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Air Gun

Updated on January 4, 2010

An Air Gun is a a small-caliber weapon, either a handgun or a shoulder weapon, from which pellets, bullets, or darts are propelled by the energy of compressed air.

Some air guns are little more than toys; others have considerable penetrating power.

Air guns are relatively inexpensive. Other advantages are that there are no powder fumes, and there is practically no noise. Top-grade air guns are accurate at short ranges and are particularly suitable for target practice, for exterminating such small pests as mice and rats, and for training in safe handling of firearms.

How It Works

The air gun was first developed in France in the early 18th century. In early designs the air acted upon the short arm of a lever while the longer arm impelled a bullet. Some early models presented the appearance of heavy walking sticks and therefore were called air canes. The more modern weapons are breech-loading and are equipped with a chamber, located beneath the barrel or in the stock, into which air is drawn and compressed by the alternating operation of a piston. A tube containing a valve connects the air chamber with the barrel at a point immediately behind the bullet. This valve is controlled by the trigger mechanism.

There are many forms, but usually there is an air reservoir communicating with the barrel, which should be of small bore. The air is compressed by means of a spring, the trigger operates the valve, and the bullet is thereupon propelled by the elasticity of the compressed air. Most air-guns are capable of carrying a small bullet for a distance of about 50-75 m.

Two general types of air guns are in popular use today. In one type the power is obtained from air or carbon dioxide (CO2) gas under pressure within the gun. For some guns of this type, CO2 is supplied in small tubes or cartridges that fit into the gun. One loading furnishes power for up to 800 shots, depending on the model of gun. Also in this category are the pump-up air guns, in which the compressed air is obtained-by moving a lever or pump handle until the desired pressure is built up within the air chamber. When the trigger is pulled, all the compressed air within the gun is released to propel the projectile. Such a gun must be pumped for each shot, but it permits regulation of the pressure and thus the velocity of the projectile. A second type of air gun is powered by air pressure created by the release of a powerful spring and plunger, the pressure being developed at the moment of discharge.

Gas and air weapons may be either single-shot or magazine-loaded. Weapons of HB (.175), .177, and .22 calibers are in common use. No form of air gun yet made has had enough power to propel a bullet to any considerable distance; thus, air guns have no military significance.


Air guns are limited to 0.177 and 0.22 calibre. The law relating to the possession and use of air-guns is contained in the Firearms Act 1968. The provisions of this Act, applicable to air-guns, are as follows: (1) persons under 17 years of age may not purchase or hire air weapons or ammunition; (2) persons under the age of 17 years commit an offence if they have an air weapon with them in a public place except (a) if they have an air-gun or air rifle which is in a securely fastened gun cover so that it cannot be fired, (b) when they are engaged as members of an approved rifle club in connection with target practice, (c) when using the weapon at a shooting gallery; (3) persons under 14 years of age may not carry an air weapon or ammunition except (a) when they are on private premises and under the supervision of an adult (over 21), (b) as in 2(b) above, (c) as in 2(c) above. The person (and a supervising adult) commits an offence if he fires a missile from an air weapon beyond the premises on which the shooting is taking place.

After 1 May 1969, air weapons capable of firing a missile with more than a certain kinetic energy became liable to require a firearm certificate. (Forensic science laboratories test weapons for the police in cases of doubt.) Only the most powerful 'pump-up' air rifles are likely to be in this category.


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    • profile image

      Edwin Brown 

      7 years ago from Oregon, USA

      actually, there are now some high speed 25 caliber rifles out there. Spendy, maybe but highly effective.


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