Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee from the British Association for Shooting and Conservation concerning air weapons

  As promised when we spoke on the telephone last week, I am writing with some observations about air weapons.

    (1)   The 12 ft/lb limit for air rifles is about the lowest energy level which is humane for controlling agricultural pests such as rabbits, crows etc. Air rifles whose energy value is near to this limit are very useful for shooting such pests, particularly in places where it would be dangerous or otherwise inappropriate to use a cartridge firearm. Such air rifles are capable of killing pests and small game humanely at ranges up to about 35m.

    (2)   The 12 ft/lb limit needs to be put in perspective as it relates to the energy level of other firearms.

        The .22 rimfire which is the smallest commercially available cartridge firearm produces energy levels between 35-160 ft/lb.

        The minimum energy level for shooting deer in England and Wales as set down by the Deer Act 1991 is 1,700 ft/lb.

    (3)   The aim of airgun manufacturers is to produce air weapons which are consistent in performance. This means that they will regulate their product to give optimal performance at a level below the legal maximum. This will incorporate a "safety zone" which is broad enough to keep energy levels away from the upper limit in the event that something causes the original energy level to rise. An example of this might be over-oiling the air gun which introduces oil into the air cylinder. This can cause "dieseling" and increased velocities and concomitant energy level rises. Another cause of increased energy levels can be the use of a lighter pellet. In my experience most manufacturers regulate energy limits for rifles at 10-10½ ft/lb. This gives an energy level which is humane for pest control, but which is not so close to the upper limit that it will exceed it if the level should rise for any reason.

    (4)   In the case of air pistols, this "safety zone" is particularly important as any air pistol which exceeds the 6 ft/lb limit becomes a prohibited weapon. In my experience, most air pistols rarely exceed 3 ft/lb. BB pistols are often as low as 1 or 2 ft/lb. "Soft Air" guns are normally ½ ft/lb and below.

    (5)   The energy level at which potential lethality occurs is very low. Case law has determined that the proper test for a lethal weapon is that if it were to be misused then death might result from this misuse. (Moore v Gooderham 1960. 3 All E.R. 5775) (Thorpe 1987. 3 All E.R. 493). In Northern Ireland, the Forensic Science Service suggest that the lethality threshold is 3 ft/lb. In the rest of Britain, this is lower at 0.75 ft/lb. The average muzzle energy of air guns, which have caused death, is much higher at some 9.44 ft/lb.

  I hope that this information is helpful to the Committee. As ever, if I can be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Bill Harriman

Head of Firearms

27 March 2000

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