I completely agree that air guns need to be licensed in England and Wales, as they are in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
I share your concerns about how pets, especially cats, are being used as ‘targeting practice’ for people with air guns. I cannot begin to imagine the amount of distress this will cause any animal but also to the owners of a beloved family pet. As a pet owner myself I know I would be devastated if they were badly injured by someone with an air gun.
We, as a party and as members of the wider society, have a moral duty to treat animals we share our planet with in a compassionate way, and as a vegetarian for the best part of 20 years and a long-standing animal rights campaigner, I am proud that the last Labour Government had a strong record on international animal welfare.
The 2006 Animal Welfare Act, which put into law the most fundamental piece of animal welfare legislation for nearly a century, sets out legal minimum standards for animal welfare and tougher penalties for cruelty against animals. The Act also made it an offence to cause unnecessary physical or mental suffering to any animal. This being said we need to work together with national governments to continue to raise welfare standards and to fight animal cruelty.
On the 9th October 2017 there was a debate in the House of Commons, which was introduced by my colleague Karin Smyth MP, about the use and control of air rifles. There has been too many lives lost and serious injuries because of these weapons. Sadly, a large proportion of these victims are children and young people.
From the beginning of 2017 and following on from a series of tragic incidents, the Scottish Government have addressed the problem of the use of air guns. Under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, it has been an offence to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon without holding an air weapon certificate. The application also requires the applicant to disclose any criminal convictions, and the Police must be satisfied that the applicant can possess an air weapon without being a danger to public safety or to peace. One of the conditions of the licence is that weapons must be secured stored in order that access and possession cannot be gained by a person who is not authorised.
As a result of the law change and in the run up to the change, 20,000 air weapons were surrendered to Scotland authorities and destroyed. This meant that there was 20,000 fewer potentially lethal weapons on the streets, which in turn has made Scotland safer.
However, in England there continues to be more and more deaths and injuries to children, young people and pets because of air rifles.
As you may know, air guns that are of low power do not come under the firearms legislation and they can be bought without a firearms or shotgun licence. It is an offence to sell, let on hire, and make a gift of an air weapon to people under the age of 18 and it is an offence for anyone under the age of 18 to buy an air weapon or ammunition.
The only time a person under the age of 18 is able to carry an air weapon and ammunition is if they are supervised by someone who is over the age of 21, are part of an approved shooting club or are shooting at a shooting gallery and the only firearms being used are air weapons or miniature rifles not exceeding .23 inch calibre, or unless the person is 14 years old or above and is on private premises with the consent of the occupier.
I will continue to press the Government at all opportunities to make sure that legislation requires owners to be licenced when owning an air rifle.