New Air Gun Legislation 'Robust'

New laws will give Scotland one of the most robust schemes for licensing air weapons anywhere in the world, the Justice Secretary said.

Kenny MacAskill was speaking as legislation to introduce the scheme was published at Holyrood.

There is currently no requirement to have any form of licence for an air gun, and it is estimated there about 500,000 of the weapons in Scotland.

Mr MacAskill yesterday met campaigner Sharon McMillan, who has been calling for air guns to be licensed since the death of her toddler son nine years ago.

Two-year-old Andrew Morton died in hospital two days after being shot with an air gun by Mark Bonini in the Easterhouse area of Glasgow in 2005.

The Justice Secretary said the "continued pain'' the youngster's family suffers makes him "even more determined to ensure we have robust legislation to prevent future tragedies''.

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill from the Scottish Government will bring in a licensing system that is broadly similar to existing firearms legislation.

This should allow those deemed to be a "fit person'' to obtain a licence allowing them to own, possess and shoot an air weapon in a regulated way.

This will apply to anyone who currently owns an air weapon and wants to keep hold of it, as well as people buying an air gun and anyone who wants to bring one into Scotland, for example on holiday or to take part in a competition.

The Scottish Government said that before the new regime comes into effect, there will be a period when people can hand in unwanted air weapons to police.

Mr MacAskill said: "This Government will introduce a licensing regime that is fit for the 21st century and these proposals amount to one of the most robust air weapon licensing regimes in the world, much further ahead of our counterparts in England and Wales.''

Almost half (47%) of all firearms offences in 2012-13 involved the use of an air weapon, according to Mr MacAskill.

The Justice Secretary said SNP ministers had a "long-standing commitment to tackle the misuse of all firearms'', and added: "The licensing scheme for air guns will help address the problems that these weapons can cause to individuals and communities in the wrong hands.

"I recently met with the mother of Andrew Morton, who tragically lost his life as a result of air weapon misuse just over nine years ago. This meeting took place close to what would have been Andrew's 12th birthday. To see and hear the continued pain his family has gone through only serves to make me even more determined to ensure we have robust legislation to prevent future tragedies.

"Such tragic incidents are, thankfully, very rare, but every day police and animal welfare groups have to deal with the results of air weapons being misused. As well as causing daily anti-social behaviour and vandalism, they can also cause horrific injuries to wildlife and family pets by those who maliciously target animals.''

He continued: "We are not banning air weapons outright but there has to be a legitimate use for them. We do not believe that there should be half a million unlicensed air weapons in 21st-century Scotland, and believe this legislation strikes the right balance between protecting communities and allowing legitimate shooting in a safe environment to continue.''

The legislation is being brought in after Holyrood was given powers over air weapons as part of changes made to devolution in the Scotland Act 2012.

The Bill will also bring in tighter licensing for scrap metal dealers in a bid to curb metal theft, including new rules that will ban dealers from making cash payments.

It will also create new offences aimed at tackling under-age drinking, and a new licensing regime for lap dancing venues which will give greater local control over their numbers.

Mr MacAskill said: "This Bill also contains provisions to tackle other areas of licensing, including reducing metal theft by strengthening a licensing regime for scrap metal dealers, more robust alcohol provisions for pubs, clubs and retailers, and the powers for local authorities to decide on the numbers of sexual entertainment venues in their area.

"At the heart of our licensing proposals is our aim to support and encourage legitimate businesses whilst protecting public health and safety and empowering our communities.''

The legislation being put forward makes it an offence for someone to "use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon without holding a valid air weapon certificate''.

Children aged under 14 will not be allowed to hold an air weapons certificate in their own right, but will still be allowed to shoot air weapons "in suitable circumstances if appropriately supervised''.

Those aged 14 to 17 must have parental consent to apply for a licence and will also have restrictions, meaning they can only shoot an air gun in certain circumstances, such as target shooting on private land or taking part in a sporting competition.

Papers lodged by the Scottish Government state that consistently more than 45% of offences involving air weapons are committed by young people aged aged 20 and under, stressing that ministers are "committed to ensuring that the use of air weapons by young people is properly and closely regulated''.