Straw backs Scots airgun ban plan
POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT (firstname.lastname@example.org)
A BAN on airguns in Scotland has moved a step closer after the UK government agreed to consider controversial plans to outlaw the weapons north of the Border.
Firearms law is controlled by Westminster, but UK Justice Secretary Jack Straw told First Minister Alex Salmond at a meeting last week that he would look at Scotland-only reform.
If approved, airguns could only be possessed in Scotland by holders of a licence, including farmers who need to shoot pests and members of registered shooting clubs.
Any new law could be introduced as early as next year and, as well as banning new sales of airguns, would force the surrender of the estimated 500,000 weapons in Scottish homes.
Since 1999, 1,154 Scots have been injured in airgun incidents, and three have been killed. In March 2005, two-year-old Andrew Morton was shot and killed by an airgun as he and his brother went to see a fire engine near their house in Easterhouse in Glasgow.
At their meeting on Friday in Bute House, Straw advised Salmond that he would "give careful consideration" to any plans which Scottish ministers prepared for a ban on airguns.
Last year, new UK-wide laws came into force which raised the age limit for buying an airgun to 18 and made it an offence to fire an airgun "recklessly" from private property, regardless of whether anyone was hurt.
However, both SNP and Labour MSPs have said that these proposals did not go far enough, and former First Minister Jack McConnell had raised the opportunity of Scotland having its own tougher laws against the guns.
A source close to Salmond said: "The First Minister and new Justice Secretary had a very productive meeting, during which the issue of action to tackle the scourge of air weapons was discussed.
"The Scottish government believe that we need firearms legislation to deal with this extremely serious problem in Scotland. Options for a possible way forward were raised, and received a sympathetic response."
The source added that it would be now be a matter for the Scottish justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, and his department to follow up the Salmond-Straw meeting with detailed proposals.
He added it was too early to say whether gun owners who handed in weapons after any ban would receive compensation, and what would be the precise wording of any exemptions to the ban.
He said: "You will need a licence and a very good reason to own a gun - for example, being a farmer needing to keep pests down, or being in a gun club where the weapons are kept there. But we're still at a very early stage as far as the precise details are concerned."
SNP sources claim Straw is keen to see how an airgun ban works in Scotland because he is minded to do the same thing south of the Border.
A spokesman for Jack Straw said: "We appreciate the concerns and the importance which ministers in Scotland attach to this issue. We will look very closely at any proposals which the Scottish Executive put to us."
Under the new proposals, all but the lowest-powered guns would be removed from shelves. Courts and police define a gun too weak to be covered by any airgun ban as being capable of firing a conventional .22 pellet no faster than 377 feet per second.
Under the current law, an airgun, which anyone over 18 can buy without a licence, should be capable of firing a pellet no more than 612 feet per second.
Any trader selling air weapons has to be registered and approved by the police as a registered firearms dealer and must log the name and address of buyers.
While police insiders gave a cautious welcome to the plans, gun enthusiasts claimed they would do nothing for crime while penalising legitimate gun users.
A police insider said: "It would be a lot of work to take all these guns off the streets, but we do know they are a problem. The question is: will we have the extra bodies to administer this?"
A senior member of the National Smallbore Rifle Association, who asked not to be named, criticised the ban. He said: "There are already perfectly good laws which forbid misuse of these weapons and I can't see how a ban will stop criminals using airguns.
"The current handguns ban certainly doesn't stop criminals using guns. The only guns which will be handed in under any new ban will be those belonging to law-abiding members of the community who shoot as a legitimate sport."
Last year a sheriff called for a ban on airguns following the trial of a 24-year-old who shot his girlfriend in the head with one.
John McLean had pointed the gun at his girlfriend's head and pulled the trigger, not realising that it was loaded.
A pellet lodged itself in the woman's head and had to be removed by hospital staff, who then told the police.
This article: http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com...?id=1102002007