Air Rifle

Revealed: slow progress of Scotland’s air gun licence scheme

Victims of air rifles have criticised the speed of the Scottish Government’s air gun licence scheme after a Ferret investigation found less than a fifth of applications have been processed so far.

No applications for an air gun license have been refused, a Freedom of Information request also revealed.

Police Scotland had processed just 418 of the 2642 applications it had received by the end of August, raising fears that the backlog will not be cleared by the time new legislation comes into force on January 1, 2017.

It is estimated that there are about 500,000 air weapons in Scotland, although around 12,000 air guns were handed into the police during a three week amnesty this summer.

Calls for a clampdown on air guns intensified after two-year-old Andrew Morton was killed by an air rifle in Easterhouse, Glasgow in 2005.

The child had been in the street with big brother Brian, then aged 13, watching fire engines when drug addict Mark Bonini shot him from a first-floor flat window. Then prime minister Tony Blair said the killing was “absolutely appalling”.

After firearms legislation was devolved to Holyrood in 2012, plans for a licence scheme were drawn up.

The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act was introduced last year. It costs £72 to apply for a license.

Air gun victims welcomed the new legislation but are concerned about the length of time Police Scotland is taking to process applications.

Air Gun Pile
Air weapons handed into Police Scotland

“There are still reports almost weekly of an animal being shot with an air guns,” said Laura-Jane Sheridan, whose cat Suki was shot in the stomach by an air rifle.

“It could very well be a child that this could happen to. If they can shoot at an animal, they can shoot at a child,” said Sheridan.

“The effects of that one split second of pulling the trigger are felt for years and years afterwards. Its not something you ever get over. The legislation is there for a reason but we need to make sure it is properly pursued and followed up.”

The Scottish Government said that in the event that a license application is not processed in time people with air guns should store them in a “safe place” – such as with a firearms dealer or with “another certificate holder.”

There are currently nine Police Scotland officers working on the air weapon license project – but in the two months to August 31 just 418 of 2624 applications received were processed.

Jennifer Dunn, Senior Parliamentary Officer for the League Against Cruel Sports in Scotland, was concerned that no applications for air gun licences had been turned down.

“Given the restrictions of the legislation, we’re surprised that no airgun licence had been refused,” Dunn said.

“There are unfortunately air weapon users out there who use their guns to kill and maim pets, particularly cats, as well as protected animals, like many species of birds.”

From next year, it will be a criminal offence to have an air weapon without a licence or permit. Anyone found guilty of the new offence could face up to two years in prison.

Earlier this year, Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said much of the extra work needed to process licence applications would be undertaken by community officers who have been given additional training.

Opposition politicians called on the Scottish government to do more to ensure that the backlog of air gun applications is cleared.

John Finnie MSP, Justice spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, said: “Air weapons are not toys but potentially dangerous firearms and Greens welcome them requiring a license.

“Of course there’s no point in having a licencing regime if it can’t cope with the volume of applicants. An air weapon certificate will cover all the air weapons held by the certificate holder and it is vital that, as with firearms and shotguns, thorough enquiries are undertaken to establish the complete suitability of all applicants.

Police Scotland must spare no effort in ensuring there are no unlicensed weapons in our communities John Finnie MSP

Police Scotland must spare no effort in ensuring there are no unlicensed weapons in our communities and that all applications are processed before 31st December.  Anything short of that could compromise public safety.”

Labour’s MSP Claire Baker MSP said: “For the legislation to be effective, the SNP Government must ensure that the resources are in the place for Police Scotland to carry out processing in a timely manner.

“However this can’t be at the expense of proper scrutiny of all applications. This FoI seems to indicate that Police Scotland are struggling to do both and resources need to be looked at.”

Scottish Conservative community safety spokesman Oliver Mundell said the air gun licence scheme itself “was a waste of time and money.”

If only 2600 applications have been received, that leaves hundreds of thousands of air guns unaccounted for in Scotland. Oliver Mundell MSP

He said: “If only 2600 applications have been received, that leaves hundreds of thousands of air guns unaccounted for in Scotland.

“The Scottish Government shouldn’t be surprised that all applications have been approved; it’s not like those holding air guns for malicious purposes would seek official consent.

“It’s needless hassle for those who own air guns for entirely legitimate purposes, and will do nothing to improve public safety.

“And it seems, having insisted on this law, the Scottish Government hasn’t even bothered to ensure all applications will be processed on time.”

Speaking in 2014, Andrew Morton’s father, Andy, welcomed the air gun licence scheme.

“We realise there are legitimate uses for air rifles. We are not against pest controllers working on a farm having access to these weapons, for example.

“But there is no place for them in housing schemes – and that is our fight. The only reason someone would have one in a city centre or in a scheme is to cause trouble.

“People still seem to think they are toys but they are lethal weapons.

“Our Andrew died after being shot in the head. We know they are not toys and shouldn’t ever be in the wrong hands.

“We would like to see licences introduced. People would have to prove they have a legitimate use for them before they are allowed to buy one.

“Anyone caught with an air rifle who doesn’t have a licence should be severely dealt with.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said that “Police Scotland are working hard to process applications”

“We would encourage anyone wanting an air weapon licence to apply by October 31 to ensure they can keep their weapons when the new laws come in to force on December 31.

“Where an application is not processed before the year end, the owner would have to put their guns in a safe place, for example with a firearms dealer or another certificate holder, until they get a decision from Police Scotland.”

Police Scotland did not respond to requests for comment.

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