Scotland to get tougher airgun laws

Share this article

JACK McConnell is prepared to take the unprecedented step of extending the powers of the Scottish Parliament to bring in tough new gun laws.

The First Minister will introduce a major new licensing system for airguns north of the Border following the Home Office's refusal to take action on the issue.

The new rules will mean that anyone who buys an air weapon will have to apply for a permit, provide their details to the authorities and give a satisfactory explanation as to why they need a gun.

The first stage of the crackdown would apply only to the purchase of new weapons, but Mr McConnell then wants to go further and extend the permit system to the owners of all existing airguns in Scotland.

This could be done by giving everyone who owns an airgun a year or more to register their weapons, with any not registered after that time being declared illegal.

Mr McConnell hopes to introduce at least the first phase of his proposals through the existing licensing powers of the Scottish Parliament.

However, he is aware that the second phase will almost certainly mean interfering with UK gun law, which is reserved to Westminster.

He is prepared, though, to extend the scope of the Scottish Parliament's powers into UK law, if that is required, and he has the full backing of the Home Office to do so.

This groundbreaking move to crack down on airguns will represent the first time that the Scottish Executive has legislated in such high-profile matters which fall outside its remit.

A source close to Mr McConnell said: "Jack believes the Home Office did not go far enough when it announced its plans on imitation weapons this week and he wants to go further. It will definitely happen."

It is understood the First Minister discussed the issue with Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, at a lunch in London shortly after the election last month. Mr Clarke became convinced that Scotland could go it alone on this issue if need be.

The Home Secretary has even suggested that he will pass a technical measure in the House of Commons giving Mr McConnell the ability to legislate on gun law.

There have been many occasions when Westminster has legislated on behalf of the Scottish Parliament on devolved matters through the use of a Sewel motion.

But this would be the first time a "reverse Sewel" would be used to allow the parliament to legislate on a major UK issue.

The UK bill on gun crime was published two days ago and although it introduced a series of measures to crack down on imitation weapons, it contained only two limited, new sanctions on air weapons - raising the age of purchase and making it harder for people to fire them on private property.

The Home Office estimates there are between two million and six million airguns in circulation in Britain today, with about 500,000 in Scotland.

An appeal for unnecessary airguns to be handed in to the police in Scotland has just closed and brought in 1,000 weapons.

But Mr McConnell is convinced that something much tougher is necessary to reduce this to a more manageable total and to restrict guns to those who use them for sport or for hunting vermin.

The first stage of the crackdown would come through the licensing system and local authorities would be used to control airgun outlets.

Anyone selling an air weapon would have to comply with new rules. At the heart of these would be a requirement on everyone buying a gun to provide their full details, plus passport-style photographs, to the shop owner, who would register the sale, the identity and address of the user and the reason for the purchase. This is intended to control the unrestricted sale of guns, which is what happens at the moment, but still allow individuals who need guns to buy them.

The next stage would need the full co-operation of the police, and ministers know that this has been a problem in the past.

The source close to Mr McConnell said: "We know we will need the support of the police and it is disappointing they have opposed plans for a licensing system so far. But we hope we can get them on board."

The First Minister hinted at his plans during First Minister's questions yesterday. He said: "We are very clear in our objective of reducing the availability of airguns in Scotland and reducing their use, and doing so in a way that police and other forces believe is workable in practice."