Air weapon licensing in Scotland: guide

Guidance published by Scottish Ministers on the practical application of the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015.


Air weapons consistently account for around half of all offences allegedly involving a firearm in Scotland. While the overall number of offences reported is significantly lower than ten years ago, air weapon misuse is particularly associated with antisocial behaviour such as common assaults, reckless conduct with a firearm, vandalism and serious assaults. There are regular reports to the police and in the media of domestic animals and wildlife being targeted, as well as less frequent injuries involving people. Thankfully fatalities are rare, but they can and do occur.

Unlike other firearms and shotguns, there has not been any requirement in the past for people to register low-powered air weapons – defined in the Firearms Act 1968 as an air rifle, air gun or air pistol – or to be licensed to have such a weapon. Part 1 of the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015 – "the 2015 Act" - introduced a new system of licensing for low-powered air weapons in Scotland.

The 2015 Act sets out a licensing regime that allows the police to better protect Scottish communities by removing air weapons from those who would misuse them. In summary, it:

  • Sets out the air weapons which are to be subject to licensing;
  • Broadly follows the principles and practices of existing firearms legislation;
  • Enables a fit person to obtain a licence to own, possess and shoot an air weapon in a regulated way, without compromising public safety;
  • Ensures appropriate enforcement with penalties to deal with any person who contravenes the new regime.

Advanced licensing opened on 1 July 2016 and the full powers in Part 1 of the 2015 Act came into force on 31 December 2016. It is now a legal requirement for a person to have an air weapons certificate, or in some cases a permit, to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon in Scotland, unless they are otherwise exempt under the legislation.

Air weapons are not banned in Scotland, but the new licensing regime provides a means of ensuring that people can use air weapons in a regulated way without compromising public safety. The Scottish Government believes that this strikes the right balance between protecting communities and allowing legitimate shooting in a safe environment to continue.

The Scottish Government
April 2017

Back to top