Written evidence submitted anonymously (FLR0018)

 

Dear Sir/Madam,

 

Scottish Affairs Committee Call for Evidence Firearms licensing regulations in Scotland

 

I refer to the above call for evidence. Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.

 

Please find below my response. I apologise for it not being as condensed as I would wish, however this call for evidence was not well advertised and I only had an opportunity to put pen to paper at the eleventh hour, so did not have sufficient time to edit it down.


 

Before I respond to the three specific questions posed and also talk to my own points and suggestions, I would like to respond to the last point in your terms of reference: “The Committee values diversity and encourages members of underrepresented groups to provide submissions.”.

 

All too often the discussion around firearms licencing in Scotland and Great Britain as a whole, aside from being depressing polarised, focuses on problems and risk, not positives and opportunities. I am a disabled person. I suffered a spinal injury as a result of an accident in my 30s. It was a life-changing event which ended my then hobbies, sports and pastimes almost overnight. I am part of an underrepresented and all too often marginalised group. I was encouraged to try out target shooting after a friend suggest it might be something I was still able to do and enjoy, and I soon came to release that it was just that. For me, far from being a negative, firearms have become an overwhelmingly positive part of my life.

 

As a disabled person, I have found target shooting to be a tremendously positive sport and experience. It is a sport for everyone. It requires skill, dedication, fitness and passion. It promotes goals and instils patience and dedication in those who partake. It is as challenging, valid and healthy as any other sport in this country and, for disabled people in particular, facilitates independence and agency, and social interaction. What sets it apart from most other sports, however, is not that it is so often misrepresented or presented only in a bad light in the media and elsewhere, but that it is one of, if not the only sport that is built around true equality.

 

Men and women, boys and girls, disabled and able-bodied people can come together to train and to compete against and amongst each other on a level playing field. A playing field where your abilities, your gender and your age barely matter. Despite my disabilities, I have found support and encouragement and friendship in spades in the shooting community. Shooting has enabled me to find a passion, a hobby and a pastime that I can be involved in, that I can enjoy, that can give me purpose, that can give me something to aim for and achieve, and it has helped me rebuild my life.


My experience of those who own and firearms in Great Britain is far from the stereotypes and, at times, the innuendo and scaremongering that you’ll read when most newspapers decide to run a piece on the subject. Despite attempts by some to draw parallels with ‘2nd Amendment’ culture in the USA - which in all honesty I myself was guilty of before I became informed and involved - the shooting community here is not anything like that and it never has been. Firearms are tools and equipment, just like any other. For me, they replace the mountain bike and the walking boots I can no longer use, for others they may be the equivalent of golf clubs or, if necessary for work, what they mirror a computer keyboard or mouse. That is not a crass comparison, it is the plain truth.

 

When mention of firearms in the UK relates to one of our exceedingly rare tragedies or coverage of completely different systems and environments abroad, it is easy to forget or fail to even realise that lawfully-held firearms in the UK are rarely ever misused and are statistically less of a risk to the public or dangerous to communities than cars or alcohol or day-to-day tools you’ll find in your garage. Back when I had no interest in shooting sports, I used to scoff at that notion and used to brush off comparisons with ‘tools’ or ‘sports equipment’. I used to be a genuine sceptic and had applauded bans and restrictions without questioning anything, so I can see things from both sides.

 

When I got into target shooting and I actually took time to get informed, look at the data and talk to people who owned firearms here, I soon realised that not only is it entirely true that lawful firearms are involved in vastly less crime than, say, kitchen knives or cars, but more innocent people are even injured and killed by cricket bats and golf clubs annually than lawful guns in a decade, but no one suggests we regulate them, let alone ban them. And that is the context we have got to keep in mind when we look at changes to firearms licencing: licencing must be rooted in proportionality, it must be evidence-led and it must be fair.

 

All evidence shows that it’s the illegal abuse and misuse of firearms that can be an issue for our communities, not their presence, availability or use in principle by law-abiding people. If the lawful ownership of firearms were banned tomorrow, gun crime would still exist and probably at the same levels as it was before the ban, because almost all gun crime already features illegal guns. We use effective and proportionate licencing to reduce the risk of cars, we don’t ban them or limit them all to 70mph just because they are capable of being abused, and we must apply the same approach to firearms. Firearms rightly need fair and effective licencing, what they don’t need are punitive, expensive bans or ever tightened and multiplied hoops that don’t stand up to the realities of the law of diminishing returns.

