Imitation Firearms

The sale of realistic imitation firearms is banned.

The sale and hire of imitation firearms, which can include some ball bearing (BB) guns and some toy guns, is also tightly controlled and subject to age restrictions.

New laws have been introduced to control the sale of products that look like guns. These are often referred to as replica or imitation firearms, but can include BB guns and toy guns.

Imitation firearms can look so realistic that criminals will use them to commit crime. Even if used innocently, they can cause alarm if seen in public and the user could be confronted by armed Police.

As a result, the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 has been introduced to restrict the manufacture, importation and sale of these products. The requirements came into force on 1st October 2007.

The Act bans the manufacture, importation and sale of realistic imitation firearms and bans the sale of non-realistic imitation firearms (i.e. those that bear a resemblance to a gun) to persons under the age of 18.

1. Ban on the manufacture, importation and sale of realistic imitation firearms.

Realistic imitation firearms are imitation firearms that are so realistic they are indistinguishable, for all practical purposes, from a real firearm.

The ban applies to many imitation guns that are black or metallic, authentic looking and styled on a model or type of real firearm. Most pellet firing guns (in some cases referred to as BB Guns) are viewed as being realistic and as such are subject to the ban. The ban could also apply to certain children's toy guns.

The basic test is to ask the question, “does the imitation gun look like a real firearm?”. If the answer is yes, then the item is likely to be a realistic imitation firearm and its sale, importation and manufacture is outlawed.

Whether an imitation firearm is realistic will depend on its shape, size and colour and should be judged on how it looks at the point of manufacture, importation or sale and not how it might be appear if it were being misused - for example, in the dark and from a distance.

An imitation firearm will still be regarded as realistic even if, on close examination or as a result of attempting to load or fire it, it becomes apparent that it is not a real firearm.

It is an offence for anyone to sell, import or manufacture a realistic imitation firearm. The maximum penalty for breaching the restriction is 6 months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.

What will make an imitation firearm unrealistic?

An imitation firearm will not be regarded as realistic if it is:

  • transparent or bright red, bright orange, bright yellow, bright green, bright pink, bright purple or bright blue in colour; or
  • less than 38mm high and 70mm long; or
  • a copy of a pre-1870 firearm.

How do you ensure imitation firearms you manufacture, import and sell  are not realistic?

It is advisable that the imitation firearm (including children’s toy guns)

  • is coloured as detailed above; or
  • is of such a size as detailed above; or
  • has an appearance which would identify it as having a design pre-dating 1870 e.g. a traditional Western cowboy gun or a 17th Century pirate blunderbuss; or
  • does not have the appearance of a firearm e.g. a futuristic space gun or a super soaker water pistol.

Exemptions to the Ban

There are some situations where a realistic imitation firearm can be manufactured, imported or sold, although these exemptions will not be relevant to most retailers. They are:

1. Making the realistic imitation firearm available for:

  • the purposes of a museum or gallery
  • the purposes or theatrical performances and rehearsals
  • the purposes of film and TV production
  • the organisation and holding of historical re-enactments, where the organiser holds public liability insurance for such events
  • the organisation and holding of the acting out of military or law enforcement scenarios for the purpose of recreation, where the organiser holds public liability insurance for such events. This includes Airsoft skirmishing.
  • Crown servants
  • a commercial event at which firearms or realistic imitation firearms are offered for sale or are displayed i.e. at an arms fair.

2. Importing realistic imitation firearms into Great Britain in the course of a trade or business in order that they can be modified in a way to make them unrealistic.

If as a retailer, manufacturer, importer, or other seller you want to sell realistic imitation firearms, you must be able to show that you can satisfy one of the specified exemptions above.

How to do this will vary from case to case and it is advisable to keep a record of this for each transaction. In some cases you could ask to see, for example, a letter from the commissioning film or television company. In others, for example, if you are an importer, you might want to rely on orders from a supplier to the film industry. For re-enactments, it would be advisable to ask to see any membership card and to check that either the individual or the re-enactment society holds the required insurance. For Airsoft skirmishing, the Association of British Airsoft is putting in place arrangements to allow retailers to check that individual purchasers are members of a genuine skirmishing club or site.

2. Ban on the sale of imitation firearms to people aged under 18

Imitation firearms are items that have the appearance of being a firearm, whether or not they are capable of firing any shot, bullet or other missile.

The ban will apply to imitations of firearms which, whilst not realistic, nevertheless have the appearance of being a firearm and bear a resemblance to a gun. This could include some children's toys, although some toys will look so different from a firearm that they might not be regarded as an imitation at all (for example, a futuristic looking space gun or a super soaker type water pistol).

It is an offence to sell an imitation firearm to anyone under the age of 18. It is also an offence for anyone under 18 to purchase one. The maximum penalty for breaching the restrictions is 6 months imprisonment and/or a £5,000 fine.

Where a toy is considered to be an imitation firearm, the purchase will have to be made by a parent or other person aged 18 or over.

Where an imitation firearm is not realistic (for example, due to it being transparent or bright red / orange / yellow / green / pink / purple / blue in colour or being less than 38mm/70mm in size) it must still only be sold to people aged 18 and over.

In addition, any realistic imitation firearms that are legally sold under one of the exemptions previously listed will still be viewed as an imitation firearm and must, therefore, only be sold to people aged 18 or over.