Holyrood presses Westminster for control of firearms legislation
SCOTTISH ministers last night increased the pressure on their UK counterparts to hand over control of firearms to Holyrood.
Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, wrote to Jacqui Smith, the Home Secretary, asking for a clear timetable for legislation allowing the Scottish Executive to ban airguns north of the Border.
Firearms is one of the areas which remains reserved to Westminster and Scottish ministers are not allowed to legislate on the issue without the clear consent of the UK government.
The SNP administration has been discussing the issue with the UK government for the past few weeks and has received a "sympathetic" response from Westminster.
A spokesman for Alex Salmond, the First Minister, said yesterday: "There has been constructive dialogue between Scottish ministers and their Westminster counterparts on enabling the Scottish Parliament to lay a framework for a consolidated Firearms Act designed for Scottish needs and circumstances. This is an area where we would like to secure progress as soon as possible, as we would wish early legislation, and the response has been understanding and sympathetic."
He added: "We need to look afresh at the existing firearms legislation, which has been amended considerably over the past 20 years. There is a need to put in place a modern and readily enforceable system with a greater emphasis on public safety, and deal with the particular problem of air weapons crime in Scotland, as well as the weapons culture more generally."
Mr Salmond met Jack Straw, the Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary, in Edinburgh on 13 July, and has since written to him. Mr MacAskill met Ms Smith and Vernon Coaker, the Home Office minister, on 19 July.
While airguns are a problem throughout the UK, they pose a particularly acute problem in Scotland where there has been a sharp increase in airgun crime in recent years, the Executive argues.
New UK-wide laws went on to the Westminster statute book last year. These effectively outlaw the sale of airguns at car boot sales, corner shops, and outlets not regulated by police.
The legislation also lifts the age limit for owning airguns from 17 to 18, tightens the law on firing air weapons from private property, and effectively outlaws mail order and internet sales.
But in March, two families of airgun victims, including the relatives of two-year-old Andrew Morton, from Glasgow, handed a petition to Holyrood seeking a ban on personal ownership of handguns.
The Executive argues that it could acquire powers over airguns in one of two ways - either through devolving firearms legislation permanently to Edinburgh, or a one-off procedure in which Westminster could agree to Holyrood legislating in this area.
Des Browne, the Scottish Secretary, said: "We are aware of the issues raised by Scottish ministers and, while our discussions with the Scottish Executive remain at an early stage, our priority is to work with them and other devolved administrations to ensure communities throughout the UK are protected from gun crime."
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