Scottish airgun licensing might be coming, says Airgun Shooter editor Nigel Allen, but don’t panic – or change the way you do business
Many airgunners are confused over what the situation is with airguns in Scotland, but it’s important to clarify that, for the time being, the law has not changed – the right to buy, own and use airguns in Scotland is still exactly the same as in England and Wales. While there is a reluctant acceptance that Scottish airgunners may have to apply for some form of certificate after demonstrating ‘good reason’ for wanting to own an airgun, nothing is yet a done deal. In other words, carry on selling airguns as normal.
The 2012 Scotland Act devolved certain powers to Holyrood, the Scottish Parliament, including firearms legislation – and in May of this year the Scottish Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill, introduced the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to make provision for the further regulation and licensing of airguns north of the border. It should be understood that the Bill does not propose an outright ban on airguns, just a degree of certification.
The Bill – should it eventually be passed and become a lawfully binding Act – will be debated irrespective of how the Scottish people vote in September’s referendum on independence. Either way, there is an air of inevitability that the Bill will be steamrollered through, regardless of the sentiment of shooters and the gun trade, because airgun licensing appears to be an emotive issue on the part of MacAskill.
Falling airgun crime statistics (now down to just 171 offences in 2012-13); an overwhelming ‘anti-licensing’ response (87 per cent) to Holyrood’s initial consultation on the proposals; a 22,600-strong online petition against licensing; and the conclusion of the Scottish government’s Business and Regulatory Impact Assessment (BRIA) that licensing ‘will have an adverse impact on sales’ for Scotland’s gun retailers are all hard facts that have been ignored as Holyrood presses on with the Bill, regardless.
Yet such is the slowness at which political cogs grind away, it’s going to take a long time for the Bill to ever become law – many commentators estimate it’ll be going through the motions until at least some time in 2016. Harold Wilson famously said ‘a week’s a long time in politics’, and time is very much on the side of shooting here. Time and the sheer weight in numbers, that is – for it’s estimated that there are over 500,000 airguns currently in circulation in Scotland. Add that to an already strong voice of dissention against the introduction of licensing, and shooters are clearly still able to influence the final result.
Let’s not forget that MacAskill – a Scottish Member of Parliament (SMP) for the Scottish National Party (SNP) – has already suffered one embarrassing parliamentary climb-down this year when he was forced into a U-turn on his position regarding two-source corroboration in criminal cases. And given the volume of overwhelming evidence, facts and opinion in the case of airgun licensing, none of us should ever underestimate people power – or, more correctly, shooter power – in causing another climb-down.
So, what should we be doing while the Bill is being debated? Quite simply, Scottish shooters (all of them, not just ‘airgunners’) and gun shops must maintain the pressure. We know the facts – the falling crime, the number of airguns, the strength of opposition, the BRIA’s negative economic forecast – and these must constantly be put under the noses of SMPs by way of letters (to them and the Scottish press), surgeries and emails.
Not forgetting, of course, that any SMP is going to be mindful of how their constituents are going to vote at the polling stations – so all Scottish residents should be asking for their SMP’s stance on airgun licensing. It’s possible that the Bill will not receive assent before the Scottish Parliament general election, currently planned for May 2016. Interestingly, at the time of writing, a Yougov poll shows support for MacAskill’s Scottish National Party is at the lowest level since January – and that may fall further still in the wake of a ‘No’ vote in the independence referendum.
Anti-licensing sentiment should go beyond Scottish airgunners, however. Under the proposals, anyone wanting to take their airguns into Scotland would need to apply for a special permit – imagine what a mess that would have made for this year’s Commonwealth Games’ athletes. It’ll impede English and Welsh airgunners from holidaying in Scotland, and from using the facilities its clubs and gun shops offer – effectively curtailing further trade for the Scottish shooting industry.
Crucially, shooters south of the border should be venting off. To justify his proposals, MacAskill has boasted that “they amount to one of the most robust air weapons licensing regimes in the world, and much further ahead of our counterparts in England and Wales. The introduction of a licensing regime for air weapons represents an important first step towards devolving all powers on firearms to the Scottish parliament…” Such rhetoric could have serious ramifications for all UK shooters, should airguns fall within a licensing structure in Scotland.
There’s one other thing that the Scottish gun trade should be seeking to do right now – and that’s setting up organised clubs and shooting venues. The Bill proposes that for an airgun licence to be granted, there must be ‘good reason’, citing examples of those as ‘pest control’, ‘sporting target shooting’ or ‘collecting’. This implies that a back-garden plinker may struggle to obtain a licence – although, importantly, the Bill also concedes that ‘plinking’ is a way of getting young shooters to ‘take up the sport on a more regular, organised basis’.
If airgun licensing ever becomes law in Scotland, it’s clear that being a member of a bona fide airgun club is going to be an important element of whether or not a certificate is granted. There are already over a dozen dedicated airgun clubs in Scotland – but with half-a-million airguns in circulation, there’s clearly the potential for many more to be set up among airgunning friends.
They don’t need to be grandiose venues, with large car parks and club houses – a simple cord firing line, a few targets and a written constitution is all that’s needed; just enough to prove they’re ‘organised’. And, ideally, the closer they are to an urban environment, the better.
So to reiterate: the law relating to airguns in Scotland is currently unchanged. While the recently introduced Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill undeniably casts a shadow for the future, no airgun ban is proposed – nor is licensing even a done deal.
We could consider licensing ‘inevitable’ given Holyrood’s desire to ignore the true facts – but that would be to stop shooting long before we get to the last pellet in the tin. Between now and 2016, by continuing to oppose the proposed changes to airgun legislation in Scotland in whatever way you can, there’s still a chance that this Bill is ultimately rejected and seen for what it really is – undemocratic, unnecessary, unworkable and uneconomical.