 

While I cannot speak for every single firearms owner in the Great Britain, I am yet to meet one who is not in favour of fair, reasonable and justified regulation and licencing. As a community, we support safe and responsible firearms ownership and we oppose the routine carrying of firearms in public or their possession by people who should not have access to them. We are an overwhelmingly responsible community. Statistically, we are less likely to be involved in any type of crime at all than almost any other group in our society. All most of us ask for is to be treated fairly and for firearms laws to be proportionate and based in fact, not gut feelings, prejudices, or kneejerk reactions to undeniably tragic but exceedingly rare events.

 

As firearms owners, we are already more vetted and assessed than almost any other group of private citizens in the UK. We go through invasive and increasingly expensive background checks every five years. We are already highly unlikely to commit any crime at all, not just with firearms. On one hand, this context is precisely why the UK is a safe place when it comes to crime involving lawfully-owned firearms, and it is precisely why there have been barely more than half a dozen mass shootings in Great Britain since the 1968 Firearms Act came into force, but on the other it is also why we simply do not need any significant tightening in legislation nor is there any justification for


firearms to be made even harder to own. We have already struck the right balance in our licencing regime.

 

How adequate are firearms licensing regulations in the UK, and in Scotland in particular?

 

This is a hard question to answer because the response is far more complicated than the question. Generally speaking, firearms licencing, in a principle, works and keeps people safe in both Scotland as it is. It is sensible and necessary to require those who wish to own shotguns and firearms to gain a licence, similarly, safe and secure storage is a must, so too the proscription of carrying most firearms in public without good reasons.

 

Like most people in Scotland, I am opposed to the general carrying of any weapon specifically for self-defence and I think that it’s only right in principle for applicants to have a reason to possess firearms, so these established principles are sound. However, the firearms acts, which apply throughout Great Britain, are nonetheless chronically out of date and due to decades worth of revision and some poorly considered or worded changes are appallingly complex, messy and often poorly framed. There are also unfair, poorly reasoned, and unnecessarily punitive sections and restrictions, and other measures that just aren’t, in practice, good law today.

 

Unlike much of England & Wales where there have been well publicised failures in firearms licencing and chronic delays, Scotland’s single police force has overhauled systems and processes within its control and is providing, on balance, a reliable service that balances the rights of the shooting community with public safety. Police Scotland was already digging deeper into applicants’ medical histories than elsewhere in the UK before recent Home Office statutory guidance required it, so licencing here is not only more streamlined and efficient, but there is also more confidence in the process on all side of the isle and has been for some time. Indeed, the data in Scotland on crime involving lawfully-held firearms speaks for itself.

 

Within the limitations of the framework that governs it, Police Scotland is doing a decent job and the system as it stands is effective at keeping people safe whilst recognising that people have a legitimate need to possess firearms for various reasons. It seems to me that Police Scotland now has a strong team of informed, capable people managing and administering licencing across the country, whose ethos comes across as a fair and reasonable manager, facilitator and partner, not a heavy- handed regulator that treats firearms owners as ‘criminals-in-waiting’, and that’s precisely as it should be.

 

That is not to say improvements cannot be made, and undoubtably the legislation governing firearms licencing needs reform, modernisation and streamlining (and some of my own suggestions are in bullet points below), but in doing so what we certainly don’t need is any significant tightening, more hoops or the making of firearms even harder to acquire for those with a legitimate reason to own them, nor do we need any more punitive bans on types of firearms that do little to nothing to stop the illegal use and importation of guns by criminals (which flood into the UK from abroad or are manufactured here illegally) and constitute the root cause of most of the UK’s gun crime.

 

We have got to keep in mind that lawful firearms and firearms owners in Scotland account for precious little crime. Tragedies involved lawful guns are exceeding rare already. Despite this, lawful firearms and firearm owners are all too often conflated and lumped in with criminals and gun crime


featuring illegal guns, not least by pressure groups and the media. This is not honest or fair, nor will it materially reduce gun crime or shootings, which is surely where the focus of resources and legislative time should be?

