With Scottish airgun licensing now a done deal, Scotland’s 350-plus registered firearms dealers are bound to face a barrage of questions from airgunners. Airgun Shooter editor, Nigel Allen, tries to provide at least some of the answers.
So, despite the overwhelming evidence against the emotive proposals to licence airguns in Scotland, Holyrood has voted to introduce it. Under the devolved powers of the Scotland Act 2012, the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill will make it a legal requirement for airgunners in Scotland to hold an airgun-specific licence.
The exact date will be set once the legislation is enacted, and even though the intention was to give as long a lead-in as possible in order for Scotland’s airgunners to be made aware of the new requirements, it is believed that the licence could be introduced as early as 1 April 2016 on political grounds. A good date for such foolish legislation, one might say.
Of course, Scottish airgunners will have 101 questions – and it’ll be more than likely down to the retailers to provide them with answers. At this early juncture, Holyrood still needs to sort many of the specifics out – and one has to feel for Police Scotland who, having had their firearms enquiry officer numbers cut from 34 to 14, are going to find the administrative side of things a little hectic over the coming months. With an estimated 500,000 airguns currently in circulation, we’re not talking about resources in terms of man-hours here, but man-years!
So, let’s look at the areas Scotland’s gun shops are most likely to face questions about, and how best to answer them. For the information that follows, I’m extremely grateful to the BASC for their help, in particular BASC Scotland’s Colin Shedden who, along with colleague Nicolle Hamilton, have been instrumental in fighting the corner on behalf of Scottish airgunners. Indeed, they obtained some good concessions to the bill, including the right for all 14 to 18-year-olds to shoot live quarry.
Application, cost and term
No price, nor term, for an airgun licence has yet been set – though it’s likely to be on par with a current firearms or shotgun certificate (respectively £88 and £79.50 for five years). As the new certificate is for sub-12ft/lb air rifles and sub-6ft/lb air pistols, there’s an outside chance that Holyrood will agree a cheaper fee in an attempt to stop airgunners uprating the power of their existing kit. The airgun licence is likely to cover a five-year period, unless the certificate is granted to someone between 14 and 18; in that case, it will need renewing when the holder turns 18 years of age. It’s also understood that the police will be granted the right to shorten the term to help ‘smooth out’ peaks and troughs in renewal cycles.
Applications will be made to the police in the same way as an existing FAC or SGC, although it’s likely there will be specific forms to apply for the airgun licence. Police Scotland advises that these are not yet printed. Current FAC and SGC holders will still need to apply for this separate airgun licence if they also own a sub-12ft/lb air rifle (or sub-6ft/lb air pistol).
Airgun licence applicants will need to supply the police with the same kind of personal information as they currently do with FAC and SGCs, and allow them access to their GP. Additionally, the police will have the right to visit an applicant’s home or other premises where the airguns are stored – although, in practice, it’s probably an option the police won’t enact. There is no provision to lock airguns in a safe, though due consideration must be paid to the Crime & Security Act 2010, which requires them to be inaccessible by minors.
Airgunners wishing to maintain ownership of their airguns will need to provide a ‘good reason’ for wanting to own an air pistol or air rifle after the new law is enacted. ‘Good reason’ will include target shooting, pest control and collecting, but garden plinking may not be acceptable – the Scottish government has expressed concern about general fun-gunning in a small garden, especially in a built-up area.
There is a caveat for collectors, too – it’s possible that citing this as a good reason may be acceptable only on the proviso that the guns are not shot. It would therefore be prudent for airgun collectors to state that they do, occasionally, shoot these guns (perhaps to maintain them in safe working order).
Furthermore, it’s sage advice for collectors and those active garden-gunners living in towns and cities to join a club if they don’t already belong to one – there was a comprehensive list in June 2015’s issue of Airgun Shooter magazine. Being a member of an ‘approved’ airgun club will suffice as a good reason – but note that the clubs themselves will have to apply to the police in order to be granted ‘approved air gun club’ status. There are currently none in existence, and it’s expected that the Scottish government will announce application details in the next few weeks.
The intention is that the Scottish airgun licence will not apply to individual guns per se, but the shooter him or herself; unlike an FAC, the airgun licence will not have to list all the various airguns owned by the holder. But while one licence will cover ownership of multiple airguns, it does not allow the licence holder to automatically uprate the power of an existing sub-12ft/lb-rated air rifle. Those with a power output capable of exceeding 12ft/lb at the muzzle will still need to be listed on a separate, Section One FAC of course – that part of the Firearms Act was not devolved to Scotland (correspondingly, air pistols with a muzzle energy capable of exceeding 6ft/lb remain prohibited under the 1997 Firearms (Amendment) Act).
There is still no change to the age at which you can own an airgun – 18 years old. However, as the new airgun licence certificates the user and not the gun itself, a bit of an anomaly is thrown up for those aged between 14 and 18 who would ordinarily be allowed to shoot unsupervised on land where they have permission to be. Effectively, teenagers are applying for the right to use an airgun, not own one. The same rules for ‘good reason’ will apply, though it’s likely granted applications may be subject to a lot of provisos. And, as mentioned earlier, the term of the licence will only cover up until they turn 18 years of age. It’s not yet known whether young applicants will have to pay a pro-rata fee for their airgun licence.
Young airgunners between the ages of 14 and 18 will be able to shoot under a parent’s airgun certificate. However, in this instance, the teenager will need to be constantly supervised by the licence-holding parent. For the teenager to shoot unsupervised, they must have been granted their own airgun certificate.
Options for existing owners
Those airgun owners who don’t wish to pay out for a Scottish airgun licence will have to remove all the guns from their possession by the enactment date in order not to fall foul of the law after the enactment date. So, will there be an amnesty after the enactment date?
The truth is, no one knows – but two things are known. Firstly, the Scottish government doesn’t like amnesties. Secondly, there can’t be any amnesty before the enactment date because owning an airgun without holding a licence isn’t currently an illegal practice.
So those Scottish shooters who choose not to become licensed airgunners have the following options: they could sell their guns – either into gun shops or by a private sale (for which a face-to-face transaction won’t be required) – or hand the gun into the police.
Considering the former, gun shops stand a good chance of increasing stock levels of second-hand airguns, for sure – and though those located in Scotland may well be so inundated that they turn punters away, gun shops in England and Wales may well jump at the chance to bolster their pre-owned airgun stock levels (it is generally quite a lucrative market).
As for handing-in to the police – it’s not quite as straightforward as it sounds. The duty officer on the desk of the local police station can’t accept a ‘firearm’ (which is what an airgun is legally defined as) without a firearms enquiry officer being present. In practice, Scottish airgun owners going down the hand-in route will need to liaise with the police themselves who, in all likelihood, will be all rather tied up trying to deal with the bombardment of new airgun licence applications.
Unlicensed ownership of airguns
BASC has quite rightly pointed out that there could end up being numerous owners of the 500,000 airguns circulating in Scotland who unwittingly commit a criminal act once the new Scottish legislation is enacted by Holyrood, especially if it is steamrollered in by 1 April next year.
I’m hoping that the Scottish authorities go out of their way to get information about the legislative changes to such people because there are serious penalties. Yes, the shooting organisations and gun shops will no doubt get the message across to the Scottish airgun shooting fraternity, but it’s those who have grandad’s old airgun somewhere in the attic who I fear for. After the enactment date, if anyone is found to be “in possession of an air rifle or air pistol without a licence” in Scotland, they could face imprisonment for up to two years, a hefty fine, or both.