Guidance on firearms

Storage of gun powder

The following guidance is extracted from regulation 5 of the Health and Safety Executive publication Approved Code of Practice and Guidance (ACOP).

This advice applies to both black power and smokeless (nitro) powder.

  1. The powder must be kept in containers with no more than 550grams of powder per container. The containers must be constructed in such a way that, in the event of a fire they do not provide additional containment that will increase the explosive force of any deflagration. Normally plastic/polythene or paper/cloth containers will be suitable for this purpose. Metal containers with a screw cap, or a push-in lid (similar to a paint tin) must not be used.
  2. Although shooters’ powders are generally not very sensitive to ignition by electrostatic discharge, home loaders or others who decant the contents of plastic containers must take care to reduce the risk of build up of static electricity. Advice on the appropriate precautions may be sought from the manufacturer.
  3.  The containers of powder must be kept in a box constructed of plywood with a minimum thickness of 18mm – or material with an equal or greater fire and physical resistance. (Health and Safety laboratory tests found that 18mm plywood offered 15 minutes fire resistance; 24mm plywood offered 30 minutes fire resistance).
  4. Metal boxes, including ammunition boxes, are not suitable and must not be used. This is because (a) while metal is fire resistant it also transmits heat very well and (b) because the metal container adds additional containment that significantly increases the explosive power of the powder. It should be noted that the requirements in this paragraph replace guidance permitting the keeping of black powder in a lacquered or tinned iron or steel trunk or box contained in the booklet A Guidance to the Control of Explosives Regulations 1991.
  5. Where the box holds more than 1 container, each individual container must be separated by a 6mm wooden partition that is securely fixed to the outer walls of the box. Each compartment must allow 30% additional height between the top of the container and the inside of the lid. (for example, if container is 20cm high the box should be 30cm).
  6. It is a good idea to put an intrumescent strip around the edges of the lid to give a good seal.
  7. The box should be constructed so that there is no exposed metal on the inside. Internal nuts must be covered by a glued wooden liner not less than 6mm thick.
  8. The box must not be kept in any form of metal box, drawer or cupboard.
  9. The box must not be located:
    1. Under or near any means of access or escape, for example under stairs
    2. In the same room as flammable liquids, or
    3. In areas where there are risks of fire.

Gunpowder for muzzle-loading firearms

These notes are guidance for private individuals who use black powder or equivalent substances for shooting with muzzle-loading firearms.

  1. Every person who wishes to purchase or store black powder must apply for a Dangerous Goods Licence.
  2. This licence will permit the storage of an agreed amount of powder (for example, most people only want 1 or 2 kilograms) depending on the storage facilities and desired usage.
  3. It is advised that the storage should be in a container which complies with the details shown above.
  4. Any person selling black powder to another person must check that the buyer has a Dangerous Goods Licence or an acquisition certificate and they must keep a record of the amount sold, the date of the sale and the name and address of the purchaser, and shall produce such record to any inspector or police officer when required to do so.

The above does not apply to percussion caps or small-arms nitro powders.

Transporting firearms in vehicles

Firearms and ammunition are vulnerable to theft when carried or left in vehicles. The following precautions should be taken to minimise the risks:

  1. If the vehicle is a car with a boot or similar secure area, the firearm should be carried within it, or otherwise covered to obscure it from view. Whenever possible any gun box or case should be secured and locked to the fabric of the vehicle. Good quality welded chain or braided steel cord secured with good quality padlocks can be used to achieve this.
  2. Firearms and ammunition should not be carried in the same case. If possible the ammunition should travel in a different vehicle; otherwise it should be in a separate secure container.
  3. Where possible, the bolt, magazine or other operating part should be separated from the firearm(s) and either carried on the person, or kept in a locked container concealed in the vehicle and preferably secured to the fabric of the vehicle.
  4. Whenever possible the vehicle should not be left unattended.
  5. If it is unavoidable that a vehicle containing firearms or ammunition will be left unattended it should have an alarm or immobiliser fitted and activated. Where possible the vehicle should be parked in such a way to frustrate any unauthorised entry (for instance, with its boot to a wall), and positioned where it can be overlooked.
  6. If travelling involves an overnight stay, and no dedicated storage (club armoury etc) is available, then secure storage facilities should be arranged inside the accommodation. If possible consideration of (3) above should be also applied within the accommodation, for example, keeping an operating part (bolt etc) in the hotel safe.

Note: Any loss or theft of firearms or ammunition should always be reported to the Isle of Man Constabulary Firearms Department, Police HQ, Douglas.

When travelling elsewhere than the Isle of Man, the theft or loss should also be immediately reported to the local police.

BB and airsoft guns

There exists some confusion over BB guns. This section aims to clarify the situation.

There are 2 types of gun that are frequently referred to as BB guns. The legal situation for these 2 types is different and distinction between them is important.

The first type fires steel ball bearings, usually .177 (4.5mm) in calibre. They typically have a similar power level to a pellet-firing air gun (in excess of 1 Joule). They are powered by gas or air, usually produced by a compressed spring piston, or more recently by a small cylinder of compressed gas. In simple terms they are almost identical to a standard airgun, but they are designed to fire steel instead of or as well as lead airgun pellets.

These types of weapons are often referred to as BB guns but are potentially lethal, and are considered firearms by definition. They are required to be held on a Regulated Weapon Certificate.

The second type can be more accurately referred to as airsoft weapons. They are designed to fire small plastic balls, usually 6mm in diameter. They have a low power level and may be powered by spring, battery or gas. They are often used in warfare games similar to paintball. Whilst these guns are still hazardous if misused, they are not considered firearms and do not require a certificate. They may, however, be considered imitation firearms.

The law in relation to imitation firearms

The Firearms Act 1968 defines an imitation firearm as:

Anything that has the appearance of being a firearm whether it is capable of discharging any shot bullet or other missile or not

This definition will include most BB guns and replica firearms.

The sighting of an imitation firearm in public has the potential to cause fear and distress. It also provides problems for the police, who may have to treat the incident as one involving a real gun.

In this light, there have been recent changes to legislation.

As the owner of a BB gun or replica firearm, you should be aware that it is now an offence to possess an imitation firearm in a public place without a lawful authority or reasonable excuse under the Criminal Justice, Police and Courts Act 2006. This offence carries a maximum sentence of 5 years custody.

This does not preclude lawful ownership of BB guns or their use on private land. Nor does it prevent the reasonable possession of such guns in public where reasonable excuse can be given (for example, having just purchased it from a retailer).

As a responsible owner of a BB gun:

  • Do keep it secure so that others cannot gain easy access to it
  • Do keep it out of sight from members of the public
  • Do consider joining an organised club or association
  • Do not carry the gun in public unless you have a reasonable excuse to do so
  • Do not leave it on display in a vehicle.

The law is intended to prevent the irresponsible possession of imitation firearms in public places and to reduce incidents where members of the public are put in fear.

Further information can be obtained from:

Firearms Licensing Department
Police Headquarters
Dukes Avenue
Isle of Man

Telephone: +44 1624 631402