COUN­TRY­SIDE AL­LIANCE COM­MENT

The Coun­try­side Al­liance ex­am­ines the im­pact of the new air­gun leg­is­la­tion now in place in Scot­land and asks whether it was nec­es­sary and if it will suc­ceed in its aim of re­duc­ing crime

Sporting Shooter - - Contents -

As the Air Weapons and Li­cens­ing (Scot­land) Act 2015 be­came statute on 1 Jan­uary 2017 the con­se­quences for the num­ber of peo­ple us­ing air­guns and those whose jobs in­volved the man­u­fac­tur­ing, sell­ing and use of air­guns re­mained un­clear. While I would never fault the Scot­tish gov­ern­ment’s de­ter­mi­na­tion to take away air­guns from those that wish to use them il­le­gally, this in­tro­duc­tion of dra­co­nian red tape threat­ens to im­pact only the le­gal com­mu­nity, while al­low­ing crim­i­nals to con­tinue un­per­turbed.

As the li­cens­ing scheme en­ters its first months, there is a grow­ing pic­ture of the im­pacts on the air­gun com­mu­nity; the same im­pacts which were con­tin­u­ously pre­dicted but ne­glected by the gov­ern­ing pow­ers in the draft­ing of the leg­is­la­tion.

Only time will tell if the leg­is­la­tion is suc­cess­ful in re­duc­ing the crime com­mit­ted with air­guns. But the ques­tion re­mains whether this leg­is­la­tion was nec­es­sary, es­pe­cially as Scot­tish crime statis­tics con­tinue to drop. While air­guns have con­sis­tently been the most com­monly iden­ti­fied weapon used in recorded of­fences in­volv­ing a firearm, the use of air­guns in crime has dra­mat­i­cally de­creased, from 683 cases in 2006-07 to 158 in 2015-16. There was a 15% de­crease in air­gun crime in the last year alone. Al­though a faster re­duc­tion in crime would of course be wel­comed, will crim­i­nals us­ing air­guns be trou­bled by the fact they now have to have them li­censed? The pes­simist in me thinks not...

In truth, only those that wish to use air­guns legally will bother to have them li­censed. Oth­ers hop­ing to stay on the right side of the law have ei­ther handed their air­guns in to the po­lice or sold them on.

Po­lice Scot­land, who were orig­i­nally against the pro­posed leg­is­la­tion, cit­ing in­creased ad­min­is­tra­tion and lack of re­sources, have claimed suc­cess with their air­gun ‘amnesty’ in the run-up to the im­ple­men­ta­tion of the leg­is­la­tion. By De­cem­ber 2016 over 18,000 air­guns had been handed over to the po­lice. Th­ese 18,000 air­guns were not be­ing used by crim­i­nals but ev­ery­day Scots who thought the ef­fort and cost of ap­ply­ing for a li­cence out­weighed the en­joy­ment. But while the po­lice are re­ward­ing them­selves for get­ting all th­ese dan­ger­ous weapons off the street, the num­ber of crim­i­nals hold­ing un­li­censed air­guns has not changed. The aim of this leg­is­la­tion is to re­duce crime and yet the only thing re­duced is those that shoot ver­min and/or tar­gets per­fectly legally.

With the re­duc­tion in air­gun users there comes worry for the fu­ture. Air­guns are the gate­way for young gen­er­a­tions to en­joy shoot­ing safely and progress to other for­mats of the sport. There will be many par­ents un­will­ing to pay the li­cence fee and, fur­ther­more, think that be­cause air­guns are li­censed, they are now more dan­ger­ous. Scot­land has a proud his­tory of tar­get and game shoot­ing; this li­cence will only af­fect the fu­ture of the sport, not the crim­i­nals.

There is a fur­ther worry that lo­cal ac­cess to pest con­trol has been made that much harder. One Coun­try­side Al­liance mem­ber and farmer in Aberdeen has told us that his lo­cal ver­min con­troller has al­ready given up shoot­ing be­cause of the leg­is­la­tion, mean­ing that he will have to take time out of his day to do it. He said: “It is hard to quan­tify the cost to me but it cer­tainly means that now I will have to shoot the pi­geons and rats on the farm, adding a cou­ple of days’ pest con­trol and cost to our farm­ing cal­en­dar.” While this might not be much for one farm, taken in a na­tional con­text it adds up to a se­ri­ous cost.

The new regime is hav­ing un­in­tended, but eas­ily an­tic­i­pated, con­se­quences for the gun trade too. George Whit­ford, owner of R Welsh & Sons gun shop in Duns, ex­plained: “Sales of air­guns have evap­o­rated, the value of new air­guns has dis­ap­peared and cur­rently you can­not give away sec­ond-hand air­guns. Air­guns were a large part of the busi­ness up un­til six months ago.” This will be the same across all gun shops in Scot­land, with knock-on ef­fects in Eng­land and Wales as well.

There are an es­ti­mated 500,000 air­guns in Scot­land. Roughly 7,000 li­cences are in the process of be­ing granted and 18,000 air­guns have been handed over to the po­lice. Even tak­ing into con­sid­er­a­tion the fact that those al­ready hold­ing a firearm and/or shot­gun cer­tifi­cate are ex­empt, this still leaves a vast num­ber of air­guns un­ac­counted for. In many cases, peo­ple will be un­aware they are hold­ing their air­guns il­le­gally, and I am sure there are some who have for­got­ten they are hold­ing air­guns at all; th­ese peo­ple are not crim­i­nals but un­for­tu­nately will now be treated as such. The leg­is­la­tion is clearly not fit for pur­pose. As Scot­tish Con­ser­va­tive shadow jus­tice sec­re­tary Dou­glas Ross re­cently de­clared, “This un­nec­es­sary process has been a mess from the start.”

Air­guns may be per­ceived as be­ing more dan­ger­ous be­cause they now re­quire a li­cence

A de­cline in air­gun own­ers means there will be fewer peo­ple out con­trol­ling ver­min

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