While some consider airgun licensing in Scotland to be a ‘done deal’, the Stage One debate on 23rd April tabled by new Scottish Justice Secretary, Michael Matheson in Holyrood failed to secure support from all parties in the Scottish Parliament because of lack of evidence.
The two-and-a-half hour session was televised, and can be watched here. There was staunch opposition in particular from the Conservatives, who said they’d oppose the Bill unless the Scottish government changes its stance on airgun licensing. Other notable support in favour of not licensing airguns came from the Scottish Liberal Democrats – and come the voting stage, there were no fewer than 12 abstentions. Nonetheless, the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill will still now go on to a Stage Two debate after 60 ‘yes’ votes.
The BASC – the UK’s largest shooting organisation with over 140,000 members – believes the proposals for airgun licensing in Scotland will do nothing to cut crime or improve public safety and will be a costly and unnecessary burden on police firearms licensing teams.
Official government statistics show that airgun crime in Scotland has fallen by 75% between 2006 and 2013. At the same time delays are mounting in licensing shotguns and rifles while Police Scotland intends to slash the number of firearms licensing officers from 34 to 14. BASC is aware of delays of up to nine months in processing applications. BASC has also submitted a Freedom of Information request after airgun crime statistics for 2014 were not published on time.
Nicolle Hamilton of BASC Scotland said: “This is an important marker against the Bill laid down by the Conservative group in the Scottish Parliament. The proposals are, quite simply, not supported by evidence. BASC and other shooting organisations have pointed out the immense difficulties in trying to license an estimated half a million airguns in Scotland for little or no public benefit. Those intent on criminal misuse of airguns will not apply for a licence so the Bill will do nothing to cut crime. The Police need to focus their resources on the administration of the 75,000 shotgun and firearms certificates on issue in Scotland.
“We are now asking all MSPs to take note of the objections to the Bill and to carefully consider the evidence. Shooting is an important part of life in Scotland. It helps in the management of our countryside and generates £200 million for the economy every year. Country sports tourism is worth an annual £155 million to Scotland. For many people airguns are simply a tool of their trade and are used safely day-in, day-out.
“BASC will now focus its efforts on the next stage of the Bill as it is considered in detail in Committee and is open to amendment. We would like to see sensible legislation based on evidence, not on prejudice and ignorance of the facts.”