted to fire and can usually be identified by the touchhole having been drilled too large and too low in the pan. They are usually sans proof marks and have MADE IN SPAIN on them in English.
The 1982 Act made possession of a ‘readily convertible’ replica an offence, but provided a statutory defence for owners; which essentially meant that guilty knowledge had to be proven by the defendant’s attempt to convert the replica. So these exist on walls over the mantelpiece in, if not thousands, at least hundreds of British homes. People only get convicted if they adapt the piece to fire.
Following the 1982 Act, the Forensic Science Service produced guidance as to how to make replicas so that they would not be readily convertible. The gun trade applied that guidance to real firearms, which they then submitted to the Birmingham Proof House. The latter issued a certificate of un- provability, which described the submission as deactivated. The certificate of un- provability had been in use for decades and was usually issued in respect of arms for which proof ammunition was not available. The 1982 Act and its guidelines (revised in 2011) are still in force.
Deactivation was adopted by the government in section 8 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 and guidelines issued the following year. The 1989 guidelines are very similar to the 1983 replica guidance. Barrels had to be slotted and blocked or over-bored, breeches slotted beneath and blocked by cross pins. The standing breech or bolt face cut away, firing pin shortened. There were additional requirements for some weapons – weakening slots in rifle frames, barrels (Sten, Bren, Uzi etc.) barrels had to be fixed to the frame. The guidance was updated in 1995 and many times since.
Taking the 1983 replica firearm guidelines and R v CLARKE (1986) as a starting point and following those clues to the 1989 deactivation guidelines via court cases of our experience, we concluded that pressure bearing parts were the key components. Another clue is in firearms administration: what will a chief constable give a certificate variation for a certificate holder to acquire?
The Firearms Act identifies sound moderators and flash eliminators as firearms in their own right. Chief constables will give a certificate holder authority for a sound moderator to be used with a rifle. We have never seen a variation for a flash eliminator and wonder if the ‘R v Yong’ case kicked off because he asked for one. What purports to be a flash eliminator is common on AR15/M16 type rifles and is mounted on a standard thread – screw it off to fit the sound moderator; which can be bought without a certificate for use on an air rifle. The ‘flash eliminator’ on M16s is actually a muzzle brake. Flash is eliminated by the barrel being long enough to burn all the powder before the bullet clears the muzzle.
The current British L85 rifle has a muzzle flash because the ammunition is loaded for 100% reliability in the longer barrelled Light Support Weapon.
We have no idea what mischief the government sought to prevent by classifying (presumably detachable) flash eliminators as firearms in their own right. We had a case (Blair GRINDLE) where he was convicted of possessing a sound moderator without a certificate – after his chief constable recommended taking it off the certificate to make space for a firearm. It was a token conviction, he being acquitted of numerous other spurious charges. Both sound moderators and flash hiders have reached the High Court in Buckfield (1998) and YONG (2102) respectively.
In R v YONG (2015). Mr Doherty of counsel (Brudenell Chambers) explores the component/accessory conundrum and offers three options: parts that can only be used with a firearm, such as the barrel), mixed use parts that could be used on controlled or uncontrolled items (such as a sound moderator) and bits that were outside the controls altogether (furniture and screws). We mention in passing that the latest deactivation guidelines require any flash eliminator to be fixed to the weapon. The guidance is silent about what to do if the flash eliminator is actually a muzzle brake.
In YONG’s case, the Court of Appeal dismissed a defence proffered by counsel because it had not been raised at the original trial. We thought new evidence was admissible. If one buys an AR15 rifle, it will have a flash eliminator fitted. That is a part of the firearm, but for the purposes of the firearm certificate is not listed separately. All the parts are classified as parts of the rifle (R v HUCKLEBRIDGE 1980). If one takes it off to fit the sound moderator, it is still part of the rifle – the sound moderator will be listed separately on the certificate. Dr Yong’s problem was that he had no firearm certificate at all, so the parts had to be viewed in isolation.
