Monday, 20 December 2010

The Home Affairs Select Committee's final response on firearms control - the inquiry initiated following the shooting incidents involving Raoul Moat and Derrick Bird in the summer of 2010 - has now been officially released.

Obviously, the HASC has looked at firearms control on the wider scale and only certain elements of the report are applicable to airgunners -  but what, exactly, does it mean for us?

Well, having now had time to read through and evaluate its 60-odd pages, I must say that I'm very pleased to report that the Inquiry has taken a very balanced, sensible and altogether pragmatic view when it comes to airguns. While they have openly admitted that the 34 (no less!) current pieces of legislation governing the control of firearms places an onerous burden on the police and those members of the public who wish to abide by the law, they have also recognised that thousands of people use firearms responsibly for recreation and work, and puts forward that it has no intention of restricting such activity.

Specifically, when considering measures to combat the misuse of the estimated seven million low-powered airguns in circulation in the UK, the Committee acknowledged three crucial points:

Firstly that there have been a number of recent pieces of legislation to tackle misuse - the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003, Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and the still-to-be-implemented Crime and Security Act 2010 - and that before considering whether or not to incorporate low-powered airguns into the firearms licensing regime, the government should continue to monitor closely the impact of this recent legislation. In this respect, the 2010 Committee very much concurred with the views of its predecessor Committee (of 2000), when the then-government concluded that there was no need for airguns to be brought into the licensing regime. This view was further enforced by the Association of Chief Police Officers who submitted evidence to the 2010 Inquiry, maintaining (as they did in 2000) they were 'not convinced' that applying certificate control to low-powered airguns would 'produce proportionate public safety outcomes'.

Secondly, the Committee was encouraged by the success of the tougher laws, and the enforcement of them. Official Home Office statistics show that since the first of the three, aforementioned new pieces of legislation affecting airgunners - the 2003 Anti-Social Behaviour Act - offences involving airguns have dropped every year, and there are now down by over 56 per cent. The latest, published figures (2008/09) show 6,042 offences relating to airgun misuse, as opposed to the 2002/03 figure of 13,822 - a significant drop indeed when you think how many pellets must be fired each year from those 7,000,000 airguns.

Thirdly, in its submitted evidence to the Committee, the Home Office also stated that the 'vast majority of airguns are used in a responsible and disciplined manner for legitimate purposes' and by shooting clubs as a way 'to introduce new members to the safe handling of firearms' - and they also acknowledged the importance of airguns in the field, citing notes from the National Farmers' Union which state 'the ability for farmers to use airguns is vital for controlling smaller pests'.

While obviously not primary legislation, the recommendations put forward to the government in this report are very fair on the part of the airgun industry and I, for one, heartily agree with their overall synopsis that there should be greater enforcement of the laws already in place, as opposed to creating yet more. 

This, of course, does not mean that we, as airgunners, should become complacent - but it does, for at least the time being, indicate that our sport is not likely to be further legislated against. I'm encouraged...

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