In the guide
This guidance is for England & Wales
There are laws that control the sale, supply and hire of a wide range of weapons. This guide identifies the laws that apply to crossbows, air weapons and imitation firearms, making particular reference to the offences, defences and penalties for their sale, supply and hire (as applicable) to persons below the minimum legal age.
The law in this area is complex so you should seek specialist advice if you are considering registering as a firearms dealer or stocking these products for sale, supply or hire.
Toy retailers should take care not to inadvertently sell what they consider to be a harmless toy gun but what the law may view as being an imitation firearm and therefore subject to an age restriction.
The law relating to crossbows aims to deal, amongst other things, with the sale or hire of crossbows to underage people and prevent their irresponsible use. Whilst the law has exceptions regarding the sale and hire of crossbows under a specified draw weight, as a responsible retailer you may wish to consider carefully whether or not this is a type of product you want to sell.
Only registered firearms dealers can sell air weapons. The sale and hire of air weapons and ammunition is tightly controlled and subject to age restrictions. Take note that the sale and hire of these weapons has to be by someone aged 18 or over.
Imitation firearms can look like the real thing and can be used by criminals to commit crime. The sale of realistic imitation firearms is banned. The sale and hire of imitation firearms, which can include some ball bearing (BB) guns and some toy guns, is also tightly controlled and subject to age restrictions.
As part of any defence to an allegation that an offence has been committed, you should have effective management controls in place to demonstrate how you avoid selling, supplying or hiring age-restricted products to people under the minimum legal age. You will find guidance on this in the 'Keeping within the law' section of this guide.
Please be advised that this guide concentrates on the age-restricted aspects of the law related to the sale, supply and hire of these types of products.
It is an offence under the Crossbows Act 1987 for a person to sell or let on hire a crossbow or part of a crossbow to a person under the age of 18 (it is also an offence for a person under the age of 18 to buy or hire a crossbow or part of a crossbow). There is an exception in that the Act does not apply to crossbows with a draw weight of less than 1.4 kilograms.
The Firearms Act 1968 prohibits a person other than a registered firearms dealer from selling or transferring, exposing for sale or transfer and possessing for sale or transfer an air weapon.
It is an offence under this Act to sell or hire an air weapon or ammunition for an air weapon to a person under the age of 18. It is also an offence to sell or hire a firearm or ammunition of any other description to a person under the age of 17. A person must also be aged 18 or over to sell, hire or give an air weapon as a gift.
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 states that the firearms dealer must only sell and transfer the air weapon to the customer face-to-face and not by distance means (for example, by means of a catalogue or the internet).
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 defines what is meant by a realistic imitation firearm. It is deemed to have an appearance (size, shape and colour) that is so realistic it is practically indistinguishable from a real firearm and is neither a de-activated firearm nor an antique. The manufacture, import and sale of realistic imitation firearms is prohibited but if you are charged with an offence you have the defence that the imitation firearm was made available for a purpose or purposes as specified in law.
The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 (Realistic Imitation Firearms) Regulations 2007 regards imitation firearms as being unrealistic for a real firearm only if they are less than 38mm high and 70mm long and either bright red, orange, yellow, green, pink, purple and blue or are made of a transparent material.
Please note that some children's toys may be deemed as 'imitation firearms' unless they are far removed from what could be regarded as a gun - for example, a water supersoaker.
The Firearms Act 1968 makes it an offence to sell an imitation firearm to a person under the age of 18.
It is your responsibility to ensure that you comply with the law that you and your staff do not sell products that are subject to an age restriction to those under the minimum legal age. Depending on the type of product and the nature of the transaction, you may have a defence in that you believed, or had reasonable grounds to believe, that the person was older than the minimum legal age. You should set up effective systems within your business to demonstrate that you have taken positive steps or precautions to prevent an underage sale. These systems should be regularly monitored and updated as necessary to identify and put right any problems or weaknesses, or to keep pace with any advances in technology.
Key best practice features of an effective system include:
Age verification checks
Always ask young people to produce proof of their age. The Chartered Trading Standards Institute, the Home Office and the Association of Chief Police Officers support the UK's national Proof of Age Standards Scheme (PASS), which includes a number of card issuers. You can be confident that a card issued under the scheme and bearing the PASS hologram is an acceptable proof of age.
A passport or photocard driving licence are also acceptable, but make sure the card matches the person using it and that, where relevant, the date of birth shows they are over 18. Military identification cards can be used as proof of age but, as with other forms of identification, make sure the photo matches the person presenting the card and check the date of birth. Be aware that military identification cards can be held by 16 and 17-year-old service people.
Some young people may present false identification cards so it is advisable to also check the look and feel of a card. For example, the PASS hologram should be an integral part of a PASS card and not an add-on.
If the person cannot prove they are the minimum legal age, or if you are in any doubt, then the sale should be refused.
Please see the Home Office False ID guidance for more information.
Operate a Challenge 21 or Challenge 25 policy
This means that if the person appears to be under the age of 21 or 25, they will be asked to verify that they are over the minimum legal age by showing valid proof of age.
Make sure your staff are properly trained. They should know which products are age restricted, what the age restriction is and the action they must take if they believe a person under the mimimum legal age is attempting to buy. It is important that you can prove that your staff have understood what is required of them under the legislation. This can be done by keeping a record of the training and asking members of staff to sign to say that they have understood it. These records should then be checked and signed on a regular basis by management or the owner.
Maintain a refusals log
All refusals should be recorded (date, time, incident, description of potential buyer). Maintaining a refusals log will help to demonstrate that you actively refuse sales and have an effective system in place. Logs should be checked by the manager / owner to ensure that all members of staff are using them.
A specimen refusals log is attached.
Some tills have a refusals system built in. If using a till-based system, you should ensure that refusals can be retrieved at a later date. You should also be aware that some refusals are made before a product is scanned.
Store & product layout
Identify the age-restricted products in your store and consider keeping them in a locked cabinet or behind the counter. Consider displaying dummy packs so that people have to ask for the products if they want to buy them.
If you possess an EPoS system, it may be possible to use it to remind staff of age restrictions via a prompt. Alternatively, stickers can be used over certain product barcodes.
Display posters showing age limits and a statement regarding the refusal of such sales. This may deter potential purchasers and act as a reminder to staff.
Closed circuit television (CCTV)
A CCTV system may act as a deterrent and reduce the number of incidents of underage sales. It will also help you to monitor 'blind spots' within your store if it is not possible to change the layout or relocate the products behind the counter.
If a person sells or lets on hire a crossbow (or part of a crossbow) to a person under the age of 18, the maximum penalty on conviction is a fine and six months' imprisonment.
If a person sells or lets on hire an air weapon or ammunition to a person under the age of 18, the maximum penalty on conviction is a fine and six months' imprisonment.
If a person sells or hires a firearm or ammunition of any other description to a person under the age of 17, the maximum penalty on conviction is a fine and three months' imprisonment.
If a person sells an imitation firearm to a person under the age of 18, the maximum penalty is a fine and six months' imprisonment.
Last reviewed / updated: April 2017
This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.
The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.
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