A new licensing system for airguns is unlikely to tackle criminal misuse and may instead drive down the number of people taking part in shooting as a sport, MSPs have heard.

Anyone who owns an airgun will need a licence under new measures contained in the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Bill.

There is currently no requirement to have any form of licence, and it is estimated there about 500,000 of the weapons in Scotland.

Proposals for the new scheme followed the death of two-year-old Andrew Morton, who was shot in the head with an airgun in Glasgow in 2005.

Under the scheme, those who want to own an airgun would need to demonstrate they had a legitimate reason for doing so.

But shooting organisations have told Holyrood's Local Government Committee that the measures could have a detrimental effect on the legitimate recreational use of air weapons, while failing to impact on their criminal misuse.

David John Penn, of the British Shooting Sports Council, said "a licensing system will not be very likely immediately to flush out those who are criminally inclined".

He added: "They will just stay quiet, not be licensed. There is plenty of law existing now to effectively prosecute people misusing air weapons. The licensing would not help very much."

Graham Ellis, chair of the Scottish Air Rifle and Pistol Association, agreed, adding there is "little or no criminal element" in the use of airguns at present anyway.

"We are concerned that it does little to address the criminal element who would misuse airguns," he told MSPs.

"As far as the criminality goes, there is a raft of legislation that we see actively used day in, day out to prosecute those who would use air weapons criminally.

"Those who currently use it as a sport, as a pastime or as vermin control, would fundamentally not have an issue with this, but what they would have an issue with is the proportionality of it, and the potential criminalisation of what was formerly a perfectly legitimate pastime."

Dr Colin Shedden, chair of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said many people use airguns for informal target shooting in their own gardens, known as "plinking".

While the legislation does not prohibit plinking, there is guidance which suggests shooting in gardens for recreational purposes would not be viewed as a good reason for licensing.

"It concerns us enormously that a significant number of the owners of air weapons right now could be prohibited from getting a licence because they cannot provide good reason - they don't have access to a large area of ground, or they are not members of clubs," he said.

John Batley, director of the Gun Trade Association, agreed that many young people were introduced to shooting at home by a responsible parent or guardian. He warned the new licensing system could put an end to this if it is too strict.

"We are mainly concerned with the fact that this is an introduction to airgun shooting which we would lose if this piece of legislation is too draconian," he said.

Earlier, the committee heard from Calum Steele, general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, who cited concerns over the impact on police resources of administering the scheme.

"This is not something that can be glibly dismissed as having little impact on the police service," he said.

"Adding the burden of having to deal with potentially up to 500,000 air weapons... is something that needs to be properly understood."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "We believe that the Air Weapons and Licensing Bill provides a reasonable, clear and consistent approach to licensing. The Scottish Government has long held the belief that air weapons should be licensed and is committed to doing so."