United Kingdom

Under-18s will be BANNED from shooting air guns without an adult under new plans

Ben Wragge was fatally struck while playing with a group of boys at a friend's house

Teenagers under age 18 will be banned from using air guns without adult supervision, according to new plans. 

A review of laws was launched after Ben Wragge, 13, was killed when his friend accidentally discharged an air rifle as they were playing in a garden in Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, in 2016. 

Now policing minister Kit Malthouse has revealed plans that closes a loophole which allows those aged between 14 and 18 to use the weapons without supervision on private premises. 

Mr Malthouse also outlined a proposal for a new offence that would outlaw failing to lock up air weapons and ammunition separately when not in use in a house with under-18s. 

He said: 'Our gun laws are among the toughest in the world – we are determined to ensure they stay this way to keep the public safe.

'These measures will tighten controls on air weapons and minimise the risk of tragic accidents, which have devastated families in the past. 

'They will also close loopholes in our laws to prevent dangerous weapons falling into the wrong hands and ensure that law-abiding shooters can use their firearms safely.'

A consultation will now see the Home Office work with retailers and industry figures to improve air weapon safety and advice at the point of purchase. 

Ben's mother performed CPR on him, but he died in hospital shortly afterwards on May 1, 2016. A conclusion of accidental death was recorded in Ben's case

Pictured: Tributes left for Ben Wragge who was killed when his friend accidentally discharged an air rifle as they were playing in a garden in Thurston

A firearms safety consultation paper, published today, says that there are 'no official statistics on fatal incidents involving air weapons' other than those relating to air weapon offences recorded by the police. 

But it continues: 'From open source research, we think that there have been at least 25 deaths caused by air weapon shootings in Great Britain since 2005. 

'These include accidental deaths, deliberate selfharm and homicides. 

Now policing minister Kit Malthouse has revealed plans that closes a loophole which allows those aged between 14 and 18 to use the weapons without supervision on private premises

'It appears that 12 of these 25 victims were under the age of 18 and in nine of these 12 cases the person holding the firearm was said to be under the age of 18.'

The paper says that since 2012, the RSPCA has received over one thousand complaints per year about animals being unlawfully shot with air weapons, of which around 400 per year relate to domestic cats. 

The perpetrators are thought to be 'disproportionately young people, with complaints peaking during school holidays'.

Air rifles (stock photo) are exempt from firearms licensing requirements unless they are classified as 'specially dangerous' or are prohibited under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968

The consultation will look for views on how best to increase security around high muzzle energy rifles and how to stop the unlawful manufacture of full rounds. 

Tough new rules for owners of miniature rifle ranges will also be introduced, prohibiting them from buying weapons smaller than .23-inch calibre without informing the police or having a firearms certificate.   

Air guns, air rifles and air pistols are defined as those that expel projectiles with compressed gas, usually air, rather than with an explosion. 

They are exempt from firearms licensing requirements unless they are classified as 'specially dangerous' or are prohibited under section 5 of the Firearms Act 1968. 

The definition of 'specially dangerous' covers air rifles capable of muzzle energy exceeding 12 foot pounds and it is therefore an offence to possess one without a firearm certificate issued by the police.  

It comes after moves to tighten restrictions on antique firearms which saw seven ammunition types removed from the list of antique weapons, meaning as many as 26,000 guns have become illegal without a license. 

The UK's current laws on Air Guns 

According to the Home Office, the laws governing air weapons - which include air rifles and pistols - are as follows:

  • It is an offence to have an air weapon in a public place without a reasonable excuse. It is ultimately for the courts to decide what a reasonable excuse is, however, it might include carrying a weapon to and from a shooting club, or taking a new weapon home from a dealer.
  • It is an offence to trespass with an air weapon.
  • It is an offence to have an air weapon if you are prohibited from possessing a firearm. Anyone sentenced to a term of imprisonment of between three months and three years (including suspended sentences) is prohibited from possessing an air weapon or other firearm or ammunition for five years, while anyone who has been sentenced to three years or more is prohibited for life.
  • It is an offence to fire an air weapon without lawful authority or excuse within 50 feet (15 metres) of the centre of a public road in such a way as to cause a road user to be injured, interrupted or endangered.
  • It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill certain wild animals and birds with an air weapon.
  • It is an offence to intentionally or recklessly kill a pet animal or knowingly cause a pet animal to suffer unnecessarily, which could be committed by shooting at a pet animal.
  • It is an offence to have an air weapon with intent to damage or to destroy property, or to be reckless as to whether property would be damaged or destroyed.
  •  It is an offence to have an air weapon with intent to endanger life.
  • It is an offence for a person in possession of an air weapon to fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent a person under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to it. 
  • It is an offence for a person under the age of 18 to purchase or hire an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon. 
  • It is an offence to sell, let on hire or make a gift of an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon to a person under the age of 18. 
  • It is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to have with them an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon unless: they are under the supervision of a person aged 21 or over; or they are shooting as a member of an approved target shooting club; or they are shooting at a shooting gallery and the only firearms being used are either air weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding .23 inch calibre; or the person is 14 years old or above and is on private premises with the consent of the occupier.
  • It is an offence to part with possession of an air weapon, or ammunition for an air weapon, to a person under the age of 18 except under the special circumstances mentioned immediately above. 
  • It is an offence for any person to use an air weapon for firing a pellet beyond the boundaries of any premises. 
  • It is an offence for a supervising adult to allow a person under the age of 18 to use an air weapon for firing a pellet beyond the boundaries of any premises. 

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