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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.”
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.”
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.
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.
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”