Number of firearms in Scotland hits ten-year high

'Police make gun owners aware of their responsibilities', says Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Reuters
'Police make gun owners aware of their responsibilities', says Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill. Picture: Reuters
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THE number of guns held in Scotland has reached a ten-year high despite a decrease in the number of firearms certificate holders, new figures reveal.

The statistics mirror a rise in the number of shotguns to a decade-long high, while the number of people authorised to carry them has fallen. The guns are generally held for pest control, hunting and sports.

The figures show there were 72,005 firearms held by 25,702 certificate holders in Scotland in 2012, and 141,569 separately classified shotguns held by 48,168 people.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation (Basc) in Scotland insists the rise does not pose a risk to the public.

As the law stands, guns must be held in strong metal cabinets.

Dr Colin Shedden, director of Basc Scotland, said: “That is why incredibly few are stolen each year. “It is only when you reach ten or 12 (guns on one certificate) in an area with high crime that police may want CCTV and an alarm system put in place.”

Gun crime is down to a 34-year low. “The use of legitimately held guns accounts for a tiny proportion of the numbers recorded,” Dr Shedden said.

The laws on firearms were tightened following the Dunblane massacre in 1996 when Thomas Hamilton, 43, killed 16 children and one adult before turning his gun on himself.

That led to a UK-wide ban on nearly all handguns. The majority of the firearms covered by the Scottish Government’s firearm figures are believed to be rifles, used for target-based sport and hunting.

Many of the shotguns will have been passed or sold from one relative or friend to another, as long as both are certificate holders. However, a firearms holder must justify to regulators why he needs each individual weapon.

Dr Shedden believes that numbers continue to rise partly because certificate holders are enthusiasts who hold different rifles for different activities.

He also said that additional features, such as a silencer, would be counted as a separate weapon under the figures, which may have also boosted the numbers.

Legislation on firearms licensing is still reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Government wants the power devolved to Holyrood. Airgun licensing was handed to the Scottish Parliament last year.

Justice secretary Kenny Mac-Askill said: “Each one of the firearms included in these statistics belongs to someone who has a legitimate reason for owning it, and a robust registration scheme, coupled with responsible dealers, helps ensure that these weapons do not fall into the wrong hands.

“Scotland’s police work extremely hard to make firearms owners aware of their responsibilities and at having the right procedures in place to prevent firearms from being used in criminal ways.”

A Home Office spokesman added: “The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world. The authority to possess firearms is only granted in limited circumstances and is subject to stringent conditions.”