Mike Eveleigh, BASC firearms officer, puts the point across
Early reports on licensing airguns in Scotland appear to show a lack of compliance — generally from an absence of knowledge rather than criminal intent.
A law came into force on 1 January in Scotland making it an offence to possess an airgun without a specific certificate or a temporary exemption granted to existing firearm and shotgun certificate holders. Even before the law change, BASC argued that the Scottish Government’s campaign to raise awareness about the licensing of airguns was inadequate.
Among the concerns were that individuals could unwittingly become criminals by possessing forgotten airguns that had perhaps been languishing for many years in lofts or at the back of sheds. In effect, we argued the new law would criminalise grannies.
Possession of an airgun without a certificate
It was expected that more than 400,000 airguns would be unlicensed in Scotland when the new law came into effect. It was also obvious the legislation would place a massive burden on police officers and staff who are already stretched to the limit. The law was passed despite the fact that airgun abuse in Scotland was at an all-time low. Doubtless there will now be a number of people in Scotland who will be prosecuted for possession of an airgun without a certificate, which will make it appear that “gun crime” has risen, probably leading to further calls to tighten up the law. It is a circular argument.
The Government at Westminster has announced that the Home Office is now reviewing airgun regulations in England and Wales, but there is nothing to make us think the situation would be any different to that in Scotland.
BASC will be responding robustly to the review, as we believe there are already more than sufficient laws in place. The solution to any problems with airguns lies not in greater regulation, but in better enforcement of the laws already in place.
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That was the message I gave to the BBC when I was interviewed on the subject for a radio programme last week. It is the same message I gave when I was interrogated by Piers Morgan for Good Morning Britain earlier this year. I have spoken to the media many times before on the same issue. Usually the discussion comes on the back of an incident which has involved the illegal or inappropriate use of an airgun and BASC is asked to present arguments to defend the UK’s legitimate gun users.
Despite the emotion sometimes being played out by the interviewer, I am always glad to accept the opportunity to highlight the positives of airgun shooting. Low-powered air rifles and air pistols are used for the target shooting sports in which Great Britain has done very well over the years. They are used in Olympic and Commonwealth games disciplines, and are an excellent way of teaching young people the safe and responsible use of firearms.
Furthermore, correct use of airguns helps to demythologise the gun, and can be said to be an antidote to “gun culture” among the young. The sport has sound educational benefits; it teaches self-control, discipline and responsibility. Air rifles are also used in pest control where higher-powered rifles might not be suitable due to safety or noise considerations.
Licensing airguns extra police work
Licensing low-powered airguns would give police firearms licensing departments a great deal of extra work — and the system is already having difficulty coping with the current demand. To use valuable police resources to license the law-abiding rather than protect us from criminals would be a clear waste. Criminals tend not to apply for certificates.
It is regrettable that a few will act in a careless or criminal matter with airguns, but licensing is in no way likely to prevent that misuse; BASC provides guidance and codes of practice, and we believe that education and enforcement are far better tools for prevention than licensing.