THE estimated half a million air weapons in Scotland will have to be licensed under new Holyrood proposals.

A consultation was launched yesterday to give people a chance to give their views on air guns to the Scottish Government.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill said: "We have a long-standing commitment to crack down on the misuse of guns, and a licensing scheme for airguns will help address the problems these weapons can cause to individuals and communities in the wrong hands.

"We are not banning air weapons outright, but there has to be a legitimate use for them. We do not believe there should be half a million unlicensed firearms in 21st-century Scotland.

"We are not consulting on the principle of licensing; this will happen. While our primary concern is for public safety, we do not wish to penalise those who use air weapons responsibly and who can demonstrate a legitimate use for a gun such as sport shooting or pest control.

"Our plans to introduce a licensing regime for air weapons represent an important first step towards devolving all powers on firearms to the Scottish Parliament, something I will continue to lobby the UK Government for."

The consultation seeks views on the types of air weapon that should be covered by the new regime, legitimate reasons for possession of an air weapon, safety issues, penalties and fees. The proposals were developed in consultation with the Scottish Firearms Consultative Panel and will affect anyone who owns an air weapon, those buying new air weapons, or those who wish to bring an air weapon into Scotland, for example to competitions or on holiday. Before the laws come into effect, the Government will allow a period in which people can hand in unwanted guns to the police.

The Justice Secretary has met Andrew Morton and Sharon McMillan, whose son Andrew died after being shot with an airgun in 2005.

Mark Bonini, then 27, was convicted of murdering the two-year-old in August that year.

The toddler died in hospital two days after being hit in the head with a pellet fired by Bonini in Easterhouse, Glasgow.

Mr MacAskill said: "It's a matter that was raised with myself personally by Andrew Morton and Sharon McMillan, who tragically lost their young son, and we have given a commitment to them to try to ensure no more tragedies occur."

Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, said the move would have little impact on safety and would "take police off the streets in order to deal with paperwork".He said: "Regulations will only penalise legitimate airgun owners and criminals who already ignore the laws against airgun misuse will continue to do so."