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Scottish airgun bill under fire

Airgun licensing plans for Scotland have been condemned as expensive, irrelevant and unenforceable by fieldsports organisations and lawyers

If the bill passes, all Scottish airgun users would need a license

A bill for the licensing of airguns in Scotland has met with fierce criticism from shooting and countryside organisations and its effectiveness and enforceability questioned by the Law Society of Scotland.

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill would, if passed in its current form, require anyone wishing to own an airgun to demonstrate to the police that they have a valid reason for possessing the gun, such as pest control, target shooting or firearms collecting.

Its introduction follows several years of discussion by the Scottish Firearms Consultative Panel – which includes representatives from BASC, the Scottish Target Shooting Federation, the Gun Trade Association Ltd, the British Shooting Sports Council, the Scottish Air Rifle & Pistol Association – and a three-month public consultation, which received more than 1,000 responses.

However, BASC Scotland, the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and the Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) have all criticised the bill, saying it would bring little benefit to public safety, and would be disproportionately expensive and burdensome for both airgun owners and the police.

Litte public benefit

BASC Scotland said the bill “flies in the face of evidence, the results of the public consultation, and fails on every principle of good regulation.” BASC maintains that the best way to tackle airgun misuse is not licensing, but an “education and enforcement” approach, similar to that used to reduce knife crime so successfully in western Scotland.

BASC Scotland director Dr Colin Shedden said: “Offences involving air weapons in Scotland have fallen by 75 per cent in recent years. In 2006 to 2007 there was a ten-year peak of 683 air weapon offences. In 2012 to 2013, after six years of steady decline, there were 171 offences. In addition, all firearms offences are now at the lowest level since records began. Airguns are already extensively regulated by law, with more than 30 offences on the statute books. Bringing in this legislation will not deter those who are already determined to break the law.

“The drop in crimes has been achieved by the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and shooting organisations such as BASC working together to improve education and enforcement of existing legislation. Further work in this direction would reap greater benefits than a disproportionate, expensive and bureaucratic licensing system that would have to accommodate the estimated 500,000 air weapons in Scotland.”

Airgun crime down

SGA firearms representative Allan Hodgson expressed similar sentiments, saying: “No-one at The Scottish Gamekeepers Association would want to see people suffer through airgun misuse. However, we feel this measure, which was rejected by nearly 90 per cent of those consulted by Scottish Government, will be felt more by the law-abiding working people and recreational shooters who use airguns for legitimate purposes rather than the criminals it is meant to stop. There is already sufficient control written into firearms legislation to cover criminal acts.

“It will also place an even heavier resource and financial burden on Police Scotland who – we know from experience – already have their hands full coping with the workload of the present firearms licensing arrangements.

“At a time when gun crime has fallen dramatically, it is unfortunate that the [justice] minister has ignored the clear will demonstrated by the consultation and used his devolved power to force an unwanted layer of bureaucracy upon legitimate firearms users and sporting enthusiasts.”

Fears for the future 

The SCA also criticised the bill for being unnecessary and for ignoring stakeholders’ views and expert advice. The alliance voiced further concerns at the move’s implications for the future of firearms legislation in Scotland after justice secretary Kenny MacAskill described the proposal as “an important first step towards devolving all powers on firearms to the Scottish Parliament”.

SCA director Jamie Stewart said: “Inconsistent firearms legislation across Britain would cause a real problem, not least for the large numbers of visitors who come to Scotland to shoot and boost its economy. We believe firearms regulation must remain the responsibility of the UK Government.”

The Law Society of Scotland has also expressed reservations about the bill. The convener of the society’s Licensing Law Subcommittee, Archie MacIver, questioned whether the bill would prove effective in preventing airguns falling into the wrong hands. Mr MacIver said the society was concerned that the bill did not make sufficient provision to ensure that airguns were traceable and that the police would therefore “not know how many are in circulation”.