KENNY MacAskill has demanded powers to cap the number of firearms owned by one person after new figures showed that gun ownership has reached a ten-year high in Scotland.
However, shooting representatives warned the justice secretary that restricting the number of guns that can be legally owned would lead to animals being killed in a less humane and efficient manner.
There were 25,831 firearm certificates on issue in Scotland at the end of 2011, a ten-year low. But 71,860 guns were held on those licences – the highest in a decade.
Similarly, the 48,726 shotgun certificates issued is at a ten-year low, but the number of shotguns owned – 138,939 – is the highest in a decade.
The changes are not huge, say gun-owners. The average number of firearms held on a licence has risen from 2.3 in 2002, to 2.8 in 2011, while shotguns have increased from 2.4 to 2.9 over the same period.
But yesterday Mr MacAskill seized on the figures as evidence that ownership of weapons has reached dangerous levels.
“It concerns me that gun owners, even those with a legitimate need for such weapons, can accumulate multiple firearms and that there is no apparent limit to what can be held,” he said. “It is one of the areas where the Scottish Government would, if given the proper powers over firearms in Scotland, aim to legislate to ensure that we can better control the number of lethal weapons in society and thereby help to protect and reassure the Scottish public.”
He has written to Home Secretary Theresa May calling for firearms legislation to be fully devolved.
However, the move is likely to face a backlash.
Colin Shedden, Scottish director of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (Basc), said: “I think Mr MacAskill’s comments are slightly misplaced if he thinks an individual poses any great threat to society if he has three guns rather than one.
“All of these guns are currently stored in secured metal cabinets which take a long time for even the most committed criminal to break into.
“The number of shotguns and firearms stolen on an annual basis can be counted on one hand.”
He also warned that having different rules north and south of the Border could damage Scottish tourism.
“Basc is opposed to the fragmentation of legislation in the UK, primarily because of the many people from Scotland who shoot in England, and those from south of the Border who shoot here.
“If you have different standards on either side of the Border, it could prove to be a big problem to people coming to Scotland for legitimate activities, which provide a huge boost to rural communities over the winter months.”
Sarah Denman, of Cowans Sporting, which organises shooting holidays in Scotland, added: “Many years ago, people would own one gun. Nowadays that’s not acceptable because you are supposed to kill humanely.
“So, for example, a shotgun is not acceptable while deer hunting.”