Imitation Guns including BB Guns


Since April 2004 it has been illegal to carry an imitation gun in public and police have been making the consequences clear.


Even trained police officers have great difficulty distinguishing these guns from actual firearms and have to act as if they are real.  There is a real risk of an offender being shot by armed response officers who are unable to establish the exact nature of the weapon.  The fear felt by members of the public on being confronted with an imitation gun can be just as great.  Valuable time and resources are being used up when armed response teams have to be sent to incidents involving fake guns. 


Forces around the country have been issuing warnings about the dangers of carrying imitation guns in public and asked parents not to give children guns as presents at Christmas.  Some did this through press releases and articles in local newspapers, some have taken their message a step further and initiated poster campaigns and written to parents and carers.  Derbyshire Police were among the first to do so in 2003, followed by Bedfordshire Police in 2004.  Gun Control Network fully supports these high profile campaigns.


Avon and Somerset Police

July 2010

As part of their continuing campaign to warn about the dangers of guns and imitation weapons Avon and Somerset Constabulary firearms officers have been visiting young people in Bridgwater.  Of all the incidents requiring armed police attendance in the area, 90% are found to involve imitation guns or air weapons, and each time an armed response unit is called it costs approximately £2,000.

> See Avon and Somerset Constabulary Website

Hampshire Police - FAKE Campaign

The following is taken from the Hampshire Constabulary website where links to the Resource Pack and the Fake Team can be found

"The FAKE (Firearms and Knife crime Education programme) has been running across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight since July 2007.


As part of the campaign, we are actively engaging with the community to reduce both gun and knife incidents and stop them from happening in the first place.


Since the campaign began the FAKE presentation has been delivered to over 50,000 young people, principally within secondary schools and other youth groups. This number increases weekly.


Almost 70% of all incidents that Hampshire Constabulary's firearms officers attend involve knives and imitation firearms. One hour of policing a firearms incident costs the equivalent of 27 hours of local beat policing.


Some of the guns that we seize from young people are so realistic that a firearms officer would not immediately be able to decide if they were real. Firearms officers have to treat every gun incident as if the weapon is a real one. Our concern is that a young person will find themselves confronted by armed police.


Currently, Hampshire Constabulary is working with Play Radio to reduce knife crime in Southampton."

Avon and Somerset Police

June 2008

Avon and Somerset Constabulary has launched a gun awareness campaign to highlight the dangers of possessing imitation firearms.  Of all incidents requiring armed police attendance in Avon and Somerset 90% were found to involve imitation guns or air weapons.  The campaign follows on from the work with Fairfield High School reported in March (see below) and the stark message used then will be repeated: 'If you can't tell the difference how can we?' (Avon and Somerset Police, 3 June 2008).  More than 50 imitation have been handed in during the amnesty (BBC, 18 July 2008).

Kent Police

March 2008

A weapons amnesty had been launched in which any type of device from knives to firearms can be handed in.  The scheme is part of the police's Safer Spring initiative and will run until 20 April.  During the campaign Kent police will work closely with Kent and Medway trading standards and will visit retailers to educate them on selling knives and ball bearing guns (YourCanterbury.com, 25 March 2008)

Avon and Somerset Police

March 2008

Officers from the firearms unit have been working alongside pupils at Fairfield High School in Bristol to produce a powerful short film highlighting the dangers involved in possessing imitation firearms.  It uses the strap line "If you can't tell the difference, how can we" (Avon and Somerset Constabulary, 11 March 2008).  The film will be made available to secondary schools across Bristol.

Dorset Police

March 2008

Police will hold a month long firearms amnesty and have asked people to hand over fake and replica guns (BBC, 2 March 2008)

Greater Manchester Police

March 2008

Police are urging imitation gun and airgun owners to hand them in at a police station during March.  Greater Manchester Police and Trading Standards will also be targeting dealers illegally selling realistic imitation firearms and air weapons (Rochdale Online, 28 February 2008).

Staffordshire Police

No Butts - Hand Them In - February 2008

Mobile police stations are to tour rural areas across Staffordshire to enable people to hand in air weapons, BB guns and imitation guns (This is Cheshire, 18 February 2008).  This will be part of a Campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of air weapons and reduce anti-social behaviour.  The promise of an amnesty in the County was first promised following the death of 12-year-old Mitchel Picken who was killed with an air rifle in July 2006 (see News Headlines).

Suffolk Police

August 2007

Suffolk Constabulary have begun a month-long amnesty on BB guns and have issued a stern warning to make people aware of the similarities in appearance to a real gun and the panic that can be caused (Evening Star, 10 August 2007).  In 2006 police received 216 calls from concerned members of the public, many of which resulted in armed officers being dispatched to investigate.

Thames Valley Police

June 2007

A new film, Worlds Collide, produced by Thames Valley Police audio and visual services unit, has been premiered at a school in Oxfordshire.  The film was developed by students after an anti-gun talk at St Birinus School in Didcot and warns children about the risks of owning replica guns.  The film and a support pack will be sent to every school in the region.