 

Mental Health Considerations

 

While the recent events on Skye in summer 2022 were extremely sad - and I suspect that has acted as a catalyst for this call for evidence - as with all events featuring lawfully-held firearms, it was an outlier case that cannot and must not be used to introduce unnecessary, unsubstantiated and punitive changes that simply persecute and punish the 99% of firearms owners who are perfectly law abiding with the crimes of a tiny minority. We do not yet know the full details surrounding the Skye event, but in order to own firearms, the person in question will have gone through robust assessment, including an interview, references, background checks and medical history appraisal. That is how it should be.

 

What we cannot ever hope to do, however, is ban or legislate away the possibility of someone having a mental health crisis or other critical event further down the line. There’s no such thing as a crystal ball in firearms licencing or life more generally. A mental health episode can happen to anyone and for myriad reasons. We already have a statutory requirement for mental health (and other relevant conditions) to be considered when an air weapon, shotgun or firearms certificate is granted (which I firmly agree with), and there is already a legal obligation on a certificate holder to disclose any conditions that crop up down the line, but beyond that there is little else that can be fairly or reasonable introduced.

 

Mental health has been specifically flagged in the call for evidence, despite recent Home Office statutory guidance introducing a new system for mental health assessment in Great Britain less than a year ago in late 2021; it is a new system that really does not require significant altering and certainly not less than 12 months in and without any measurable data on effectiveness to consider. The guidance as it stands is world-leading and strikes a reasonable balance between safeguarding and fairness. Any moves to add or tighten yet more hoops or dig even deeper into an applicant’s health history or status must surely now be entering the realm of diminishing returns?

 

Crucially, we must avoid the pitfall of being so heavy-handed that new rules could have the effect of simply discouraging applicants from seeking help from doctors or therapists for fear of that medical history leading to refusals or revocations, which in turn could see people lose their jobs, their income or firearms-related pastimes that are integral to their mental health. Far from safeguarding people and communities, ratchet things too tightly and you may end up with people who need help not seeking it, and the outcome doesn’t bare thinking about. What we have already strikes the right balance and we should let it operate, supported by adequate resourcing and funding.

 

The only thing I would suggest as a change to the current system is that GPs should have a legal obligation to place a marker on a medical file that the patient is a firearms certificate holder, and to inform the police if a new mental health or relevant condition crops up. This was advocated for by BASC and other shooting sports bodies a year or two ago, but the UK Government opted not to make it mandatory. It really is a ‘no brainer’ and it seems that the only reason it was discounted was push-back from GPs.


Personally, I view that as a missed opportunity and would strongly suggest it is revisited for Scotland, if not the UK as a whole. Markers are a simple way to ensure that any relevant change in medical status is not overlooked and they would be easy to implement as most medical systems already cater for them. However, with such a change I would also expect GPs to have a legal obligation to provide assessments for firearms acts applications and the ‘conscientious objection’ loophole closed, and for there to also be a cap on any fee charged for that service.

 

Currently, we have cases where applicants’ GPs refuse to provide a report for a firearms application simply because the GP doesn’t like firearms, forcing the applicant to seek a report from a third-party doctor who may not have a working knowledge of their health history. That is a weakness created solely by GPs’ refusal to engage and it is easily resolved by making their involvement mandatory by law.

 

This is not conscription to the military for a controversial war overseas, it is just firearms (and explosives) licencing. It should be part of the standard GP contract that they are required to provide medical history and background for patients applying for or possessing firearms, just as they provide reports for occupational health and insurance claims. It is not a hard task to provide the data. Their systems are all computerised. The law is also clear that no burden of responsibility falls on them and the ultimate decision remains that of the police. There is no strong or valid argument for there not to be a GP requirement to engage.

 

We also have cases of doctors charging more than the firearms application fee itself for half a side of A4 confirming there is no relevant health history. It is not ok for highly paid public sector GPs to pick and choose what work they engage with and what work they do not, particularly when it comes to something as important as firearms licencing, nor is it ok for practices to charge exorbitant fees for their input, not least to applicants who may be disabled or on low incomes; turning target shooting into a sport for only the rich is not acceptable either.

