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On the 17th of April, Phill Price from the Air­gun World team at­tended a con­fer­ence hosted by the Bri­tish As­so­ci­a­tion for Shoot­ing and Con­ser­va­tion (BASC) and the RSPCA to dis­cuss the chal­leng­ing prob­lem caused by a tiny mi­nor­ity of crim­i­nals who shoot cats with air­guns. The con­fer­ence was opened by Sir Ge­of­frey Cliffton-Brown MP, chair of the APPG, who said: “Every re­spon­si­ble owner of a firearm, shot­gun or air­gun will ab­so­lutely ab­hor any in­fringe­ment of an­i­mal wel­fare. “None of us want to see an­i­mal cru­elty and none of us want to see a na­tional sport crip­pled by the pass­ing of fur­ther laws, which should only be some­thing which is con­sid­ered once all other ac­tions have failed.”

PRAC­TI­CAL CON­SID­ER­A­TIONS

Re­sen­ta­tives from Cats Pro­tec­tion sug­gested that all air­guns should be li­censed, as has been done in Scot­land. Oth­ers made the point that with so many air­guns in free cir­cu­la­tion in Eng­land and Wales, with­out any record of who owns them, this would be prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble. Fur­ther, it was widely be­lieved that only the law-abid­ing ci­ti­zen would ap­ply for a li­cence and those likely to break the law would sim­ply ig­nore it.

BASC Chair­man, Peter Glenser QC, a bar­ris­ter spe­cial­is­ing in firearms law, said: “There is a clear prob­lem around the crim­i­nal mis­use of air­guns and BASC plainly con­demns any­one who uses them to in­flict suf­fer­ing on wildlife and other an­i­mals.

“But we do not be­lieve that li­cens­ing air­guns in Eng­land and Wales would pro­vide a work­able or ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion to the prob­lem. It is es­ti­mated that there are around seven mil­lion air­guns in the UK which could be­come sub­ject to li­cens­ing and this would break a sys­tem that is al­ready strug­gling to cope.

“The so­lu­tion has to come through tar­geted ed­u­ca­tion and im­proved en­force­ment of the many ad­e­quate laws that al­ready ex­ist. It is en­cour­ag­ing that through ini­tia­tives such as this con­fer­ence, those with an in­ter­est in shoot­ing and an­i­mal wel­fare can come to­gether to try to find so­lu­tions.”

PO­LICE REP­RE­SEN­TA­TION

The po­lice were well rep­re­sented from sev­eral forces and they ex­pressed grave con­cerns about the cost and com­plex­ity of ad­min­is­ter­ing a li­cens­ing sys­tem. The po­lice spokesman ad­vised that, with the cur­rent fund­ing re­stric­tions be­ing ap­plied to every area of pub­lic ser­vices, they were fully stretched ser­vic­ing the ex­ist­ing firearm li­cens­ing sys­tem. It was strongly be­lieved that any funds avail­able would be best used to tar­get crim­i­nals, rather than li­cens­ing law-abid­ing cit­i­zens.

From ex­pe­ri­ence, the po­lice spokesman stated that the kind of peo­ple who com­mit crimes with air­guns are also likely to be in­volved with many other crimes such as theft, drugs, vi­o­lence and the mis­use of knives. It was also felt strongly that even with a li­cens­ing sys­tem in place, the chance of catch­ing a per­son who would com­mit such a crime was ex­tremely small.

ED­U­CA­TION

Many present felt that ed­u­ca­tion, teamed with the proper en­force­ment of ex­ist­ing laws, was the way for­ward. Ev­i­dence was pre­sented show­ing how on­go­ing ed­u­ca­tion meth­ods have yielded pos­i­tive re­sults, and that air­gun crime has de­creased enor­mously in re­cent years. Al­though the data about air­gun crime against cats was lim­ited, it ap­peared that there was a trend sug­gest­ing it was most of­ten com­mit­ted by young peo­ple who lack the ex­pe­ri­ence to recog­nise the se­ri­ous­ness of their ac­tions. There was also some data to sug­gest that the num­ber of in­ci­dents in­creases dur­ing school hol­i­days, when per­haps young­sters have time on their hands and are un­su­per­vised. Fur­ther data sug­gested that the prob­lem was most preva­lent in cities, es­pe­cially where poverty and so­cial prob­lems oc­cur most.

EX­IST­ING LAWS

Those at­tend­ing were re­minded that shoot­ing a cat breaks many ex­ist­ing laws which al­ready carry heavy penal­ties, and en­force­ment of these should be a pri­or­ity. It was also made clear that there are a large num­ber of other laws that would be bro­ken if an air­gun were to be used in a pub­lic place or whilst tres­pass­ing, all of which carry heavy penal­ties.

WHAT DID WE LEARN?

First, for many en­tirely re­al­is­tic rea­sons, li­cens­ing air­guns through­out the UK is deemed by those who would be re­spon­si­ble for its im­ple­men­ta­tion, as prac­ti­cally im­pos­si­ble, in­ef­fec­tive and en­tirely the wrong thing to do. We agree, and whilst we still await the out­come of the cur­rent re­view of air­gun leg­is­la­tion, we are con­fi­dent that a work­able, ef­fec­tive and sus­tain­able plan will emerge, to tackle a prob­lem that con­cerns us all.

We will re­port the de­ci­sion on the re­view as soon as it is is­sued, but hav­ing stud­ied this sit­u­a­tion closely, we re­main pos­i­tive that a so­lu­tion can be reached that is sat­is­fac­tory to all con­cerned.

“We do not be­lieve that li­cens­ing air­guns in Eng­land and Wales would pro­vide a work­able or ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion”

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