Surrey Police

April 2007

Hard-hitting adverts are being shown on bus shelters, in schools and youth clubs in Surrey to warn people that having replica guns in public places could get them killed (BBC, 24 April 2007).

Yorkshire and Humberside Police

March 2007

Three of the region's police forces have set up a website displaying a selection of images, which show both real and imitation guns, and inviting visitors to choose which is which.  They want to spell out the risk created by replica guns.  Click here for the Guns and Knives Take Lives website.  See Yorkshire Post (30 March 2007).


Derbyshire Police

Keeping Ball-Bearing Guns Off Our Streets - July 2006

The Assistant Chief Constable of Derbyshire has written to Parents and Guardians in the county asking for their help in the campaign to reduce the misuse of ball-bearing, imitation and airguns.  The text of the letter is given below.

Dear Parents/Guardians


Keeping Ball-Bearing Guns Off Our Streets


I am writing to ask for your help in our campaign to reduce the misuse of ball-bearing, imitation and air guns. Sadly the figures say it all. These guns account for some 80 per cent of all firearm incidents dealt with by Derbyshire police.

Ball-bearing and imitation guns look like real firearms, and this means that if your child is seen carrying one in public they could find themselves facing an armed police officer. As an organisation we have to respond to many incidents where firearms have been or are being used. We rely on skilled officers making a professional judgement, but I am really concerned because of the frighteningly realistic nature of some of these guns. At the point of potential conflict, only your child will know if their gun is real or not. This puts themselves, the public and police officers at unnecessary risk.

You may or may not know, that these guns can still be purchased legally although it is an offence to carry one in public. Those people who do carry such a weapon in public run the real risk of being arrested and prosecuted.

Help us to help you keep your child safe by calling Derbyshire police on 0845 123 3333 to arrange for your ball-bearing, imitation and air guns to be collected.

Yours faithfully


Mick Creedon

Assistant Chief Constable

"Fake Gun Users Risk Being Shot" - April 2004















Bedfordshire Police



Dear parent/carer,  


Aiming to eliminate Ball Bearing gun incidents 


I am taking the unusual step of writing to all parents or carers to ask for help in reducing the misuse of ball bearing (BB) guns, imitation and replica weapons and air guns/pistols. 

I am concerned that young people are putting themselves and others at serious risk of injury and prosecution by the police. 

There is presently no legal restriction on buying BB guns, replicas or imitations, but these all have the potential to maim, blind or worse. There is a law about air weapons, but we know that people ignore it. 

Please think carefully about allowing any child in your care to have, or use one of these weapons. If you feel happy about the use of these, please ensure that this is done on private property and with due care and in a responsible manner. Anyone who doesn’t do so could potentially face an armed police officer, alerted by a concerned member of the public.

 BB guns look like real firearms. Police officers will treat them like the real thing and those who possess them put many peoples lives at unnecessary risk. Please remember that anyone who misuses a BB gun runs the risk of arrest and prosecution. Help us to keep your children and the public safe. Thank you.


Yours faithfully 

p.p. Martin J Stuart Assistant Chief Constable Bedfordshire Police


South Yorkshire Police

Police are using shock tactics to show pupils the horrors of gun crime in a drive to cut imitation firearm offences.  Pupils at a school in Parsons Cross were asked to point real firearms at their friends during a hard-hitting demonstration.  Pupils said they were really shocked by it all (Sheffield Today, 22 June 2006).

Suffolk Police

According to the East Anglian Daily Times (29 December 2004) Suffolk police have reported a dramatic drop in the number of young people reported brandishing potentially-lethal ball-bearing (BB) guns, thanks to the new legislation.

Other Police Campaigns


Nottingham, April 2008

PC Darren Corbett, a beat bobby in Nottinghamshire, is delivering a Gun and Knife Crime Roadshow to schools. Officers use locally recovered weapons with a 'history' to promote discussion and provide information and advice regarding the law and safety issues with knives, bb guns, imitation guns and air weapons.   

Metropolitan Police, September 2007

Teenagers from London's black community are being targeted by an advertisement from the Metropolitan Police's Operation Trident.  "Don't Blow Your Life Away" will run for four weeks and will be aired on radio and TV channels.  A replica prison cells will be on tour in five boroughs (Southwark, Lambeth, Brent, Hackney and Haringey) where gun crime is prevalent (BBC, 17 September 2007).

Metropolitan Police, April 2007

An Operation Trident anti-gun crime advertising campaign was run throughout the school Easter Holidays.  "Blood on Your Hands" specifically targeted young people and encouraged them to come forward with information about gun crime to the police or Crimestoppers (Guardian, 6 April 2007).

Huddersfield, July 2006

A specialist police squad has been set up in Huddersfield to tackle gun and drug crime.  The problem has surfaced with a spate of shooting incidents in the Kirklees area (Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 14 July 2006).

Metropolitan Police, March 2006

A crackdown on gun and knife crime and alcohol-fuelled violence has been launched by the Metropolitan Police (BBC, 21 March 2006).