So you want to buy an airsoft gun…it should be as simple as going into your local retailer or ordering online, right? Unfortunately things are a little bit more complicated than that.
This guide aims to provide a brief run through of the VCRA, the act which restricts the sale (and more) of airsoft ‘imitation firearms’ in the UK. I’m going to break down the aspects within this law that affects Airsoft; and what’s required as a player to buy an airsoft gun.
Before I start, I just want to say this information is freely available in many places as it’s not exactly a new topic! However, there still seems to be a huge amount of misinformation and so I hope this serves to be a good refresher for some, and a resource for others. Let’s get started…
The Violent Crime Reduction Act:
Back in 2006 the government looked at cutting down on crime and disorder and so created the VCRA. Don’t be mistaken by thinking this was an attack on airsoft, the law covers many areas from alcohol to knives, real weapons and even football disorder. Clearly, you are here as an airsofter as such we’re solely interested in sections 36-40, Imitation Firearms.
36-40 of the VCRA sets out the restrictions on manufacturing, importing and the sales of realistic imitation firearms (I will call these RIFs from now on), along with the specific defences against prosecution, what defines an imitation firearm (we call them two-tones, or IFs) along with the age restrictions for purchasing them.
Altogether, these sections are significantly long, therefore I’m going to bring up only the relevant aspects to purchasing.
Firstly, section 36 states that without defence, it’s illegal to purchase an realistic imitation firearm…yup, that’s right. However, as an Airsofter – we have a defence against prosecution (a get out of jail free card). Which isn’t actually found as an activity in Section 37. You can see the list below:
Luckily, Airsoft was given a specific defence clause by means of permitted activities. This comes with specific prerequisites which can be found below.
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. The key elements of these arrangements are:
● new players must play at least 3 (three) times in a period of not less than two months before being offered membership
● membership cards with a photograph and recognised format will be issued for production to retailers
● a central database will be set up for retailers to cross-check a purchaser’s details
● a member’s entry on the database will be deleted if unused for 12 months.
1. The defence for airsoft skirmishing can apply to individual players because their purchase of realistic imitation firearms for this purpose is considered part of the “holding” of a skirmishing event.
Hopefully by now, you understand that is why we have restrictions when purchasing a gun for skirmishing/airsoft. Any player who meets the above requirements will therefore have a form of defence, you just need a method to prove it. Which moves us nicely onto the next point.
Since we now understand the requirements set out by the Home Office to have a legal defence. The keen-eyed among you may have seen that the VCRA states we will have a ‘central database’ for retailers to cross-check – this is your next step to prove your defence.
10 Years ago there was only 1 option, this was UKARA. Nowadays, we have a selection of defences, however the #1 is UKARA and quite honestly I wouldn’t use ANY of the others. In the coming weeks I will be discussing each defence thoroughly and share my thoughts about each one – this post will be updated. Until then, here is a list of a few of the commonly seen defence schemes.
- United Kingdom Airsoft Retail Association (UKARA)
- British Airsoft Club (BAC)
- SWAT PASS
- United Kingdom Airsoft Sites Association (UKASA)
Once you have signed up with your defence register of choice, you should now be able to provide those details to a retailer.
Note: Not all retailers accept every defence and it is entirely at their discretion. You should find that UKARA is pretty much accepted by every retailer both in store or online.
That’s it. Now you know about the VCRA, the requirements for your defence and what options are available for you to prove it. Since this is quite a hot topic I have also answered some of the frequently asked questions which will also be updated frequently.
Commonly Asked Questions:
What about Historical Reenacting? Surely airsoft counts?
The VCRA considers “historical re-enactment” as any presentation or other event held for the purpose of re-enacting an event from the past or of illustrating conduct from a particular time or period in the past. If you’re skirmishing I’d guess that a good 20-40% will be new players, in tracksuit bottoms or two-tone rental equipment. In addition to that, you’re probably not going to be playing a historical themed event but rather Red Vs Blue/armbands.
I see this as more of a loophole which players are classed as a re enactor, while your intent is just simply skirmish. Since the Home Office provided Airsoft a specific defence under permitted activities, I’d conclude that we’re not sitting within historical reenactment for your average skirmish days.
Is this a Licence?
No, No, No! Airsoft isn’t a licenced activity. You’re simply required a gain a form of defence again prosecution for selling RIFs, manufacturing, converting or importing.
Do I need Insurance?
Not as a player – however the site running the skirmish/events requires public liability insurance. This is exactly what UKARA was created to confirm, they cross-reference every site to ensure they’re running with appropriate insurance.
I have my Defence, can I take a RIF everywhere I go?
Absolutely NOT! It’s illegal to have an imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse. Realistically, the only time you should have it on you is going to/from an event or perhaps your local gun-tech. Even then, it shouldn’t be loaded, magazines/batteries should be out and please put it in a sensible case.
Help! My Site has closed, do I still have a defence?
If for some reason your site closes, or their insurance lapses, you will lose your proof of defence immediately. This is because you do not meet the requirements of the VCRA if the business doesn’t exist or they don’t have public liability insurance.
I’m under 18. Can I still get a defence?
Under 18s cannot buy an IF or RIF. However, as a grey area they can be gifted, provided no payment is made. The person gifting the RIF will still need a defence to purchase.
Can I buy a two-tone without defence?
Yes, if you’re over 18 you can buy a Two Tone without any form of defence.
This means I could paint it afterwards without a defence?
Painting a two-tone would legally be classed as converting an Imitation Firearm into a Realistic Imitation Firearm, the only time you should do this is once you have a form of defence and can prove you’re compliant of the VCRA.
What about the Second Hand Sales via the Airsoft Nation Marketplace?
The law doesn’t recognise a different between new and used; therefore these should only sell to someone within the criteria of the VCRA. Unfortunately the community doesn’t have systems in place to perform automated check so you should do your due diligence before selling to any player.
The easiest method is to call their local site and confirm membership status. You (as the seller) could be summoned to court and have to explain yourself if the buyer does something stupid. Make sure you’re comfortable and covered with each sale.
Where can I read about the VCRA & Find Resources?
- You can find everything on the legistation.gov.uk, Section 36 (Imitation Firearms) begins here.
- The Explanatory notes are found here.
- Correspondence which includes the requirements for an airsoft defence can be located here.
- David Weston, chair of UK Airsoft Player Union (UKAPU) assisted proofing this article. Sign up with UKAPU for FREE