PPC Discussion on Airgun Licensing; Debrief

David Ewing, both a founding member of Firearms UK and the founder of the “No to Airgun Licensing in Scotland” campaign was in the Scottish Parliament on the 3rd of September 2013 to provide an opening address and answers questions on behalf of the twenty one thousand who signed his petition against the Scottish Government’s proposal to introduce a licensing scheme and further restrict low powered airguns in Scotland. The following statement has been prepared by David.

Initially I was incredibly nervous when I sat down at the table. I am not used to giving presentations especially in a venue such as the Scottish Parliament. As the proceedings were running late I had to cut down the length of my opening statement from ten minutes to around five. Unfortunately this threw me a lot and left me having to think on my feet trying to draw together parts of what I had prepared. Gratefully the Committee Chair appeared very understanding which helped put me at ease.

My opening statement basically reiterated that this proposal would be a costly burden on the Police, Taxpayer and on the individual airgun user. I also stated that the proposal was disproportionate when compared to the amount of airgun offenses and so unjustified. The committee quickly moved onto questions and discussions pertaining to the evidence I had provided and the statements I made.

I had provided the committee with examples of the variety of airgun purchase prices which prompted a question as to why people who wanted to own airguns would be against licensing, particularly when airguns can cost £1000 or more. My response was that whilst people with expensive airguns may be OK with paying for a license [the license being a small fraction of the airgun cost] for example serious competitive shooters and possibly professional pest controllers [who could offset the cost]. License fees could have a huge impact on people entering the sport and those with cheaper airguns.

A discussion regarding terminology was had. Mr Tam Parker (The Scottish Association for Country Sports, SACS) correctly stated that referring to airguns as “air weapons” was incorrect unless the airgun was being used to harm or threaten someone. An airgun used for target practise should not be referred to as a “weapon”.

Key amongst the questions was what I thought the cost of implementing a license system would be and how I had obtained the figures. I stated that at the highest end of the scale it could potentially be around £100,000,000 in processing applications using figures obtained from the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO). Figures which the ACPO had provided regarding the cost of processing applications for Shotgun Certificates and assuming that there would be 500,000 applications. Clearly there is unlikely to be this number of applications so to balance this I offered the more conservative estimate that even if the amount of licence applications was reduced to the more reasonable number of 125,000 it would still cost around £25,000,000 to process, again using the ACPO figures.

There was, in my opinion, a rather cheap shot fired at me by Mr Chic Brodie MSP, who after asking if I had ever been shot with an airgun, to which I responded I had not, informed me that he had been shot with an one. Mr Parker pointed out that Mr Brodie being shot by someone using an airgun is already an illegal offence. It was pointed out by a member of the committee that an airgun licensing scheme would not necessarily prevent that type of crime from occurring.

Mr Brodie then proceeded to make a comment regarding a child killed by someone using an airgun. Mr Brodie’s comment regarding the child’s death offended me greatly, as in my opinion, it was an attempt to exploit a tragedy to try get people’s emotions fired up. I responded to his comment stating that whilst every gun owner would agree that it is a tragedy, there was a similar incident where a child was beaten to death with a golf club yet there is not the same outcry against golf. The death of a child is the death of a child and you cannot blame an inanimate object for the will of the person holding or using it. (Out of interest, I later found out that Mr Brodie is part of the Cross-Party Group in the Scottish Parliament on Golf)

Dr Colin Shedden (The British Association for Shooting & Conservation, BASC) mentioned that an unintended consequence of airgun licensing may be that people may not go for an airgun license, they may go straight to SGC/FAC instead.

A member of the committee highlighted that tickets for shooting sports at the Commonwealth games are among the fastest selling.

I feel that the prior to the meeting the committee did not have an understanding of the potential scale of the issue, i.e. the number of airguns in circulation (Dr Shedden confirmed that the 500,000 was a minimum figure), the potential costs of a licensing scheme and the potential impact on airgun sports.

There was a recommendation by Mr Brodie that the petition should be closed, however after a counter recommendation by Mr Carlaw of the Conservative party it was decided that it would be best to leave the petition open while the Justice Secretary responded to some of the issues presented.”

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