 

Other Considerations

 

The following bullet points are changes that I believe are necessary to improve firearms licencing in Scotland (and, for the most part, Great Britain as a whole) and ensure that it is adequate for all stakeholders. And by that, I mean to make it fairer, safer, more reasonable, more equitable, more robust, evidence-based and fit for the 21st century:

 


 

 

 

What this law fails to include are long-barrelled pistols and long-barrelled revolvers. These types of firearm are increasingly popular and their omission from the firearms act is a significant and unreasonable omission. Smaller firearms are easier and can be more comfortable to use for disabled, elderly or younger shooters, particularly over the course of a session. To prevent the use of these types of firearm as club guns or used under supervision on private land by law is illogical generally, but also runs the risk of being discriminatory to or disproportionately affecting disabled shooters in particular.

 

There is absolutely no reason why long-barrelled handguns should not be able to be used as club guns, just as is the case with most other firearms, and it would be simple and straightforward to amend the law to allow this. The same applies to the ‘estate exemption’ which allows shotguns and rifles to be used on land with the landowner’s permission, but excludes long-barrelled pistols and revolvers. There is little sense in or justification for allowing a 5.56 or 7.62 rifle to be shared on private land, but not a 22lr long barrelled pistol.

 

I also understand that there are some clubs in England that now have a specific authorisation to share long-barrelled handguns because they have challenged the restriction in court. It would


appear unfair and unreasonable for some clubs to be able to use these types of firearm as club guns simply because they had the resources to challenge in court, while all others are stuck with unfair and unjustified restrictions.

 

 

Suppressors essentially provide two functions: 1) they safeguard the hearing of the shooter, and

2) they reduce noise pollution that can affect neighbours and scare off pest species etc. However, because they are classed as being part of a firearm, the bureaucracy involved in buying them is significant and that puts people off using them. That has a net adverse impact on both those who use firearms and those in the vicinity of their use. We should be encouraging the use of suppressors for public safety and wellbeing, not putting hurdles in their way.

 

Current law requiring a certificate to buy/sell moderators when they are not pressure-bearing and do not require proofing is obscure and dated. And particularly in relation to air weapons, where suppressors can quite literally be tubes of thin mental, sometimes with nothing inside but air, and are increasingly little different to airsoft suppressors, which require no certification whatsoever, requiring certification just makes no sense.

 

Requiring suppressors to be held on certificate or treated as firearms in their own right unnecessarily adds to firearms licencing bureaucracy and cost burdens on the police and RFDs, and does absolutely nothing to improve public safety or risk mitigation.

 

 

Despite this, prior to the Scottish Government’s air weapons licencing scheme coming into force around 2016, these thresholds made sense enough, because anyone over 18 could buy these types of firearm and there was no process for assessing suitability, so capping them at low power was fair enough. But the situation in Scotland is now significantly different due to the Air Weapons and Licencing Act 2015 and these limits are no longer fit for purpose.

 

Now that an AWC is required for anyone to possess ‘air weapons’ in Scotland, and applicants are required to go through what is essentially the same assessment and vetting process as you would to own a far more dangerous shotgun (incl. suitability checks, mental health reports and interviews), the 12ft.lb limit is now unreasonably restrictive in Scotland, it is unjustified and should be raised. The rationale for such a low limit – air weapons being freely available – simply


no longer applies north of the border. It also doesn’t apply in Northern Ireland, where air weapons have long been held on certificate and have no restriction on muzzle energy as a result.

 

Amending threshold in Scotland is even more necessary given that huge advancements in airgun technology since the 1960s means that many pre-charged pneumatic airguns with fine tuning devices and accessible regulators are essentially hamstrung and severely limited by these very low limits. As it stands, the law in Scotland is horribly dated and the thresholds have been superseded by the Scottish Government’s licencing scheme. Given anyone who owns an air weapon in Scotland is now vetted and must adhere to the same safe storage and use requirements as those who own shotguns, there is support amongst the community for the threshold for ‘air weapons’ being raised from 12ft.lb to 30ft.lb.

 

Such a change would still mean that any specially dangerous’ airgun in excess of that limit would require FAC and the additional vetting that comes with that, but with licencing now in place here, there is no longer any fair, reasonable of fact-based justification for setting such a low threshold in Scotland. Even at 30ft.lbs, air weapons would still be less powerful that a great many unregulated crossbows that anyone over 18 can buy in person or online with no licencing whatsoever.

 

Increasing this threshold for air weapons in Scotland would provide pest controllers and longer distance airgun target shooters with significant advantage (not least with humane dispatch being a priority), without having to go to the expensive of applying for full FAC. It would also ensure that Scottish airgun law was fit for purpose and compatible with current and emerging pre- charged pneumatic technology, rather than being stuck firmly in the past.

