Is an Air Rifle Considered a Firearm?

  • Written By Eric Crouch on June 19, 2020
    Last Updated: January 31, 2021

A firearm is considered any weapon that has the capabilities to expel a projectile under force from the action of an explosive. Although air rifles do not use explosives in order to fire their pellets, they are considered firearms or “destructive devices” in most countries.

Some countries are stricter than others when it comes to the use of air guns and laws can vary depending on whether an area is urban or rural. The law can also vary from state to state, and county to county as well.

Disclaimer: Please do your own research and due diligence according to your country / state laws on air rifles! This article is meant to be informational only.

US Regulations on Air Rifles

In the US, an air rifle is not considered a firearm therefore there are not many restrictions on power output, transport, and use. There are however some laws that restrict where you can use the rifle and how you can modify it.

The definition in US law states that a firearm is a weapon that fires a projectile using an explosion. Traditional powder burning firearms fit under this category, but air guns do not because they do not require an explosive action in order to fire the projectile. This means air rifles of any muzzle velocity and muzzle energy can be purchased and traded freely without restrictions.

There are restrictions placed over most states in the US that deny the sale and use of air rifles by minors under 16 or 18 years of age. As well as restrictions on the use of air rifles by minors, some states and cities may have bans on replica air rifles, airsoft guns, pellet guns, and the ways you can use them. You can find out the specific restrictions in place in your state or municipality by contacting your state council. You can find contact details and enquire through the USA government website here .

Under US law it is illegal to install a silencer or muffler to any gun including an air rifle. There is a gray area when it comes to buying air rifles with silencers pre-installed, but the main guideline is if it is removable it is illegal. If the silencer or muffler is fixed to the barrel or the air rifle comes with a baffled barrel to reduce noise output, then this is generally accepted as legal.

US Air Rifle Law Points

  • In the US, an air rifle is NOT considered a firearm
  • An air rifle of any muzzle energy and velocity can be obtained legally without licensing
  • Most US states have restrictions in place preventing the sale and use of air rifles by minors under 16 or 18 (check your local laws)
  • Silencers/ suppressors/ mufflers are illegal unless they are a fixed part of the air rifle and cannot be removed

UK Regulations on Air Rifles

The UK (England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) has different gun laws compared to the US and the legality of an air rifle depends on which part of the UK you are in. In England and Wales, you do not need a license to own an air rifle however in Scotland and Northern Ireland a license must be obtained if you desire to own and use any pellet-firing air-weapon. There are a few other laws in place within the UK that affect the sale, ownership, and use of air rifles that we will cover in this section. These laws and regulations affect each country as a whole and they do not differ from county to county but there are separate restrictions in place inside the cities when it comes to the use of air arms.

In England and Wales, the power limit on any air rifle is restricted to 12Ft/Lbs and pistols at 6Ft/Lbs by law. The ownership of any air gun that produces more power than allowed is banned and considered an illegal firearm. Acquiring an air rifle that produces more than 12Ft/Lbs requires a standard UK rifle license, putting high-powered air rifles in the same class as powder-burning hunting rifles.

It is also now illegal to sell, acquire, or transfer any air weapon that uses a self-contained gas cartridge as a charge source. Existing owners of rifles with a self-contained gas cartridge must now apply for a license to own the gun.

In Scotland and Northern Ireland, it is illegal to own any air weapon that produces over 0.74Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy without a license. Air rifles in Scotland and Northern Ireland are treated the same as any typical firearm and an air-weapon-specific license must be obtained. This license is called the AWC (Air Weapon Certificate) and it is an air-weapon-specific firearm license that stands alone from other firearm licenses such as hunting, shotgun, and high-powered rifle licenses.

UK Air Rifle Law Points

  • Air rifles under 12Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy are legal to buy and use without licensing in England
  • Air pistols under 6Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy are legal to buy and use without licensing in England
  • Air rifles and pistols over the legal limit are treated the same as powder-burning firearms in England
  • Any air weapon that produces over 0.74Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy is considered a firearm in Scotland and Northern Ireland and a license must be obtained to buy and use them
  • Air weapons that use a self-contained gas cartridge as a charge-source or illegal to sell and existing weapons must be licensed

Canada Regulations on Air Rifles

Canada’s regulations are similar to the UK in regard to power output and legality. Air guns are placed into two categories, high-powered air rifles, and low-powered air rifles. If an air rifle produces over 500FPS at 4.3Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy, then it is considered a firearm and cannot be acquired without a license. If it produces under 500FPS and 4.3Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy it is still defined as a firearm however it is deemed exempt for certain uses such as target shooting and hunting on private land.

With a low-energy air rifle, you can transport it, handle it, and store it however you please without a license. In order to purchase and use a high-power air rifle, you must acquire a license, store it in a gun safe, and transport it in a lockbox within your vehicle similar to if it were a powder-burning firearm. To compare, a powder-burning hunting rifle that produces 2,500FPS at 2200Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy is treated the same under law as an air rifle that only produces 501FPS at 4.5Ft/Lbs.

Silencers are completely illegal in Canada and they cannot be installed on any type of firearm whether high-powered or low-powered, including air rifles that come under the legal threshold. Where within US law there is a gray area concerning silencers/ suppressors that come pre-installed on the barrel, this is not the case in Canadian law and there are strict penalties if a person is found with one.

Canada Air Rifle Law Points

  • Canada has 2 main categories for air weapons: Low-power and High-power
  • Air rifles that produce under 4.3Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy and 500FPS velocity are legal to use without licensing
  • Air rifles that produce over 4.3Ft/Lbs of muzzle energy and 500FPS velocity must be licensed and are treated the same as powder-burners
  • Silencers are strictly illegal in Canada, whether fixed or removable
  • High-powered air rifles must be transported, locked away, and treated as traditional firearms

How Can You Stay Within the Law?

Always stay up to date with changes in legislation, no matter what country you live in. State, county, and federal law can change making some aspects of your hobby potentially illegal therefore it is important to educate yourself. Know the laws in your country before you buy, sell, or trade an air weapon so you stay within the law and avoid penalties for negligence. Never use your rifle on public land and always transport it away from the prying eyes of the public. Even if it is legal to carry an un-sheathed air rifle in your state or county you can still face charges if a member of the public feels threatened or at risk from your activities.

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