Air gun owners face jail unless they get a licence

Sitting in his conservatory overlooking a patch of suburban green-belt the paunchy, grey-haired, bespectacled, middle-aged, middle-class businessman doesn’t look much like the archetypal outlaw.

Responsible air-gunners feel they are being criminalised

Responsible air-gunners feel they are being criminalised

A lawbreaking career which amounts to a handful of parking tickets and a couple of fixed-penalty speeding fines over the last 38 years hardly puts him in the premier league of villains.

Yet, after a life-time as a honest citizen he is now a criminal in waiting, facing a possible two-year prison sentence and/or a ‘substantial’ fine.

His offence, when new legislation comes into force on December 31 this year, will be to own an air rifle without a licence.

“I have been told that because I live in an ordinary house with an average size garden, and I don’t want to go hunting vermin or belong to a gun club, then I probably won’t get a licence and will have to give up the only hobby I have,” said the future fugitive, who prefers to remain anonymous for obvious reasons.

“If I apply for one and get turned down I’ll have no choice but to surrender the air rifle I have had as a boy. I have only ever used it for shooting at paper targets and the odd tin can in my garden. My son and daughter used to love doing the same, under my supervision, when they were younger – it was something we could do together.

“I have never shot any living creature and would no more think of turning the gun on a person than I would of jumping naked into a volcano, yet I’m being treated as though I’m a potential hardened criminal and my low-powered rifle is being ranked the same as a shotgun.”

Looking at the 60-year-old .177 calibre BSA Cadet Major laid out on the coffee table it certainly appears to have been well used and cared for. It was made for target shooting and that’s how the present owner acquired it as a boy taking part in inter-school shooting competitions in the 1970s.

“It’s not worth much money but, sentimentally, it is priceless to me so I won’t be giving it up. More people are probably harmed by thugs wielding golf clubs and anglers often cause wildlife suffering with discarded lines and hooks.

“When they introduce licences for clubs and fishing rods I’ll think about complying,” said the would-be rebel. He is not alone.There are fears that potentially thousands of previously law-abiding air gunners could be criminalised once the new laws come into effect.

Air rifle shooting is a recognised sporting activity

Air rifle shooting is a recognised sporting activity

From July this year owners will have just six months to apply to Police Scotland for a licence before the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, come into effect from 31 December 2016.

The legislation was introduced by the Scottish Government following the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton who was shot in the head and killed by an airgun in 2005 near his home in the Easterhouse, Glasgow.

Announcing the time-table for licensing Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Michael Matheson said: ”This Government has a long-standing commitment to eradicating gun crime in Scotland and this new legislation will better protect our communities by taking these potentially lethal weapons out of the hands of those who would misuse them.

“Every day, police, the public and animal welfare groups have to face the results of air weapon misuse, from anti-social behaviour to horrific and deliberate injuries to wildlife, pets and very occasionally people.

“We believe this legislation strikes the right balance between protecting communities and allowing legitimate shooting in a safe environment.”

It is estimated there are currently around half a million unlicensed air guns in Scotland and opponents of the legislation fear it will prove to be a major headache for an already over-stretched Police Service Scotland to cope with demand.

Calum Steele, Scottish Police Federation General Secretary, warned MSPs that increasing restrictions on air guns would likely lead to a number of otherwise well-meaning individuals being ensnared by the new rules.

“I suspect that there are many people – possibly tens of thousands of individuals – out there who may well find themselves falling foul of the criminal justice system because of licensing offences,” he said.

The pro-shooting lobby claims the legislation will only impact responsible citizens as anyone determined to get an airgun will simply cross the border into England and buy one openly without a licence.A

nd, although membership of an “approved” airgun club would be seen as good reason to own an airgun the British Association for Shooting & Conservation (BASC) claims there are, as yet, no approved air weapon clubs in Scotland. Existing clubs and new clubs will have to apply for approval when the criteria are established.

“We opposed the introduction of air weapon licensing in Scotland. Offences involving air weapons had been declining significantly over the past seven or eight years and licensing was seen by many as disproportionate,” said Colin Shedden, Director of BASC Scotland.

“However, with the legislation now in place, and certificates to be made available from July, we will do all that we can to help the many legitimate air weapon users in Scotland adapt to the new licensing regime.

“The six months ‘lead in’ period, before a certificate becomes a legal requirement, is shorter than we had anticipated and may present a challenge to Police Scotland staff, who will administer the new regime.”