According to the Gun Control Network web site, in a 12 month period 2008/09 there were 6042 air gun offences committed in England and Wales. This may seem a large number but it is a considerable improvement on the numbers from 10 years earlier when there were 10,103.
These figures are perhaps not precisely accurate, but it gives you a pretty good idea of the size of the problem of people being injured or killed by an air gun.
Under the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, the law states ‘it is an offence for anyone to fire an air weapon beyond the boundary of premises’. It is also an offence to sell, hire or make a gift of an air weapon to a person under 18 years old.
The Home Office were keen to tell me the statistics of 2006/7 showed the measures being taken were having some success with a decrease of 15% on the previous year in the number of crimes involving air weapons.
But I am not talking about “crimes”; you will never remove the criminal element because we are dealing with human beings who are by their very nature (and I say this with the obvious exceptions) a violent race.
You need look no further than the news headlines to realise that as a race, we find it impossible to be non-violent and with the minority of people who take it one step further and become full blown criminals without any thought for their victims, any legislation relating to responsible air gun ownership is a complete anomaly.
Air guns can kill and injure in exactly the same way as conventional fire arms. There is no difference in the emotions attached to the ownership of an air gun. It is a gun and it fires ammunition that can inflict pain and death.
And it’s not just fellow human beings that are targets, thousands of animals, both domestic and wild, are shot. In 2008 the RSPCA reported over 759 injuries caused to animals from air gun attacks and because many animals, having been shot, would often look for a quiet place to hide but would usually end up dying a slow and painful death, this number is probably much lower than the true figure.
If you want to own a conventional shot gun in England, you have to have a Shotgun Certificate or a Fire Arms Certificate for a rifle and it is necessary to be vetted by your local police fire arms officer. However if you want to own an air gun, you do not need a licence of any description, you need only prove you are over 18 years old and deal with the air gun seller ‘face to face’.
There are thought to be around 4 million air rifles in circulation in the UK, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) offer advice as to what you can and can’t shoot; for instance you can legally kill a selection of birds including jays, magpies, collared doves and crows and mammals such as grey squirrels, stoats, mink and rabbits. The only requirement being that you have to prove they are causing damage to crops, livestock or public health & safety. There are a number of recommendations they make such as not practising on live quarry and ensuring the animal you have shot is actually dead before you leave it.
I can just about see the reason for ‘protective shooting’, but where the whole system collapses is when that same gun that is meant to protect livestock or crops, is then used for fun in someone’s garden or back yard.
In September 2009, a 10 year old boy was shot and later died as a result of a ‘game’ being played in his Swansea garden. Just one month earlier a 5 year old was killed whilst playing a game during a camping holiday in Wiltshire. There are also numerous reports of passers-by being shot and injured as a result of target practice taking place in a back garden.
There can be no reason in my opinion, no excuse for having an air gun to use ‘as a bit of fun’.
When I suggested to the Home Office that the legislation needing reviewing, I was told “these latest measures came into force only recently and we believe it is important to allow them time to take effect before considering further changes to the legislation”.
So in real terms, how many more deaths does that equate to before the penny drops that air guns kill people and they should be illegal to ‘play’ with as if they were toys?
The Scottish Government who supplied the picture for this article are trying to take more action, a spokesperson said:
“The law around air and replica guns is too confusing and needs to be reformed. The Scottish Government is committed to introducing a licensing scheme for air weapons in Scotland as the danger presented by air weapons is considerable. However, the power to reform legislation is currently reserved to Westminster. The Scottish Justice Secretary has repeatedly called for a licensing scheme in Scotland and has suggested that Scotland could be used to pilot such a system.
“We believe public safety is paramount.”
What a shame the English Government don’t feel the same way.
Imagine the scene … a sunny September morning; a family of four (two adults, an 8 and a 4 year old), going for a walk along a public footpath near a river; a cracking noise is heard; the 8 year old puts his hand to his head where the blood runs down the side of his face. He’s been shot.
Bosnia? Northern Ireland? No, rural England.
Can you imagine it? I don’t need to; the scene is etched in my memory.
Scottish Government Campaign on Airguns www.gov.scot/airguns.