BASC, the UK’s largest shooting organisation, and the RSPCA are establishing a working group on airgun crime following the success of a ground-breaking joint conference in London.
Politicians, police firearms licensing staff, animal welfare groups, journalists and representatives of shooting groups were among more than 40 delegates at the one-day conference ‘Airguns – Problems and Solutions’.
Key points from the conference will be fed into the Home Office as it considers its response to the public consultation on proposals to introduce airgun licensing in England and Wales. A joint BASC and RSPCA report on the conference will be presented for discussion by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Shooting (APPPG).
BASC chairman Peter Glenser QC and firearms expert Bill Harriman used the conference to state that current legislation is sufficient and that success in tackling airgun crime comes through education and greater enforcement. BASC Scotland director Dr Colin Shedden analysed the introduction of airgun licensing in the country in 2017.
The RSPCA believes that with airgun attacks on animals still rising in England and Wales, a combination of improved enforcement, targeted awareness programmes and licensing would be most effective. The animal charity received nearly 900 airgun-related complaints last year and provided evidence that nearly half of vets who replied to a survey in 2016 said they had treated cats which had been victim of airgun crime and nearly half those incidents had proved fatal. Indeed, a significant proportion of the 50,000 public responses to the government’s recent airgun review were about their use against animals such as cats.
The conference identified that improved data gathering on offenders is required to better inform education and enforcement initiatives.
The conference was opened by Sir Geoffrey Cliffton-Brown MP, chair of the APPG, who said: “Every responsible owner of a firearm, shotgun or airgun will absolutely abhor any infringement of animal welfare.
“None of us want to see animal cruelty and none of us want to see a national sport crippled by the passing of further laws, which should only be something which is considered once all other actions have failed.
“I was delighted to see the police at the conference, alongside representatives from the shooting world and leading animal welfare groups. If you can get people in a room together, it is surprising how one comment sparks another and you can eventually achieve a solution that pleases everyone.”
Mr Glenser QC, a barrister specialising in firearms law, said: “There is a clear problem around the criminal misuse of airguns and BASC plainly condemns anyone who uses them to inflict suffering on wildlife and other animals.
“But we do not believe that licensing airguns in England and Wales would provide a workable or effective solution to the problem. It is estimated that there are around seven million airguns in the UK which could become subject to licensing and this would break a system that is already struggling to cope.
“The solution has to come through targeted education and improved enforcement of the many adequate laws that already exist. It is encouraging that through initiatives such as this conference, those with an interest in shooting and animal welfare can come together to try to find solutions.”
RSPCA head of public affairs David Bowles said: “During last year alone, we took 884 calls reporting attacks where these weapons were used on animals across England and Wales. Animals are suffering horrendous injuries and often dying as a result of airgun attacks and these weapons are also potentially extremely dangerous for people.
“The scale of air gun misuse is immense and we believe that stricter controls are long overdue. We were pleased a consensus was reached on the need for improved enforcement of airgun legislation as well as better, more targeted education and explanation of the law for those buying one. We also feel mandatory licensing would be effective.
“It was really important for us all to get together – regardless of our diverse viewpoints – to discuss the problems of air guns and find practical ways to address the problem. We look forward to participating in the working group.”