The Firearms Consultative Committee’s 1992 recommendation in their third annual report) was revisited in the ninth annual report. Their second review initially dismisses the idea of including the firing pin as a component part, as a panel pin easily replaces it. However, their sub-committee included it in their proposed list at annex C. It would be 2017 before the law was amended to include clarification of component parts and the interpretations section 57 of the Firearms Act 1968 now states:
(1) In this Act, the expression “firearm” means—
(a) A lethal barrelled weapon (see subsection (1B));
(b) A prohibited weapon;
(c) A relevant component part in relation to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon (see subsection (1D));
(d) An accessory to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon where the accessory is designed or adapted to diminish the noise or flash caused by firing the weapon;
And so much of section 1 of this Act as excludes any description of firearm from the category of firearms to which that section applies shall be construed as also excluding component parts of, and accessories to, firearms of that description.
In subsection (1)(a), “lethal barrelled weapon” means a barrelled weapon of any description from which a shot, bullet or other missile, with kinetic energy of more than one joule at the muzzle of the weapon, can be discharged.
(1C) Subsection (1) is subject to section 57A (exception for airsoft guns).
For the purposes of subsection (1)(c), each of the following items is a relevant component part in relation to a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon—
(a) A barrel, chamber or cylinder,
(b) A frame, body or receiver,
(c) A breech block, bolt or other mechanism for containing the pressure of discharge at the rear of a chamber,
But only where the item is capable of being used as a part of a lethal barrelled weapon or a prohibited weapon.]
(This text is lifted from the Firearms Act 1968 at
Politics and international considerations enter the subject for our consideration. The UK government’s ‘problems’ with firearms legislation stem mainly from its permanent civil service and police implementing the policies of the unpublished McKay report, which conflicts with the law as we know it in many respects. Other European countries control differing aspects of firearms ownership, having reached their respective positions through their experiences in the twentieth century. A few examples:
In America, as mentioned in the Firearms Consultative Committee third report from 1992, the frame (or lower receiver) is the controlled part – and that has the serial number on it. All the other parts, pressure bearing or otherwise, can be bought freely in the US, except where local laws prevent that. So the Chinese company Norinco made good quality refurbishment kits for American military rifles. The one we saw was for the M14 and contained everything except the receiver. The British company Sterling made similar kits for their products.
A few years ago, the Americans started panicking about 3D printers, as one could (in theory) print a lower receiver for an M16 and buy all the other bits. We thought it was an overblown issue, as the receiver on an M16 is not pressure bearing and can be hand-made out of wood, cast in resin, assembled out of Meccano or 3D printed. The M16 itself doesn’t use the receiver as a receiver, as the bolt locks to the barrel. One can load a round into an M16 barrel, lock the bolt in and fire it without any of the other parts. The M16 ‘receiver’ performs the same function as barrel bands on a Lee Enfield – it’s to hold the thing together.
However, these differences between regulatory systems are being used by criminals and terrorists: the Kalashnikov rifles used in the Paris attacks in 2016 were bought as deactivated wall-hangers in Latvia and then repaired with pressure-bearing replacement parts sourced mail order from the USA. Or so we are told. Britain’s criminals have Makarov pistols that are freely sold in Europe designed to discharge CS gas cartridges or paint. Bad people somewhere re-barrel them to 9mm short (the ammunition can be bought over the counter in Europe, as it’s not military) and they sell in the UK, gun and 16 cartridges, for £2,000 if the last court case we dealt with involving one is correct.
Before that, two people in the UK (David MITCHELL and Grant WILKINSON) reactivated MAC10 submachine guns. MITCHELL re-worked 1989 spec deactivated guns and WILKINSON re-worked blank firers made to the 1983 guidance for replicas. Both used industrial equipment for the efforts. An earlier crime wave involved air cartridge revolvers. These Brocock-made guns would chamber .38 Special ammunition, but had a .22” barrel, so someone imported 38/22 chamber adapters from Alaska and sold them on the streets.