 

It may also be prudent to consider raising the 6ft.lb threshold for pistols to 12ft.lb, so they are better suited for use as humane dispatch pistols for pest controllers or the like. This may also reduce the need for some small pest species controllers to apply for powder-burning handgun exemptions for humane dispatch duties.

 

As these thresholds are reserved, only the UK Parliament can change them, not the Scottish Parliament. It would take a minor change to a statutory instrument to make this significant improvement and modernisation to our laws in Scotland.

 

 

This wording has long led to significant confusion, it is imprecise and inadequate. The muzzle energy of an air weapon can vary significantly for various factors, including the temperature of the air and the weight of pellet used in the test, and the method of testing itself. The current wording of the law means airgun owners have no idea how their gun would test if the police checked, because they have no way of knowing what pellet would be used to test nor what


environmental conditions would prevail at that time. To have no outline framework for testing an air weapon to establish its muzzle energy beggars belief.

 

This is further compounded by modern airgun technology that makes airguns tuneable often at the turn of dial or an allen key, or a simple tweak of a regulator. In other words, almost any modern air weapon is ‘capable of’ exceeding these thresholds and the airgun community is frequently at a complete loss as to how this law is to be read and enforced.

 

The current wording leads to confusion, concern, 9misunderstanding and forces people to set their guns far below the limit ‘just in case’, which can have significant impacts for humane dispatch of pest species, wastes the potential of the rile and is akin to setting a 50mph limiter on a car despite the road limit being 60mph, just in case a speed camera happened to be positioned on the only steep hill in the area and you hit 61mph by mistake once in a blue moon. It would make far more sense and be far more reasonable if the law stated that an air weapon had to fall below a threshold when tested in the state it was found and defined a pellet weight; in other words, tests had to be carried out in accordance with a fair and defined framework, so everyone knows where they stand.

 

I would suggest changing the The Firearms (Dangerous Air Weapons) (Scotland) Amendment Rules so they read something along the lines of:

 

(a) which, when tested, discharges a missile so that the missile has, on being discharged from the muzzle of the weapon, kinetic energy in excess, in the case of an air pistol, of 12ft.lb. or, in the case of any other type of air weapon, of 30ft.lb. For the purposes of testing, the air weapon shall i) be set to the highest available energy output available without the use of any tool or deconstruction or removal of any part of the firearm, and ii) be loaded with a missile not exceeding the following mass for each given calibre: 177/XXgr, 20/XXgr, 22/XXgr, 25/XXgr, 30/XXgr, 50/XXgr. Where a calibre is not given in these rules, the mass of the missile used shall be the heaviest grain commercially available for the calibre at the time of testing.

 

 

There are many perfectly legitimate uses for self-loading smallbore guns in the UK, from pest control and vermin hunting to target shooting (not least for disabled shooters who can struggle to operate some actions manually), and while 22lr self-loading actions alone are permitted in law, there is little sense in other smallbore rifled calibres, such as 117 rimfire and 117/20/22/25 calibre airguns being restricted to manual loading, particularly in Scotland where all air rifles are now held on certificate. Why is it ok for a 22cal rimfire rifle to be self-loading, but not a far less powerful 22cal airgun?

 

As I understand it, the UK Government itself admitted in relation to Steyr multi-shot air pistols that the ban on self-loading airguns was unintentionally introduced around 1997, and they announced that they intended to correct the legislation; but no such amendment ever made it


onto the statute book. It’s long past time that this issue was addressed and all smallbore rifled calibres were permitted as self-loading actions.

 

 

As an example: the law as it stands means a semi-automatic rifle that has been converted permanently to bolt action or straight pull cannot be owned in the UK, despite an identical bolt action or straight pull gun that’s never been semi-auto being perfectly legal. The guns are functionally identical, but only one is legal.

 

Another example: an airgun that was held on FAC and has been permanently downrated to ‘air weapon’ power levels cannot ever be classed as an ‘air weapon’ in law. Even if that airgun is literally identical to an air weapon that has never been subject to Section 1 FAC and to all intents and purposes could be an ‘air weapon’, the law prohibits it. There is no sense in this.

