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23 March 2015, 08:09
Plans to introduce a licensing regime for air weapons have moved a step closer after winning the support of a Holyrood committee.
Kevin Stewart, convener of the Local Government and Regeneration Committee, said the weapons were "dangerous'' and the introduction of a licensing system was both "timely and important''.
An estimated 500,000 air guns are owned by people across Scotland.
The Scottish Government's Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill will require anyone who owns one to have a licence for it, for which they would first need to demonstrate a legitimate reason for having such a weapon.
The legislation has been brought forward after the death of two-year old Andrew Morton, who was shot in the head with an airgun in Glasgow in 2005.
MSPs on the committee have also called on the Scottish Government to consider if it would be feasible for air weapons to have "some form of identifier mark'' which would link each weapon to its owner, and could therefore help the police identify those responsible for any crimes committed with the guns.
Police recorded 171 offences involving airguns in 2012-13, the lowest total since comparable records began in 1980.
But Mr Stewart stressed: "There is no doubt air weapons are dangerous.
"Recently, a rail worker and a firefighter were shot as they carried out their jobs and this kind of incident happens far too often.
"That is why we welcome plans to introduce a licensing regime for air weapons. It is a timely and important piece of work.
"Misuse of these weapons must be addressed and the Bill takes this objective a step closer.''
The committee has recommended there must be a "clear and comprehensive public information campaign'' ahead of the introduction of a licensing regime.
"Many people may only own an air weapon, and no other form of firearm, and therefore be unaware of the conditions for applying for and holding a firearms certificate,'' the report on the Bill said.
"Therefore, we recommend the Scottish Government should work closely with the shooting community, Police Scotland, and other key stakeholders to design and implement a comprehensive public information campaign.
"This should begin well in advance of the commencement of any certificate system to allow enough time for those who wish to lawfully dispose of any air weapons to do so.''
As well as bringing in a new licensing regime for air weapons, the Bill also sets out to create a separate licensing regime for sexual entertainment venues (SEVs), such as lap-dancing bars.
There are about 20 such venues in Scotland, mostly in Edinburgh and Glasgow, but under the current terms of the legislation, any venues putting on four or less events a year with sexual entertainment, would be exempt from having to hold a licence.
The committee said this was a "loophole'', raising concerns that organisers could "circumvent the licensing regime could move from venue to venue avoiding regulation''.
The MSPs stated: "We believe all SEVs should be regulated to safeguard the performers and therefore we recommend the exemption provision should be removed from the Bill.''
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Government believes the Air Weapons and Licensing Bill provides a reasonable, clear and consistent approach to licensing. We will respond to the committee's recommendations in due course.''