And the solution to these bad peoples’ activities by government is to take everything else off everyone else: just in case, or on the off-chance of preventing a crime
The government ‘solution’ has been to widen the definition of component parts in the Policing and Crime Act 2017, clause 125 amended section 57 of the Firearms Act, as quoted above.
1(D) clarifies Dr YONG’s flash hiders as accessories, but makes it clear that he should have had documentation to possess them.
4(b) creates some questions, as yet unresolved. The ‘frame’ on a revolver is pressure bearing, as it includes the breech face. The receiver on a Lee Enfield rifle is pressure bearing, as the bolt locks against it, but the AR15/M16 type is not. We considered this at the War and Peace show in Kent last year. The ‘lower’ on our .22” AR15 (made in Germany by Umarex) was identical to the lower on a Taiwan-made air soft rifle and to an air rifle prototype. While assembled, the receiver is part of the whole and is classified by what the whole is (R v HUCKLEBRIDGE 1980) so a .22” rifle is a section 1 firearm and air soft weapons are specifically exempted from firearms controls.
One of our colleagues makes AR15 lower receivers for crossbows and, with the appropriate RFD and section 5 as necessary could also build air rifles on that chassis: MARS rifles, semi-automatic rifles in any calibre from .22” rimfire to .22” centrefire: selective fire rifles, wall hangers, ‘de-acs’ or a table lamp. The unknown from the new legislation’s wording is how a lower receiver can be classified before it becomes part of anything. At the moment, our best guess is that it can’t be until it’s finished, so it’s nothing; but the act of stripping deactivated parts off a receiver, such as in prelude to repairing the weapon with working parts, may uplift the deactivated part, as a stand- alone part, into the controls and thus the owner into violation of the statute.
The 2017 legislation cited above is clear – all the pressure bearing parts and the chassis that holds them together whether that is pressure bearing or not are component parts. Small parts, including the firing pin, hammers, springs, sears, screws and such remain unregulated. A firing pin by itself looks like a jeweller’s centrepunch and many small parts are not obviously from firearms. Sten gun trigger springs are the same as are used on some clothes pegs and the Sten gun body is a standard industrial mild steel tube for which the main civilian use was car exhaust pipes. It’s going to be a struggle for some people to keep clear of trouble. One film armourer has recently been released from a five-year sentence handed down because the police expert said that his act of restoring a blank firer involved it being, albeit briefly, a section 5 prohibited small firearm during the process. Another example of law enforcement being directed at people trying to comply with the legislation: no public safety implications and nothing in the case that would in any way have an impact on criminals: just another statistic to support a future knee-jerk.
British gunsmith John SLOUGH developed the JSL Spitfire pistol. It was a compact homage to the CZ75, made of stainless steel. Frames and slides were cast by a foundry, machined on a CNC machine centre and then heat-treated by a specialist company. A spring maker made the springs, and various subcontractors made the small parts. John rifled the barrel blank in his own shop, and then sent the blanks out for machining into barrels. He chambered them when they came back. Assembly took place in his shop and firearms completed were listed in the register at the end of each day’s work and packed ready to go to the proof house the next day. None of the chief constables in whose areas the work took place wanted any of the subcontractors registered as firearms dealers, as none actually possessed a completed part. The slides had the breech face completed by the CNC Company before heat treatment, but the locking lugs were made by spark erosion in John’s shop before final assembly, for example. John was uncomfortable about his subcontractors handling major parts without being registered, so the compromise position was that each company registered in order to have a complete sealed pattern reference pistol on hand. None of them kept a register of what they made, as serial numbers weren’t impressed on the major parts until final assembly in John’s shop.
The Indian Question – in India
Clause 31 of sub-rule 1 of rule 2 of the Arms Rules 2015 states that ‘manufacturing means making, producing or assembling a firearm’.
