The Home Office has announced that it will review the regulation of airguns in England and Wales. The move follows a request from Suffolk coroner, Dr Peter Dean, in the wake of the death of 13-year-old Benjamin Wragge, who died in May 2016 after being accidentally shot with an airgun.
Speaking in an adjournment debate in the House of Commons, Minister for Policing and the Fire Service, Nick Hurd said: “I have recently written to the coroner and confirmed my intention to review the regulation of air weapons in England and Wales. I think that this is an appropriate time to take stock of the regulatory position and assess whether the current controls, which are already strong, continue to be appropriate and effective.
“I intend to look carefully at the existing controls on air weapons, including how best to ensure that these weapons are stored safely and securely. I think that a review of air weapon regulation is important and timely, we will do so against a backdrop of existing controls that are, by all international comparisons, very robust.”
The debate was secured by Labour MP for Bristol South Karin Smyth after the serious injury in her constituency of 18-month-old Harry Studley in July last year, who was shot with an air rifle by a neighbour.
The Home Office has not yet confirmed the timescale and scope of the review, which is likely to apply to airguns producing muzzle energy of more than one joule.
The BASC has said it will be responding robustly to the review. The organisation’s senior firearms officer, Mike Eveleigh, said: “BASC believes there are already more than sufficient laws in place. The solution is the enforcement of them.”
Political Hobby Horse
Mr Eveleigh’s sentiments were echoed by airgun retailer Mike Hurney of The Shooting Party.
“This is a review in search of a problem that doesn’t exist. We already have strong airgun regulation in place and it works well,” he said.
“All statistics show that airgun crime has decreased dramatically over the last decade or so. We already have robust laws in place – if it’s not broke don’t try to fix it.
“It seems that political parties in turmoil are looking for a hobby horse to jump on. Everyone is casting around to find a crusade and this looks like one that could pose minimal risk to their careers. My biggest fear is that all logic of cost and inconvenience can go by the wayside when something like this is given momentum by an aspiring politician who wants his or her 15 minutes of fame.”
Lessons from Scotland
To see the effects of heavy-handed kneejerk legislation, we need look no further than Scotland, where the licensing of sub-12ft/lb airguns came into effect on 1st January 2017.
Prior to the new licensing regime, official figures stated that there were some 500,000 airguns in circulation in Scotland. On the eve of the licensing system coming into force, an amnesty had yielded around 20,000 airguns and Police Scotland was struggling to process around 7,000 applications for the £72 five-year Air Weapon Certificate.
Applications for the Scottish airgun licence have since risen to more than 15,000 but, even when added to the number of guns handed in through the amnesty, that still leaves a heck of a lot of unlicensed airguns. A fact which some might say suggests that people who could be inclined to break the law probably won’t be deterred by a complicated licensing regime.
Commenting on the situation, Carl Dawber of Lochmaben Shooting Supplies in Dumfriesshire said: “It was a kneejerk reaction to a very tragic event but the real tragedy is the fact that you can’t legislate for the actions of idiots. Plenty of idiots still have unlicensed airguns so there was really no gain there. The whole thing is atrocious.”
Mr Dawber said that, almost a year after the new Scottish legislation came into effect, it is still not operating smoothly and even Police Scotland are struggling to interpret it.
“We had a customer who had travelled from England and although he knew he needed a permit to bring his own airgun to Scotland he didn’t know whether he could buy one here. I contacted Police Scotland at the airgun licensing department in Glasgow and they didn’t know either.”
According to Mr Dawber, the increase in paperwork left Police Scotland very stretched.
“Our airgun club has 191 members. Most of them applied for licenses well before the deadline of October 31st,, which was supposed to guarantee they’d be processed by January 1st. But only about 60 per cent got them back in time and the remainder were told they had to hand them over to me. I had to charge my customers for storage – it was the police’s mistake but they didn’t pay for it.
“The whole thing is a mess. We don’t want it and the police don’t want it, but we all have to put up with it.”
The True Cost
Judging from the situation in Scotland it would appear that, as ever, it’s the law abiding majority who are suffering at the hands of a failed attempt to curb the actions of the law-breaking minority. It’s nothing new, and it’s typical of an administration that wants to be seen to be taking action but doesn’t have the teeth to tackle the root of the problem.
We need to keep flying the flag for all the good that comes from our great sport and the wonderful community that revolves around it. The chance it creates for people of all ages to enjoy the great outdoors rather than stagnating in front of a screen, and the countless opportunities it gives people to enjoy the thrill and satisfaction of well-organised target sports in a safe and nurturing environment – scenes of the Air Arms Experience at this year’s game fairs immediately spring to mind.
My own interest in airgun shooting helped to keep me on the straight and narrow at a time in my life when I could very easily have veered the other way – and it kept me there because it offered an engaging and challenging pursuit that demanded discipline and responsible conduct. I hate to think where I’d have ended up if I’d regarded premiership footballers or reality tv stars as role models rather than my airgunning elders.
Hopefully decision-makers will see beyond the scaremongering and acknowledge all the positives our great sport brings to the wider community when the review gets underway.
The Home Office has published a revised version of its guidance leaflet for airgun users.