 

A final example: a revolver or 22lr pistol permanently altered to have a long barrel and brace would meet the legal definition of a ‘long barrelled revolver or pistol and would be identical to a Section 1 legal long-barrelled revolver or pistol. But for no other reason that the firearms acts proscribe downgrading a Section 5 firearm, such a gun cannot legally be a long-barrelled pistol and cannot be possessed in Great Britain, even if it is functionally identical to a Section 1 firearm.

 

None of these examples make any sense. These restrictions were arguably questionable law when introduced and are now most certainly so. They don’t keep our communities any safer, but they do place unfair burdens and restrictions of firearms owners and businesses. They stifle British industry and limit the options for target shooters and land mangers by pushing up prices and severely reducing choice. None of these converted guns, if permitted in law, would give rise to risk or danger over and above any other permitted firearm. These are outdated and unjustified restrictions and it really is time that they were reviewed.

 

 

Consideration of disabilities should be introduced into firearms legislation as a reason to own certain firearms that may not ordinarily be permitted for general use. For example, if a disabled target shooter is not able to operate a bolt action or straight pull rifle, under current law they are essentially unable to participate in the sport. There was some scope for disabled target shooters to use self-unloading rifles to make accessing the sport easier, but these were banned in 2019 with no consideration at all to the impact on disabled shooters, who were one of the


biggest markets for self-unloading rifles. Allowing self-loading or self-unloading firearms to be held on Section 1 certificates for people with a disability or similar issue and for whom a self- loading firearm would facilitate their entry into the sport should be considered.

 

The same would be true for disabled shooting enthusiasts who are unable to shoulder a rifle but could operate a handgun. Under current laws, they simply cannot participate, yet if they moved to Northern Ireland where handguns were never banned (which in itself highlights unfair imbalance between the rights of able-bodied and disabled people in Great Britain and those in Northern Ireland) they could own handguns and take part in target shooting sports just as they could prior to 1997 in Scotland.

 

Target shooting is a sport that can and should enable all people to participate and compete on a level playing field and inherent discrimination on the grounds of blanket bans is punitive and unfair. Introducing disability as a reason for owning certain Section 5 firearms would open shooting sports to disabled people who may have very little choice when it comes to access to sports generally.

 

Currently, exemptions exist for humane dispatch, they exist for collectors and guns of historic interest, in Northern Ireland anyone with FAC can own handguns, yet in Great Britain there is no exemption for disabled shooters that would enable them to access the sport. Exemptions for disabled people should be considered, just as there should be a legal requirement for any proposals to change to firearms laws to explicitly examine and consider the impact of legislative changes on disabled people.

 

 

The bans, none of which were supported by expert advisors or the shooting community, saw target pistol shooting destroyed overnight in Great Britain, but it continued unaffected in Northern Ireland. There is no real evidence that the ban led to any reduction in gun crime in Great Britain or made communities safer, rather gun crime rose until 2004 and handguns remain the most used guns in crime today in 2022. This is because, just as it was before Dunblane, almost all gun crime features illegal guns and not lawfully-held guns. The ban hasn’t changed that at all, it just punished tens of thousands of law-abiding citizens for the crimes of one man.

 

Additionally, in Northern Ireland, where no handgun ban was introduced, there hasn’t been any material increase in gun crime due to handguns being legal there. Per head of population, gun crime is higher in Northern Ireland, but people understand the difference between criminal acts and lawful gun owners. Firearms certificate holders there have enjoyed pistol target shooting for the past 25 years without there being any risk or threat to public safety. They have shown that people who are vetted as safe to possess firearms can be trusted to possess and use pistols and revolvers for target shooting without any risk to society.


Twenty years on, it would seem fair and reasonable to assess whether the blanket handgun ban was indeed reasonable and effective, and whether the devastating impact on sports and businesses, and the loss of hundreds of jobs and pistol clubs, was really justified. In particular, as smallbore pistols were never recommended for a ban at all, at the very least, perhaps these could be reconsidered and permitted once again, so that smallbore target pistol shooting and Olympic Pistol events could take place in Scotland and the wider Great Britain once more.

 

 

As paintball markers that are ‘realistic firearms’ are increasingly required for mag-fed paintball and realistic paintball skirmishing equivalent to airsoft gameplay, I would strongly suggest that paintball guns be formally exempted from the definition of a firearms to avoid any doubt and confusion, and their sale etc governed by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, just like airsoft guns.

