Football hooliganism is something that makes me ashamed to be a fan of the game, writes GTN’s Nick Robbins.

I was born too late to live through the worst of the terrace violence, but it still pops its head up every now then. There are the ironically amusing stories of English fans smashing up a Häagen Dazs shop after we lost to Germany in the 2010 World Cup – Häagen Dazs is an American company that adopted a nonsense German-sounding name to make it appear more of a luxury brand – and the disturbingly sad ones, like almost any other incidence of violence. As a result of the prominent actions of a few, and the ease with which the media can pick up on these very visible actions, English football fans, in particular, will be tarnished wherever they go from now on.

So what does football hooliganism have to do with airgunning? Well, it was the comparison I expected to draw when scrolling through the comments on the petition to stop airgun licensing in Scotland’s page and Facebook wall. But it doesn’t tell the story of how I came to sign the petition.

One advantage the old pen-and-paper petitions tended to have was that you only needed a signature. You could then count them up and present that data to the group you were lobbying. It was simple. Critics, however, would say it was easy to get apathetic people to put down a signature, or even get them to put pen to paper under false pretenses, after feeding them misinformation.

The petition 2.0 differs by affording signatories the opportunity to vent their outrage at the issue. And I use outrage deliberately. Because it’s never annoyance, never dislike, never concern and never mild irritation. It is always outrage, abhorrence, and vitriolic, bile-inducing rage. Or so I thought. But for every misspelt call to arms and tin-foil hat conspiracy theory there were dozens more examples like this from Maggie Young: “I act responsibly and pass on good practice to all that ever witness use of any guns. They are not toys and their use for vermin control (rabbit and rats) is better than laying poisons, which could be picked up by pets, working dogs and other wildlife… not to mention children.”

Various guns poster A3 copyFirearm licensing has been in the mainstream news over the last few weeks, and the anti-licensing group in Scotland would do well to focus on these stories. First, the BBC reported that Hampshire police were taking up to five months to process licence renewals and had a backlog of 13,000 yet to be sorted.

With falling airgun misuse figures already pushed heavily by the group, the next best appeal to the general public will be to focus on the fiscal costs. Organising a large-scale licensing effort – let’s not forget there are an estimated 500,000 legal airguns in Scotland at the moment – will take considerable manpower, time and logistical organisation, but, most importantly to any voter, it will take public money, too. According to the latest available figures, Scotland has nearly 75,000 certificates for shotguns and firearms issued (25,831 firearm certificates and 48,726 shotgun certificates). It is unlikely, then, that the current body in place dealing with fi rearm licensing would be able to cope with a flood of airgun licence demands without serious changes in operations and staff levels – both of which could potentially cost significant amounts.

Ministers on the consultation panel have said: “The costs of providing such a service [licensing] should be met by those using it, rather than from the general public purse.” If this is the case, there is a very real danger that the cost of the licence could be prohibitive in proportion to the cost of an air rifle. Most newcomers to the sport will start with a sub-£200 air rifle – and there are several that sell around £100 – but it’s not wildly ridiculous to speculate that the cost of a licence could be set at upwards of 50 per cent of the licensed air rifle’s cost. This could have major repercussions for Scotland’s airgun retail trade.

The consultation that is currently taking place is examining various aspects of airgun ownership, with the aim to “restrict the casual and unnecessary ownership and use of potentially lethal weapons in Scotland.” This despite evidence that shows airgun crime has fallen for five successive years – resulting in a 71 per cent decrease from 2006/07. Worryingly, the consultation document outlines the conditions under which an ‘air weapon certificate’ (note that the pejorative ‘weapon’ is used in all government documents) can be refused. These include “where insufficient good reason for holding an air weapon exists.” As most responsible airgunners would get their marksmanship skills up to humane levels before embarking on any pest control, it’s not hard to imagine situations when licences for new shooters would be refused unless they had already secured a shooting permission or were already members of air rifle clubs.

The need for air rifle clubs could rocket as the consultation is also looking to ban plinking – informal shooting in private residential property. According to the consultation document: “Shooting should only take place on land that is suitable, provides a safe shooting environment and does not pose a risk to the public, and ideally at licensed target shooting clubs.”

India Commonwealth Games

Looking through the Shooting Club Directory for 2012 I can find 17 clubs that offer airgun facilities (though there are some private clubs that have not given details). Clearly this is not an adequate number of clubs for the estimated number of airguns and airgunners in Scotland. Members of the panel have highlighted this, though it is unlikely that there will be any government response to rectify this deficit on airgunning opportunities – a strange situation given the Scottish pride when Jen McIntosh won Commonwealth golds and represented Team GB in air rifle disciplines at London 2012.

Unfortunately, it seems there is little we can do but voice our displeasure and hope the proshooting representatives on the consultative panel represent our interests as best they can. If weight of numbers counts for anything, getting as many names on this petition can only help their cause on the panel. I signed the petition and you should too.


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