Sub clause (ii) is the particular concern: “a pressure bearing part or a component of a firearm (e.g. barrel, slide, cylinder, bolt, breech lock, firing pin etc.) These parts (excluding the firing pin and etc.)are identified in clause 125 of the British Policing and Crime Act 2017 as components: the slide is not named, but is encompassed by ‘other mechanism for containing the discharge at the rear of the chamber’.
Clause 37 says that “parts and components” means any element or replacement element specifically designed for a firearm and essential to its operation and includes...” the list is all the pressure bearing parts and sound moderators: so the same as in the UK. The only anomalies between the British and Indian positions are ‘firing pin’ and ‘etc.’
So when is a firing pin not a firing pin? On some firearms, it’s part of the hammer; either part of the casting (Colt single action revolver) or pinned to the hammer (Webley revolvers). In Ruger revolvers it’s in the frame and the hammer hits a transfer bar and in all the Colt/Browning pistols, it looks like a jeweller’s punch. Ballpoint pen manufacturers subsequently copied the Browning firing pin and coil spring assembly for their products, which are, therefore, firing pins except that they are also pens.
Turning to ‘etc.’ in the Indian list of parts – “sear, extractor, ejector, trigger and hammer”: these items are named in annex C of the FCC’s 9th report, but weren’t imported into UK legislation. Chief constables would not want to bother with small replacement parts like the firing pin, as that is only replacing a broken one anyway. The trade would want to see authority for the firearm for which its wanted – they’d rather do the work for a fee as well – but that is a convention that has grown up over time. It started with the 1988 Act, following which one had to show a shot gun certificate to acquire cartridges, although no record needed to be kept of the transaction. One also has to show authority to possess appropriate firearms to acquire primers and reloading powders.
Firearms dealers would list none of these small parts as ‘stock’ in the UK. The Firearms Act 1968 only requires registered dealers to record transactions involving firearms and ammunition, as defined. Those pressure bearing parts that are ‘firearms’ in their own right might get into dealer’s registers where they are also going to be written out separately, such as the second cylinder with a Ruger revolver. Sound moderators changed hands in the trade without restriction and only went on a firearm certificate if someone wanted one entered on it. The only flash eliminators we have ever possessed as stand-alone items are those that convert an automatic weapon to blank firing for theatrical purposes and while they look like ‘flash eliminators’ and fit on the weapon where a ‘flash eliminator’ fits, we don’t think they come under the legislation because they don’t fulfil that purpose.
In the UK, only those parts specifically named as components in the 2017 legislation are restricted to authorised persons and by being named, one assumes that chief constables will issue firearm certificate variations to acquire any of those parts in isolation if the applicant has a good reason for making the acquisition. Firearms manufacturers will not enter such parts in their registers, as they would regard them as incomplete until made into something, such as an air rifle or a machine gun and then the complete whole would be registered as manufactured. The trade will record transactions of complete components, such as barrels and now (courtesy of the 2017 Act) complete receivers. The small parts will not feature in transactions in the register: only in invoices for bulk transfers. If a
firearm certificate holder walks into a shop and puts his Colt M1911 on the counter because it needs a new firing pin, the gunsmith will fit it and charge a fee. There is no register entry because, in effect, one pin has been swopped for another. It doesn’t enhance what the owner has (as an extra cylinder would), so is unrecorded.
The essential difference in India is the naming of the firing pin in the list of parts. It’s not pressure bearing, has no serial number and once in the trade its origin is untraceable. Our jeweller uses one as a pin punch. The UK police would say it does not require prior authority on the certificate to get it, whether as a replacement or as an extra spare. HM Customs would want to see an import licence to let a packet of them into the UK.
