On Air: The Scottish airgun licence

Scottish airgunWith 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).


Licensing could come into effect as early as April next year

Age limits

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.

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20 comments on “On Air: The Scottish airgun licence
  1. Robert Sandison says:

    Exellent article just one thing will you need a licence for antique airguns as defined by the VCR act [pre 1939]?

  2. T k says:

    Will using a comercially run airgun range be acceptable if not a club member

  3. Graham B says:

    What if you cross from England into Scotland you don’t need a licence in England where as firearms licences issued in England are valid across mainland UK. Confusion all round.

  4. Tom Mabon says:

    All this because a drug user shot a 2 year old child. The real tragedy is that the family of the wee boy sold the thug drugs on the morning of the shooting. Pity Alex Salmond forgot to mention this as he paraded the mother in front of the press. So if you are a convicted drug dealer you have the sport of our leaders but screw all the hard working tax paying airgun owners.

  5. Ray says:

    All another big con it is yet another way to raise revenue at our expense, do they really think we can’t see through it?

  6. Bob L says:

    We are sold for votes this time not gold

  7. Peter van Dooth says:

    why don´t you fight for your rights up there in Scotland? What is wrong with you all? Why do you let your government do this with you? Stand up and fight like your ancestors did. They take more and more of your rights and freedom away and at the end there is nothing left to fight for.

  8. C D. says:

    Having supported the snp since the mid 60s I am disappointed that they have followed through with this farce,it is only going to effect honest air gunners, however it will raise a lot of money which is probably the main objective,after 50 years I will not be supporting snp, Hopefully being joined by the other 500,0000 airgun users.

  9. james mcdiarmid says:

    what happens if you live in england wales or ireland and you come into scotland with your air rifle for a shooting weekend

  10. Randy says:

    Will using a comercially run airgun range be acceptable if not a club member?

  11. Roger says:

    I will not be getting a licence nor will I be getting rid of my air pistol. I keep it for dispatching my darling hens when it is time for them to go. If they come for me for this then so be it, I will go to jail for 2 years! It will never be policed successfully so let’s not get too worried about this crazy SNP money raising stunt!

  12. Thanks for the post about The Scottish airgun licence, it is really helpful

  13. Thank you very much for an informative article. I have a question, the Scottish airgun licence can only take effect inside Scotland, right? what if you bring your airgun to other countries? Are you permitted to use your airgun in other countries?

  14. Chris says:

    The problem is , no one has stopped to challenge this age old tradition lost . The majority who don’t use air rifles are selfishly destroying the pastimes of a minority ,without a care for the time expense and dedication put into their hobby . people don’t realize they have lost another right , if they use an air rifle or not . Most of all no one has stopped to notice the fact that if you make a list of the negative side to air guns compared to a list of the negative side of Alcohol ,, then why are drinkers not requiring a license ? maybe because it would not be fair on sensible drinkers ? and what damage does drink cause ? People are asleep on this one and are being enslaved .

  15. One cannot really fight against any government. When they want to bring in laws they just do it.

  16. Hazel says:

    I do not understand this. Nowhere can I see that having an airgun certificate is the law in Scotland. So how can anyone be fined or imprisoned for not having a license if it is still only legislation?

    • jacobbarlow says:

      Hi Hazel, the legislation has actually just come into force, but it’s thought that there are still many airguns held by people without licences in Scotland. If you have an airgun without a licence you should have it stored with an RFD or other licensed person until you can get your own licence.

  17. Ho there I have a baby desert eagle which fires 4.5 mm .177 b.bs it fires at 420 fps will I require to buy a licence before the 1st of January 2017?

  18. I’m going to have to get a license just to legally keep hold of my grandads air rifle which I keep for purely sentimental reasons.
    From a hobby stand point just moving to bows, crossbows and slingshots would be fine. Bows and crossbows are more powerful than a 12ft/lb air rifle anyways.
    Or pay the extra few quid license fee and get a shotgun or full firearms one.

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