 

The most sensible way to do that would be to adopt a similar exemption to airsoft guns in the firearms act, but with the need for paintball markers to have higher muzzle energy to support the larger calibres involved factored in. Perhaps something along these lines:

 

“(1) A “paintball gun is not to be regarded as a firearm for the purposes of this Act. (2) A “paintball gun” is a barrelled weapon of any description which— (a) is designed to discharge only a paint or chalk-filled missile (whether or not it is also capable of discharging any other kind of missile), and (b) is not capable of discharging a missile (of any kind) with kinetic energy at the muzzle of the weapon that exceeds 16 joules. (3) A “paint or chalk-filled” means a missile that—

(a) is made wholly or partly from paint or chalk, (b) is spherical or half spherical with stabilisation fins, and (c) does not exceed .68 calibre.”

 

Statue law clarification could be done either at a UK level or a Scottish level, as paintball guns would normally fall within the ‘air weapon’ thresholds if considered a ‘lethal barrelled weapon’ and they are now devolved to Scotland. However, it may make sense for this to be a UK-wide clarification given the UK-wide implications.

 

 

To what extent are firearms licensing regulations adequate and relevant to Scotland’s particular circumstances, including its agricultural communities and its strong connections with countryside sports?

Firearms are vital to Scotland’s rural communities. They play a critical role not just in estate management, but in agriculture, pest control, protected species initiatives, tourism, sport and food


supply. It is crucial that no additional hurdles are placed in the way of people or parties who need to possess and use firearms.

 

When looked at objectively, all data shows that lawfully-held firearms in Scotland are overwhelmingly safe, they are rarely abused and they account for a minute percentage of crime or injuries. That is testament to a licencing system that already keeps people safe and not one that needs further tightening. Perspective is crucial in this discussion and, indeed, it should be born in mind that more people die on Scotland’s roads each week than have died due to lawfully-held guns in the entire period since the ‘handgun ban’ in 1997.

 

Any and all shootings featuring lawfully-held firearms are without question a terrible tragedy, but that doesn’t mean we must dispense with context and objectivity, and we must be able to have an honest debate about these issues. We cannot allow emotion to lead to bad or unfair law. There are myriad largely unregulated things in our daily lives that pose a far greater risk to people and society than lawfully-held firearms and it is vital that when we discuss firearms in Scotland, public safety is balanced with proportionality, fairness, demonstrable risk and evidence.

 

Economics is also a key consideration and that means not only the cost of any legislative changes to the public purse, but any loss of revenue stemming from loss of business. For example, the ‘handgun ban’ in Great Britain cost the British public tens of millions of pounds, it has lost the UK Exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds in revenue and still does to this day, it saw the closure of many businesses and the loss of scores of jobs, but there remains little evidence that Great Britain is materially safer for it and reduction in gun crime since 2004 seems more to do with serious organised crime, drug and gang violence policing strategies than banning the ownership of target pistols by law-abiding people.

What if rather than a punitive ban in 1997, government had decided that all revenue collected or stemming from firearms ownership in the UK was ringfenced and invested into the police? That is likely to have had a tangible positive impact on community safety and led to significantly better resourced police forces. It would have allowed perfectly safe and legitimate target shooting sports, like Olympic Pistol, to continue, but ensure that public and community safety was resourced as a direct result.

 

Turning back to the examples in the question, once again the focus is on rural life and country sports, but what we have also got to try to move away from when discussing firearms ownership is the rural stereotyping and this mindset that they don’t also have relevance or worth in urban areas as well. Prior to the ‘handgun ban’ in 1997, many of Scotland’s target pistols clubs were in small towns and cities. Firearms ownership and enjoyment of shooting sports was not just reserved for rich elites or landowners in the country, they were also enjoyed by the working classes in urban areas.

 

The loss of pistol target shooting had a disproportionate impact on the working classes and urban dwellers. No obvious consideration was given to that in any of the debates at the time. Given that target shooting is a sport open to almost anyone, irrespective of age, sex, gender or ability, it is one of very few truly ‘equal’ sports and we must stop viewing it as something for the country or our rural areas. We must consider the positives of shooting sport, that they can be open to just about anyone, that they can be overwhelmingly positive experiences and, something that is all too often


overlooked, many of us shoot primarily or only paper targets, plate steel or clays, not animals or birds.

