JUSTICE Secretary Kenny MacAskill has stepped up pressure for Scotland to be allowed to pilot a licensing scheme for air weapons after new statistics revealed they still account for half of all firearms offences.
Firearms legislation is a Westminster responsibility and the UK Government has rebuffed previous approaches from Mr MacAskill on the issue, claiming it would be "potentially damaging to have different laws north and south of the border".
But Mr MacAskill claimed people were "crying out" for action to tackle firearms and said he had written to Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, suggesting a licensing scheme could be piloted here.
New figures show 211 people were killed or injured by a gun in 2007-08, down from 248 in the previous year. Of these, 38 victims were under ten years old and 46 were aged between 11 and 15.
The number of offences across Scotland involving a firearm was down 11 per cent to 1125 in 2007-08. But in 50 per cent of the incidents, the firearm in question was an air weapon.
Mr MacAskill said: "These statistics show the problem is not going away. The fact that air weapons still account for half of all incidents, while over a third of those being injured and killed by firearms are children, shows more still needs to be done.
"People are crying out for action to tackle firearms, to get them off our streets and out of the hands of dangerous individuals. This is action that I've been trying to take and I will continue to press the UK Government to let us take action.
"I want to pilot an air weapon licensing scheme which will immediately start to address the problem of air weapons which are used irresponsibly and held unnecessarily."
In Lothian and Borders, there were 266 offences last year involving a firearm – the lowest since 2001 and well down on the peak of 418 in 2005-06.
But the figures suggest 145 of the offences – more than half the total – involved air weapons.
Malcolm Graham, acting head of CID at Lothian and Borders Police, hailed the figures as good news but said: "We want to put out the message that air weapons are not toys. Anyone in possession of an air weapon should have a legitimate reason for it."
Mr MacAskill said a pilot could be based on the firearms licensing system in Ireland, where any weapon with a muzzle energy in excess of one joule is classed as a firearm and must be licensed, including air weapons and paintball guns. Those applying for a licence must prove they have a good reason to hold a weapon.
Mr MacAskill added: "It wouldn't solve our problems overnight, but it would be a definite step in the right direction."