Maybe that’s the next test of the Indian rules: will the appropriate authorities issue authority documents to possess them in isolation, to import or export them? Ω
The VCR Act Explained
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 was one of a series of ‘patches’ the Home Office added to imitation firearms legislation in an attempt to solve problems created by earlier ‘patches’ to the legislation brought upon the statute books as knee-jerk reactions to misunderstood events or simply as imports from other administrations similarly trying to solve a ‘criminal’ problem by dicking around with their tax-payers’ lawful occasions.
The ‘problem’ in 2006 was that the Firearms Acts control the possession and use of firearms. Stuff that looks like firearms isn’t thus controlled: at least, not at the point of acquisition. A Home Office research paper in 1994 studied armed robberies. It was a small sample and somewhat incomplete, but nevertheless anecdotally interesting and food for constructive thought. The sample was of prisoners sentenced to imprisonment for armed robbery in 1992, who were still serving their sentences in 1994 and willing to take part in the study.
One person in the study was a WW2 veteran who used his WW2 revolver to make his point, so leaving him aside as atypical; two prisoners had real firearms and were prepared to use them. The rest had a variety of imitations or just told victims they had something and none of them had anything capable of firing a shot, bullet or missile. The point of interest was that most of the sample came up with their armed robbery plan after coming into possession of the antique/toy/replica/blank-firer/whatever that they used: apart from the ones who just made up the claim that they had a gun or had a sawn-off cucumber in a paper bag.
On reading it in 1994, we immediately imagined bureaucrats somewhere seeing a legislative opportunity in banning something, as that’s what they do, but between 1994 and 2006 the air soft market was left alone and evolved dramatically so by 2006 the urge to ‘do something’ was overpowering.
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 is a weird piece of legislation in that it prohibits transactions involving ‘realistic imitation firearms’: a new category of hitherto unidentified products. It makes a criminal of the seller unless he can be satisfied that the buyer has a defence under the Act. So the buyer has the obligation to show a valid defence to the seller for the transaction to take place. Once it has taken place, the buyer’s obligations are at an end. There are no criteria for possession of ‘realistic imitation firearms’, except for sellers, who have to show that their stock is only for sale to people with a defence under the Act. Without that intention in place, sellers commit various offences as they acquire their stock, such as by importing it.
(b) He modifies an imitation firearm so that it becomes a realistic imitation firearm;
(c) He sells a realistic imitation firearm; or
(d) He brings a realistic imitation firearm into Great Britain or causes one to be brought into Great Britain.
(2) Subsection (1) has effect subject to the defences in section 37.
Section 37 says: Specific defences applying to the offence under s. 36
(1) It shall be a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 36 in respect of any conduct to show that the conduct was for the purpose only of making the imitation firearm in question available for one or more of the purposes specified in subsection (2).
(2) Those purposes are—
(a) The purposes of a museum or gallery;
(b) The purposes of theatrical performances and of rehearsals for such performances;
(c) The production of films (within the meaning of Part 1 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 (c. 48)_see section 5B of that Act);
(d) The production of television programmes (within the meaning of the Communications Act 2003 (c. 21)_see section 405(1) of that Act);
(e) The organisation and holding of historical re-enactments organised and held by persons specified or described for the purposes of this section by regulations made by the Secretary of State;
(f) The purposes of functions that a person has in his capacity as a person in the service of Her Majesty.
(3) It shall also be a defence for a person charged with an offence under section 36 in respect of conduct falling within subsection (1)(d) of that section to show that the conduct—
(a) Was in the course of carrying on any trade or business; and
(b) Was for the purpose of making the imitation firearm in question available to be modified in a way which would result in its ceasing to be a realistic imitation firearm.
(4) For the purposes of this section a person shall be taken to have shown a matter specified in subsection (1) or (3) if—
(a) Sufficient evidence of that matter is adduced to raise an issue with respect to it; and
(b) The contrary is not proved beyond a reasonable doubt.
