CONTROVERSIAL new powers to licence airguns could have a “devastating affect” as law-abiding people face prosecution under the proposed law change, the head of the Scottish Police Federation warned MSPs.
Anyone who owns an airgun will need a licence under the new measures from ministers, which aim to introduce tighter controls on Scotland’s estimated 500,000 air weapons.
The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill follows the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton, shot in the head with an airgun in Glasgow in 2005. Airguns do not need any form of licence under the existing law.
Under the scheme proposed by justice secretary Kenny MacAskill, people who want to own an airgun would need to demonstrate they had a legitimate reason for doing so.
However, Callum Steele, general secretary, of the Scottish Police Federation, said the proposed legislation could criminalise tens of thousands of airgun owners who have not been involved in the misuse of weapons.
Mr Steele, head of the SPF, which represents Scotland’s police officers, also warned that enforcing the new law would place a “considerable drain” on police time” and have cost implications. He said: “This is not something that can be glibly dismissed as having little impact on the police service. There could be tens of thousands of individuals who may find themselves falling foul of the criminal justice system on this.
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“A 19-year-old affected by this could try to get a job and it could have quite a devastating affect on their future,” Mr Steele added during a round-table discussion at Holyrood that also included shooting organisations and trade groups. “There’s a human cost and it could have implications for individuals.”
But SNP MSP Kevin Stewart, the local government committee convenor, said: “We already have licensing for shooting, why should air guns be any different?”
David John Penn, of the British Shooting Sports Council, said “a licensing system will not be very likely immediately to flush out those who are criminally inclined”.
He added: “They will just stay quiet, not be licensed. There is plenty of law existing now to effectively prosecute people misusing air weapons. The licensing would not help very much.”
Graham Ellis, chair of the
Scottish Air Rifle and Pistol Association, agreed, telling MSPs: “As far as the criminality goes, there is a raft of legislation that we see actively used day in, day out to prosecute those who would use air weapons criminally.”
“Those who currently use it as a sport, as a pastime or as vermin control would fundamentally not have an issue with this, but what they would have an issue with is the proportionality of it, and the potential criminalisation of what was formerly a perfectly legitimate pastime.”
Dr Colin Shedden, chair of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said many people use airguns for informal target shooting in their own gardens, known as “plinking”.
While the legislation does not prohibit plinking, there is currently guidance which suggests shooting in gardens for recreational purposes would not be viewed as a good reason for licensing.
“It concerns us enormously that a significant number of the owners of air weapons right now could be prohibited from getting a licence because they cannot provide good reason – they don’t have access to a large area of ground, or they are not members of clubs,” he said.
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