 

The notion of firearms owners are all to be found on a hillside aiming at gamebirds or stags is just not fair or accurate or current. Those are only some examples of shooting sports; they do not define us all. Shooting is a very broad church; it is full of diversity and there is something for everyone.

Shooting sports are for city and country dwellers alike. We have got to reach a place where society understands that firearms have a legitimate use across Scotland, not just in certain areas, and our laws and processes must reflect that.

 

If people have good reason to own firearms for work or sport or historic interest or any other valid cause, it doesn’t matter who they are, where they live or how wealthy they may be; so long as they pass fair and commensurate vetting, they are not treat to anyone and should be allowed to own firearms. We have also got to be mindful that just like any sport, shooting sports can be extremely positive and play a role in sustaining good mental health and wellbeing, so health issues must not prevent people from partaking in shooting sports by default, any more than they should football or golf or go-karting or archery.

 

Ultimately, firearms are a legitimate part of Scottish life, our culture, our history and our economy. While firearms licencing must absolutely be about public safety, it is also about supporting and facilitating people in their enjoyment of shooting sports and working within land and environmental management. In the same way that government eventually recognised the town planning and building standard had to cease being about ‘controlling’ and become more about ‘managing’ development, firearms licencing must move from being about ‘control of guns’ to ‘management of firearms and shooting sports’.

 

 

Should the process for obtaining a licence for firearms be changed (for example, to place greater emphasis on applicants’ mental health)?

 

Broadly speaking, my short answer would be no.

 

I believe that the firearms acts are chronically out of date, they were written for a time when everything was written on typewriters and the internet hadn’t been invented, and they are decades past being fit for purpose in terms of facilitating a streamlined, efficient and fair service and framework, but the actual licencing application appraisal process itself is, by and large, a sound and time-tested one; it is a process that has been proven over and over to keep people safe.

 

We really do have to reach a point where people understand and acknowledge that we already have one of the world’s most tight, robust and effective firearms licencing regimes and we know that it works because crime involving lawfully held firearms is exceptionally low. While government data recording is inadequate at separating out lawfully-bought firearms from illegal ones, most experts agree that somewhere in the region of 99% of UK gun crime features illegal guns and criminals, not lawful firearms or their owners; against that backdrop no amount of mental health assessments, hoops, restrictions and bans will stop criminals using illegal guns to commit almost all of the UK’s gun crime, nor the most rare and out of the blue of mental health-related tragedies from occurring.

 

Greater emphasis on mental health during the application process, over and above the changes introduced in late 2021, would do little to reduce gun crime in Scotland generally because it is


already extremely uncommon for licenced firearms owners to be involved in any crime at all, least of all gun crime. You are essentially trying to target an already tiny percentage of people within a group that accounts for a tiny percentage of crime.

 

Licenced firearms would appear to account for less than 1% of gun crime and that was the case before Plymouth, before Dunblane and before Hungerford. The bans following those last two tragic events haven’t made any clear impact on crime featuring licenced gun owners, and the reduction in gun crime more recently seems far more to do with more effective and better-resourced counter terrorism and serious organised crime operations, not restrictions on already lawful firearms owners, suggesting that bans themselves don’t necessarily work and are certainly nowhere near as effective as robust licencing and properly resourced police departments.

 

As a society, I really do feel that we have got to start differentiating between legally-held firearms and illegal guns, licencing and bans, and not lumping them all together and blaming law-abiding firearms holders for criminals and their crimes. Similarly, we have got to stop mixing crime data featuring illegal guns (which accounts for almost all of UK gun crime) with crime data relating to lawfully possessed guns (which is exceedingly rare and has been throughout what is essentially living memory). We must reach a point where there is more honesty in the firearms licencing debate, where rationality, reasonableness, fairness, balance and evidence drives the agenda, not emotion and, to be frank, kneejerk responses to very sad but rare events.

 

As I have outlined above, I believe in firearms licencing, but I do not believe that further ‘mental health’ measures are necessary, nor would they be effective. They may actually be counter productive, which would be tragic. What we need to keep people safe is streamlined, fit for purpose and fair firearms legislation that focuses on robust licencing and not punitive bans, and to back that up, fully resourced policing and enforcement. We also need two-way trust, so that the public trusts that licencing is robust, but firearms owners and users also trust that they are being treated fairly and that laws are proportionate and founded in fact.

 

Thank you for the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Kind regards.

 

October 2022