GAMEKEEPERS and countryside campaigners say plans to license the use of all airguns in Scotland will penalise law-abiding citizens and do nothing to cut misuse of the weapons by criminals.
Representatives from the Scottish Gamekeepers Association (SGA) and the Scottish Countryside Alliance (SCA) spoke out yesterday as Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill announced new legislation that will affect the owners of the 500,000 air weapons he estimates are used in Scotland.
Mr MacAskill said the new laws in Scotland would create one of the "most robust" schemes for licensing air weapons anywhere in the world.
He addressed Holyrood after meeting Sharon McMillan, who has been calling for airguns to be licensed since the death of her toddler son nine years ago.
Two-year-old Andrew Morton died in hospital two days after being shot with an airgun by Mark Bonini in the Easterhouse area of Glasgow in 2005.
The Justice Secretary said the pain suffered by the youngster's family made him "even more determined to ensure we have robust legislation to prevent future tragedies".
There is currently no requirement to have any form of licence for an airgun, and it is estimated there are about 500,000 of the weapons in Scotland.
The Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill will bring in a licensing system that is broadly similar to existing firearms legislation.
This should allow those deemed to be a "fit person" to obtain a licence allowing them to own, possess and shoot an air weapon in a regulated way. It will apply to anyone who currently owns an air weapon and wants to keep hold of it, as well as people buying airguns or bringing them into Scotland.
Mr MacAskill said: "This Government will introduce a licensing regime that is fit for the 21st century and these proposals amount to one of the most robust air weapon licensing regimes in the world, much further ahead of our counterparts in England and Wales."
However, SGA Firearms spokesman Allan Hodgson said there were already sufficient laws to control airguns. He added: "We feel this measure, which was rejected by nearly 90 per cent of those consulted by Scottish Government, will be felt more by the law-abiding working people and recreational shooters who use air guns for legitimate purposes rather than the criminals it is meant to stop."
SCA director Jamie Stewart said: "We do not believe lower-powered air rifles need to be licensed as the vast majority of those who hold and use them, as part of an organised pest control exercise or who shoot recreationally, pose no threat to the wider public."
Police Scotland has welcomed the new laws. Assistant Chief Constable Malcolm Graham said: "Keeping people safe is the priority for Police Scotland and we therefore support the introduction of proportionate, workable legislation which leads to responsible ownership."
Archie MacIver, convener of the Law Society of Scotland's Licensing Law sub-committee, said: "The Law Society of Scotland broadly agrees with the measures proposed in the Bill, but we have questioned whether they will have the desired effect of properly regulating the use of air weapons in Scotland."
The body also recommended an incentive scheme for those registering weapons or handing them to police.