BASC says the Government's media campaign and lead-in period are too short, and a lack of awareness could inadvertently make criminals of those in possession of air guns
BASC says the Scottish Government’s new campaign to raise awareness about the licensing of airguns is inadequate, amid concerns that individuals could unwittingly become criminals by possessing forgotten airguns.
From 31 December, it will be an offence to use, possess, purchase or acquire an airgun in Scotland without holding the new licence. After this date, airgun owners without a valid licence could face a fine or up to two years in prison.
The Scottish Government has launched a new media campaign to inform the public, which includes radio, outdoor and digital advertising and a bespoke website.
The campaign will run until October, while Police Scotland is also currently conducting a hand-in of airguns, which will last until 12 June.
Dr Colin Shedden, BASC director Scotland, said that the campaign was not enough: “A relatively short publicity campaign and six-month lead-in period before licences will be required is unlikely to be adequate. How many of Scotland’s estimated 500,000 air guns will either be handed in to the police or licensed before 1 January 2017?”
Critics argue that the licensing risks “criminalising grannies” who could be bypassed by the campaign and are unknowingly giving homes to airguns once used by their children and grandchildren in the garden and now left forgotten in attics.
Others are concerned that owners who unexpectedly discover they are in possession of an unlicensed airgun may simply dump the gun.
A similar airgun hand-in, which took place when self-contained gas cartridge air pistols were banned in the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act, yielded little success.
At the time, the government called for the pistols to be handed in to the police. From sales records there were an estimated 68,000 of these guns in private ownership, but only 6,000 were handed in, leaving the rest in circulation and a potential source of easily modified firearms for criminals.
But Police Scotland told Shooting Times that while it does not know how many airguns there are in Scotland it is “confident that the message is getting across”.
A spokesman said: “We are using a wide range of traditional and social media channels. We will be issuing figures on a weekly basis, but are encouraged by the fact that more than 500 air weapons were handed in on the first day alone.”
When asked what would happen to those bypassed by the campaign they added:”Police Scotland cannot respond to hypothetical questions; however a core feature of policing in Scotland is that officers are trained to use discretion in all of their contact with the public and to always act in an appropriate and proportionate manner on a case-by-case basis.”
The legislation was brought in as a response to the airgun shooting death of two-year-old Andrew Morton in Glasgow in 2005, and numerous instances of animal cruelty. This is despite 87 per cent opposition in a public consultation and a 73 per cent drop in Scottish airgun crime in the past decade.
It is still unclear how much an airgun licence will cost, though it is expected to be cheaper than a firearm or shotgun certificate (£88 and £79.50 respectively).