One year post-licensing for Scottish airgunners
Russ Douglas reviews the Scottish airgun licensing laws, one year on
By the time you read this we’re a year on with the Scottish Airgun Licensing, and I believe many of you will want an update from we certified airgunners in deepest Scotland. I still refuse to call it the Scottish Air Weapon Licence; after all, by definition from the Oxford English Dictionary, a weapon is ‘a thing designed or used for inflicting bodily harm or physical damage’. Alternatively, (Dictionary. com) ‘any instrument or device for use in attack or defence in combat, fighting, or war, as a sword, rifle, or cannon’, or ‘anything used against an opponent, adversary, or victim’. Hence, the very terms chosen by the politicians victimise all we law-abiding sportsmen and women, from the outset.
Furthermore, the leaflet we all received with our January issue of Airgun World explains that the Home Office categorises airguns as ‘lethal barrelled weapons’. Up here, it’s common knowledge that the SNP are blinkered in being anti-gun, and this official government classification only gives them further ammunition – excuse the ironic pun. More on unlicensed lethal weapons later.
Aligned with the VCR (Violent Crime Reduction) bill, the legislation was aimed at reducing the numbers of airguns illegitimately held; i.e. by those who have no law-abiding use for them. I say ‘law-abiding’, because that’s what 99.9% of us are, and existing firearms legislation covers any offence committed with an airgun. That’s right, your airgun might be sub-12 ft.lbs. (rifles) or sub-6 (pistols), but break any of the many existing laws concerning them or their use, and it’s already classed as a firearms offence, with appropriately heavy punishments.
WHO’S THE LEGISLATION LEGITIMATELY AIMED AT?
The one and only legitimate function many of us (at GARC) have yet heard for the legislation, came to me second-hand from a police source. Namely, if they raid a suspected drugs den or similar, and find airguns they can now seize and destroy them, thus removing guns from circulation that have no legitimate function. After all, lawbreakers are unlikely to apply for a licence, or even to have a legitimate use/location to use them, even if they were to apply for a licence. Also, the penalties for their possession might well outweigh those for possession of the various drugs also seized.
Speak to many gunshop owners across Scotland, as I have done, and they’ll tell you that the police, on the whole, wanted nothing to do with the legislation from the start. They have neither the manpower nor funding to enforce the laws, with budget restrictions tightening the belt across all public sectors.
WHO DOES IT ACTUALLY PENALISE?
Let’s face it, all we law-abiding and responsible airgunners go out and apply for a licence, paying extra cash for the privilege. Criminals ignore the legislation and continue to break the law, and many, many ordinary otherwise law-abiding citizens just bury their heads in the sand – and their airguns deeper in the back of the wardrobe/shed/loft; delete as appropriate – and don’t apply for a licence, thereby criminalising themselves. I think you’ll see that from the licensing stats that follow, bearing in mind the 500,000 airguns
estimated to have been in circulation before 1st January 2017.
SCOTTISH LICENSING STATISTICS A YEAR ON
I submitted a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) with six main questions to Police Scotland on 20/10/17, wanting to inform you all of the story so far. I received the results below within a month.
1. The estimated number of airguns/airgun owners in private possession prior to licensing?
‘As air weapons were not required to be licensed until the Air Weapon Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, there is no accurate method of accounting for how many airguns were in the possession of private individuals.
The media estimate pre-licensing was that approximately 500,000 airguns were in private hands in Scotland, though this was a guesstimate, with no way of knowing what the actual figure was. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/ uk-scotland-38143327
2. The number of airguns handed in and disposed of prior to/post- licensing?
a) Pre-licensing This info wasn’t available because the costs to try to determine it would be prohibitive.
b) Post-licensing ‘Since the introduction of the new legislation, 20,452 weapons were surrendered (up to 31 December 2016).’
3. The number of airgun licence applications received both prior to, and since 1st January 2017?
‘Including those currently under consideration, the total number of applications received to date is 20,051.
19,671 applications were subsequently processed, broken down as follows:
01/07/2016 to 31/12/2016 is 6,507: 01/01/2017 to 30/10/2017 is 13,164.
380 applications were not progressed for a number of reasons e.g. refused, returned or cancelled.’ 4. The number of licence applications granted and refused, both prior to and post-licensing, to date?
“Since the application process was introduced under the new legislation, there were 19,026 air weapon licence applications granted and 195 refused.’
5. The number of licence applications currently being processed?
“At the time of writing, there are 58 applications being processed, not inclusive of renewals.’
6. I’m also very interested to know if there’s been any reduction in reported airgun offences in the last year from previous years, since licensing was introduced.
‘Your request for information has now been considered and I can advise you that Police Scotland does not hold the requested information. Therefore, in terms of Section 17 of the Act, this letter represents a formal notice that information is not held.
To explain: Police Scotland do not record air weapon offences separately or in any manner by which this data can be collated. The Scottish Government publish data on firearm offences which currently includes the 2015/16 financial year. http://www.gov.scot/ Publications/2016/11/6389/0
Police Scotland are currently in the process of collating data for 2016/17
which will be published by the end of the year’.
I’m still awaiting this.
HAS THE LEGISLATION MADE SCOTLAND SAFER?
As I explained, criminals are unlikely to have applied for licences, or handed in their airguns, so no change there. Where airguns have been taken out of the possession of law-abiding citizens, then I’d argue we’re no safer either because there should have been no danger presented anyway.
The blatant insanity of the legislation is illustrated by clamping down upon sub-12ft. lbs. airguns, but not crossbows, for example, when all crossbows are far more powerful, and often only slightly less compact. A compound crossbow available from the ‘net for £110 can easily be 175 ft.lbs! Hand-held catapults firing steel balls are no less lethal, but again are not legislated against.
CRIME STATISTICS A YEAR ON
Once these are available I’ll write a follow-up piece – watch this space.
In the experience of some of my firearm-owning friends, even police FAOs, during routine inspections, can be ignorant of the law regarding airguns and airgun ammunition. When an FAO inspects a firearm owner’s gun safe and asks them, “Do you have to keep your airgun ammo locked away too?” eyebrows are raised.
Speaking of which, airgun ammunition is not included in the legislation, so anyone who hasn’t bothered to get a licence for their now illegally-owned airguns, can still buy pellets over the counter in the High Street, or over the Internet, without restriction.
At least a few politicians pat themselves on the back for penalising law-abiding shooters in the name of public safety, when many thousands of times more harm and suffering is caused every year by alcohol abuse than was ever caused by airgun crime, for example.
My suggestion to my fellow airgunners in the rest of the UK is to lock away your guns in a secure, locked filing cabinet, to help you to demonstrate responsible ownership, and then hope common sense prevails in Westminster. Yours frustratedly, Russ. PS. I can’t help wondering how many airguns we Scottish licence holders each possess, and therefore how many of the estimated 500,000 airguns are still out there hidden in cupboards and lofts.
Final Response: Police FOI request p1/2. Final Response 2: Police FOI request p2/2.
Head torch and frosty ground – but still a lot of fun!
Tony has his licence, but how many do not?
The fun goes on despite the efforts against us.
The licence applies to all types of airgun.