Airsoft in the UK: a short guide

  1. Editor
    This is merely intended to be a guide and an insight into airsoft in the UK. Some of the following information may be wrong, or have changed. If you intend to import or buy an airsoft gun in the UK you should read up on the current laws beforehand. I take no responsibility for anyone acting based on the information in this article.

    What are RIFs and IFs?

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    In the UK, airsoft guns are regulated by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (VCRA) and are separated into two categories: realistic imitation firearms (RIF) and imitation firearms (IF).

    RIFs are defined as the following by the VCRA:

    "(1) In sections 36 and 37 "realistic imitation firearm" means an imitation firearm which
    (a) has an appearance that is so realistic as to make it indistinguishable, for all practical purposes, from a real firearm; and
    (b) is neither a de-activated firearm nor itself an antique."


    For an airsoft gun to be considered to be an IF it must be painted at least 51% one of the following colors:

    - Bright orange
    - Bright yellow
    - Bright green
    - Bright pink
    - Bright purple
    - Bright red
    - Bright blue

    In the USA, nearly all airsoft guns that are sold are considered to be RIFs by the VCRA and therefore may not be bought by just anyone in the UK.

    Can I buy an airsoft gun?

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    As airsoft guns are regulated by the VCRA, it is harder for people to buy RIFs in the UK. The sale of IFs is comparable to that of airsoft guns in the US: as long as you are 18 you can buy one.

    So, for an IF, the answer is: as long as you are 18+, you are allowed to buy an IF.

    (The following is based on my understanding of the VCRA and all the research I've done)

    If you want to buy an RIF, however, you need to fulfill a few more requirements.

    The VCRA allows the purchase of RIFs to those who have a valid defense against it, for example: historical reenactment, the production of films or for display in a museum or gallery. Since 01/10/2007, being an airsoft skirmisher has been allowed as a valid defence to the VCRA. This means that anyone who can prove that they are currently an airsoft skirmisher can purchase an RIF. Nearly the only way to do this is to become a member of your local airsoft site, and to do this you must play at three games at that site in a period of over two months and be over the age of 18. If you've done the above, you have a valid defense against the VCRA and are legally allowed to buy an RIF but unfortunately there's another step - UKARA.

    United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association (UKARA) 'was formed in response to the 2006 Violent Crime Reduction Bill to enable a safe method of selling Realistic Imitation Firearms (RiF's) to the UK Airsoft player market'. Most UK retailers are members of UKARA and so require buyers to be members of UKARA themselves. Although it may seem slightly pointless, it is essentially a line of defense for suppliers and a way for them to easily distinguish between those who are genuine skirmishers and those merely wanting an RIF. Many airsoft sites around the UK are UKARA registered and all you need to do to become UKARA registered is be a member of one of those sites and fill out a registration form.

    Buying on forums is similar to buying from a retailer as most sellers will ask that you have a UKARA in order to make sure that you do infact have a valid defence against the VCRA.

    So, for an RIF, the answer is: as long as you are 18+ and have a UKARA registration/number, you are allowed to buy an RIF.

    The VCRA only covers the sale, importation and manufacturing of RIFs and so if a registered skirmisher were to buy an RIF, he/she would be able to gift it to someone. This should be done with caution as gifting to people other than family or friends could be seen as trying to get around the need for a valid defence to the VCRA.

    Additionally, one of the meanings of 'manufacturing' in the VCRA is converting an IF to an RIF. This means that if you buy an IF you are not allowed to paint it to replicate its real steel counterpart, unless you are UKARA registered.

    Can I import my airsoft guns to the UK?

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    (The following is based on my understanding of the VCRA and all the research I've done)

    Importing is a hotly debated topic in the UK and there are differing opinions on how to go about it. As long as you have a UKARA registration you should be able to either have them sent to your UKARA registered address, or bring them through customs with you.

    When sending a package containing airsoft guns there are a few things you should do to make the process as quick as possible and avoid customs destroying your guns:

    -Write your UKARA number clearly on the front of the package
    -Fill out a 'disclaimer' and declare the contents as 'airsoft toys'
    -Ship guns separate from any bbs

    Most of the time your guns will pass through quickly and without problems but sometimes customs decide to open up packages and check that the guns are actually 'toys' and verify your UKARA number.

    General Information - Prices and fps limits

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    Unfortunately airsoft seems to cost quite a bit more in the UK than in the US. Generally speaking the price of guns and gear will be the same, expect in pounds instead of dollars, for example - a US retailer sells a VFC 416 at $435, a JG M4 S-System at $140 and a KJW P226 at $145. A UK retailer sells the same guns for 339 ($569), 145 ($243) and 100 ($167). Now of course these prices can't be directly compared as they are aimed at a consumer base earning a different currency and a different average salary, but the general idea should be clear.

    The fps limits allowed on sites are much lower on most sites than those allowed on US sites. For the most part, semi-auto and auto aegs and gbbrs are allowed a maximum of 330-350 fps, DMRs 400-450 fps and snipers 500fps - this is of course site dependent.

    Airsoft is an emerging sport in the UK, although popular in Scotland, it is yet to catch on in the way that paintball has. Hopefully it will manage to attain the same heights that it has in the US!

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