Airsoft guns are realistic imitation firearms (RIFs) capable of discharging 6mm spherical plastic or metal projectiles (BBs) by virtue of a spring/piston or compressed gas. They are exact replicas of prohibited guns and the most dangerous military weapons. They are collected and used in simulated military situations by gun enthusiasts who dress up and act out violent combat warrior fantasies.
Airsoft guns can only be possessed by those over 18 who can prove they are eligible to claim the defence against prosecution provided to those having RIFs for legitimate reasons defined in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. It is an offence to carry an airsoft gun in a public place without a legitimate reason. It is an offence to manufacture, bring into or cause to be brought into Great Britain or sell realistic imitation firearms. It is also an offence to modify an imitation firearm to make it realistic. See Gun Law pages.
The Office of National Statistics have published data relating to 2015 which demonstrates that over 80% of offences involving imitation firearms involved BB guns or soft air weapons.
Because airsoft guns look exactly like the guns they are designed to represent it is impossible to tell without close examination if a gun being brandished during an incident is an airsoft, replica, bb, imitation, toy or an airgun. Victims of armed crime are traumatised and not surprisingly unable to identify the gun being used to assault them. Media reporting is unreliable and unless guns are fired or recovered they are categorised as ‘unidentified’. Many press reports which refer to ‘handguns’ or ‘shotguns’ are likely to involve airsoft airweapons* and other non-licensed guns which look like handguns or shotguns.