The Air Weapons and Licensing Scotland Bill was backed by MSPs at Holyrood on Thursday 25 June, and looks likely to become law imminently. This means that anyone who owns an airgun could be committing a criminal act should they fail to obtain a licence after April next year.
Britain’s largest shooting organisation has raised serious concerns over the consequences of the Bill. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) has openly opposed the bill since its proposal, arguing that it is disproportionate, difficult and costly to implement and does not benefit the public.
Scottish justice secretary Michael Matheson said: “We have a long standing commitment to reducing gun crime, and the licensing of air weapons has been central to that aim.”
“Our proposals… strike the right balance between respecting the interests of those people who shoot legitimately for work, sport, pest control or leisure, and the need to ensure that those who misuse guns do not have access to them.”
In a press release, BASC quoted figures that show criminal offences involving airguns have plummeted by 73 per cent from their peak in 2006/07. Recent figures show airguns account for 0.02 per cent of crimes of vandalism, 0.5 per cent of robberies and 0.06 per cent of all crimes in Scotland.
A government spokesperson said: “Offences involving air weapons accounted for almost half of all offences involving a firearm in 2013-14. Every day police and animal welfare groups have to face the results of air weapon misuse, from anti-social behaviour to horrific and deliberate injuries to wildlife and pets.”
BASC claims to be “deeply concerned” about Police Scotland’s capacity to administer the scheme, citing a recent reduction of firearms enquiry officers from 34 to 14, as well as the delays in licensing currently experienced by shotgun and firearm certificate holders.
BASC Scotland director Dr Colin Sheddon called the scheme “disproportionate” and “unnecessary”, adding: “This new legislation will only affect and inconvenience law-abiding airgun shooters who will now have to apply for an air weapon certificate. Those intent on criminal activity will not come forward.”
Alan Balfour, BASC Scottish Committee chairman said: “It is bitterly disappointing that the Scottish Government has seen fit to bring in this new law in the face of all the evidence against it. This is a policy that has been driven by tabloid outrage, not reason and evidence.”
The new licensing regime fulfils an SNP promise to regulate airguns following the death of two-year old Andrew Morton, who was shot in the head with an airgun in Glasgow in 2005.
Scottish Labour’s Cara Hilton said that although the Bill was “not without flaws”, her party backed the legislation: “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that these air weapons are dangerous… [Andrew Morton’s death] highlights the real pressing need to act to prevent future tragedies.”