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Proposed Airgun Licensing in Scotland – what will it mean for you?

Scotland's Justice Secretary, Kenny MacAskill MSP, last week announced an Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill to licence the 500,000 air weapons he estimates are used in Scotland. Scottish Countryside Alliance director Jamie Stewart has said: "The Scottish Countryside Alliance has lobbied hard on this point. We do not believe lower-powered air rifles need to be licensed as the vast majority of those who hold and use them, as part of an organised pest control exercise or who shoot recreationally, pose no threat to the wider public." Read on for our Q&A on this issue and what it will mean.

How difficult would it be to obtain an airgun under the proposed licensing scheme?

The Bill, as introduced, sets out a new licensing system for air weapons to be administered by the Police Service of Scotland. This would require an existing owner of an air weapon, or a new applicant, to apply for a licence under a new process. The application will take a mixture from the current Firearms and Shotgun certificate application process i.e. age restrictions, character referees, good reason, home visitation etc.

Specific provisions in the Bill include:

  • a definition of the air weapons that will be subject to licensing;

  • a requirement for air weapon certificates and the process for applications, grants (including conditions and duration) variations, renewal and revocation of these;

  • a system of police permits, visitor permits and event permits;

  • restrictions on the commercial sale, sale for delivery outwith Scotland,

  • manufacture, repair, testing of air weapons and the operation of recreational

  • shooting facilities;

  • Enforcement powers and offences;

  • Power to set fees and provide guidance;

  • Air gun clubs;

  • Exemptions from the licensing regime.

What is the Scottish Countryside Alliance doing around the Bill?

The SCA has and will continue to lobby against the principles of air weapon licensing as well as the detail of the proposed legislation. We will work with others who are opposed to this, including the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, The Gun Trade Association and other shooting organisations.

This is a brief review of the proposed legislation. Please use the link to view the full bill including explanatory notes.

Current ownership of an airgun/ rifle or pistol – Do you need to get a licence now?

No. The Bill has just been introduced, and it may face opposition and or amendments during its passage through the Scottish Parliament. If the Bill is passed, it would be some time before the legislation could be enacted, and then there would be a period allowing application to be made. This could be 2015 or 2016 at the earliest.

How long would a proposed air weapon licence be valid for?

If the legislation is passed and the proposed licensing regime is introduced, then an airgun licence would last for five years. If an applicant was between 14 and 18 it would last until they turned 18.

At what age would young shots be able to apply for an air weapon licence?

The proposed guidance states that an individual aged 14 years or more may apply for the Chief Constable for an air weapon certificate. They must have the consent of a parent or guardian, and if under 18 years then the licence will come with certain conditions.

Those under the age of 18 would be covered by an adult's licence, including family member, if they were accompanied and supervised at all times.

How much would an air weapon licence cost?

The cost of a licence would be in line with the cost of an existing shotgun or firearms certificate. The policy memorandum attached to the Bill states: "The Scottish Government considers that at £50 the existing fees for firearms and shotgun certificates are very low. However it is believed that any disproportionate increase could result in applicants simply applying for a Firearms or Shotgun certificate instead.

I live in Scotland and already have a Shot Gun Certificate/ Firearms Certificate. Under the proposed rules would I be expected to apply for a licence to own an airgun?

The intention is that those with an existing shotgun/firearms certificate would not need to apply for an airgun licence until their existing certificate expires. When renewing an existing shotgun or firearms certificate an applicant would inform Police Scotland through the application process that they also wish to apply for an airgun licence.

Will the proposed licence change how and where an air gun could be used?

The 'good reason' test required under the proposed airgun licence will determine what and where an air gun could be used. For instance, pest control will be recognised as a "good reason" for having an airgun licence, as will target shooting.

However, the Scottish Government have expressed their concern about "plinking" (the term used for the practice of target shooting within gardens or other urban or highly populated settings). Scottish Ministers do not believe that target shooting in such an environment should generally be acceptable unless the applicant can satisfy the Chief Constable as to the safety and other arrangements in place to ensure that shooting can be carried out without risk to the public."

I currently shoot as a member of an airgun club. Would this be acceptable under the proposed licence?

Membership of an "approved" airgun club would qualify for airgun use under the 'good reason' test. However, a club would have to apply for formal approval from the Chief Constable. Currently, there are no approved air weapon clubs in Scotland, and new clubs would have to apply for approval.

I collect antique or rare air rifles and pistols. Would I require a licence under the proposed legislation?

Yes, you would need to apply for a licence to possess these air weapons. There is also provision within the proposed legislation for museum collections, such collections will require approval.

What would the penalty be under the new licensing regime for possessing an air weapon without a licence?

Under the proposed legislation anyone guilty of the above could face imprisonment for up to two years, or a fine, or both.

I live in England but come up to Scotland to shoot. How will the proposed legislation affect me?

You would commit a punishable offence in Scotland if you brought an airgun across the border for which you did not have a licence in Scotland for. You would need to apply to Police Scotland for a visitor permit.

You would still be able to come to Scotland with your shotgun which is legislated for by Westminster.

How can I make my views known on the legislation?

We encourage you to write to your MSPs. A concerted effort when this Bill reaches the Committee Stages in Parliament could see it fail or have significant amendments to make it less onerous on practitioners. The Scottish Countryside Alliance will seek and coordinate your assistance through our membership media links when appropriate.

If Scotland becomes independent in September 2014 will the airgun licensing still go ahead?

It is highly likely that the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill would be passed. It is also extremely likely that a Firearms (Scotland) Bill would also be drafted, which would amend existing legislation affecting all who shoot in Scotland. This could lead to changes to firearm and shotgun conditions of use and an increase in licence fees.

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