In 2007, regulations made under the Act appeared, and they clarify how one can tell a defence under the Act from a sack of potatoes, viz:
“Permitted event,” means a commercial event at which firearms or realistic imitation firearms (or both) are offered for sale or displayed;
“insurance” means a contract of insurance or other arrangement made for the purpose of indemnifying a person or persons named in the contract or under the arrangement;
“Permitted activities” means the acting out of military or law enforcement scenarios for the purposes of recreation; and
“Third parties” includes participants in, and spectators of, permitted activities and historical re- enactments (as the case may be) and members of the public.
So the burden of proof is on the buyer and the burden of being satisfied is on the seller. Back in 2006, the SRA was, so far as we know, the only national shooting organisation with a public liability insurance benefit for members that mentioned air soft skirmish specifically on its face: so we think the Home Office cribbed our policy as their template for this legislation, recognising that people who have taken the step of joining an organisation are not going to be impulse buyers.
The air soft importers created a defence scheme of their own in the wake of the legislation: known as the United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) their scheme amounts to centrally registering airsoft skirmish players after they have attended the same site three times in three months. This registration doesn’t include the insurance mentioned in the regulations, but does provide the retailer with a defence in that the registered buyer is a player. The only problem with that is the regulations example historic re-enactment rather than using the generic ‘airsoft skirmish’.
The chief limitation of the UKARA registration system is that airsoft skirmishers are a small minority of the people who may seek to acquire ‘realistic imitation firearms’. Expanding on that is in two parts: firstly, the use of airsoft products is wider than just skirmish – a variant of paintball – as the products might also be used in battle re-enactment, living history displays, movie and theatre productions, not to mention by collectors, target shooters and as a variation of air gun usage.
Beyond that, the 2006 category of ‘realistic imitation firearms’ also includes inert replicas and blank firers, which are outside the terms of reference of UKARA airsoft skirmish sites, pushing wannabe buyers back to demonstrating a good reason for their purchase under the Act and regulations.
SRA officials had discussions about all this at 2017’s War and Peace with retailers, skirmish site organisers and owners. One of the skirmish sites decided to set up a membership organisation of their own to provide air softers with a defence under the legislation and as an alternative to registering them with UKARA. Styled as UKASA – United Kingdom Airsoft Site Association – they affiliated their members to the SRA, as do many other clubs and groups; only to attract the attention of their neighbourhood troll, who claimed in an Internet essay that the SRA’s public policies did not exist. It was probably he who reported UKASA to the Financial Conduct Authority for selling insurance – a bit contradictory since he claimed that the insurance didn’t exist - and eventually the FCA contacted UKASA about it.
Their rather sour-grapes-like conclusion – since membership organisations that have insurance as a benefit of membership don’t come within their terms of reference – was that there was no action for them to take. UKASA sails on and remains an SRA affiliate.
Airsoft popped up again in legislation while this was going on: the Crime and Policing Act 2017 includes a clause which adds clause 57A to the 1968 Act and reads:
“57AException for airsoft guns
(1) An “airsoft gun” is not to be regarded as a
firearm for the purposes of this Act.
(2) An “airsoft gun” is a barrelled weapon of any description which—
(a) Is designed to discharge only a small plastic missile (whether or not it is also capable of discharging any other kind of missile), and
(b) Is not capable of discharging a missile (of any kind) with kinetic energy at the muzzle of the weapon that exceeds the permitted level.
(3) “Small plastic missile” means a missile that—
(a) Is made wholly or partly from plastics, (b) Is spherical, and
(c) Does not exceed 8 millimetres in diameter.
(4) The permitted kinetic energy level is—
(a) In the case of a weapon which is capable of discharging two or more missiles successively without repeated pressure on the trigger, 1.3 joules;
(b) In any other case, 2.5 joules.”
So there you have it. The onus is on you as a buyer to satisfy any seller that he won’t be committing an offence by selling to you and that’s exactly the same as for buying real firearms under any of the common law exemptions. Ω