Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 240 - 259)



Mr Fabricant

  240. No one is going to defend the nasty little squits who aim guns at cats and whatever. I am just wondering, given that we heard last week that the control of firearms does not really affect the amount of crimes against people, that a criminal is going to obtain a firearm one way or another anyway, whether the nasty little squits who are going to aim a gun at a cat is going to get one anyway. I am just wondering what you can achieve by legislation.
  (Mr Degenhard) Possibly. I think there is a deterrent value in that, contrary to popular belief, perhaps a large amount of those people would comply with the law, but there is no incentive to do so at the moment. I have read some of the evidence presented to this Committee from people who favour the use of air guns. One of the proposed justifications appears to have been that it disciplines and prepares younger people with a view to using both rifles and shotguns more responsibly later in life. I am afraid the RSPCA clientele generally do not know these organisations exist. They are not the type of people who would go to those organisations. We are talking back gardens, canal banks and so on. We are not talking about the disciplined people who those organisations attract.

  241. But you are not advocating a ban on air guns, are you?
  (Mr Degenhard) No. We are advocating a higher age limit. We feel that nowadays 18 is normally regarded as the threshold of adulthood and perhaps that would be an appropriate level.

  242. Would it be enforceable for the sort of people you are talking about?
  (Mr Degenhard) I think it would be more enforceable if these people were traceable. There is another problem with air guns and I do not know if it has been mentioned by previous witnesses. Something that causes us grave concern is that by virtue of air guns being very quiet in nature it tends to be an attraction for people who carry out clandestine activities and that does not help us either.

  243. What sort of clandestine activities are you talking about?
  (Mr Degenhard) We had the situation last month, in fact, where three boys were walking down a canal bank and one of them had an air rifle. The other two tried to dissuade him from shooting the swan. There were people in the vicinity and the evidence that came out was that those people did not even hear the swan being shot. Therefore, you are more likely to get away with it. Having some faith in human nature still, I would like to think that people over 18 are on the threshold of being mature and less likely to do that sort of thing.

Mr Cawsey

  244. We are talking a lot about the air gun regime at the moment, as you can probably pick up from our questioning. The issue is that a lot of witnesses have been saying to us so far that these incidents are in the minority and the reaction of the politicians is to come down with some tremendous big sledgehammer which hits the law abiding and the people who would not do anything wrong with a weapon, no matter what it is. What I am trying to get my head round so far as air guns are concerned is to what extent this abuse of weapons is taking place at the moment. You said 10,000 cats a year.
  (Mr Degenhard) That was in 1996. We have no reason to assume it is any different now.

  245. I wonder what more information you have as to what other animals are being abused through irresponsible use of air weapons?
  (Mr Degenhard) I have three pages of returns with me which I have received from my colleagues over the last three weeks and it includes the shooting of a lot of wild animals. We are talking about badgers and birds predominantly. I do not know why swans get such a hard deal. Perhaps it is because they are just a slow moving, easy target, but this happens to a large number of swans. We are talking about dozens of cases that are recorded. The really big issue as I see it is that we are arguing from a position where there are very few statistics. The very nature of hitting a fairly large animal with a small pellet is probably going to cause that animal pain and suffering over a long period of time and it may die of blood poisoning at a later stage because once the animal is hit, if it is not killed or so disabled as not to get away, he gets away and we see it later or perhaps, as more often is the case, we do not see it later. We have many many instances of picking up wild birds and animals and only subsequently do we realise that the injury was caused through an air gun pellet and it festers and creates pustules and the animal becomes very sick over a long period of time. It is not dramatic. This is where we are arguing from a position of some weakness in so much as we instinctively know this happens but we have not all the statistics to support it.


  246. In your evidence you argued for certification for all air weapons. How would you deal with existing air weapons?
  (Mr Degenhard) I presume that a period of amnesty would help in the same way as the first Act in 1997 created a period of amnesty whereby people voluntarily hand weapons in. I am sure there are weapons locked in garages and sheds at the moment.

  247. The advantage of having such certification and registration would be what?
  (Mr Degenhard) The main advantage is traceability. Say, for example, we are at 5 Acacia Avenue and there is .22 pellet fired and the police are aware that the people next door have such a rifle, then at least it would give us an area to go and examine.

  248. But there are smooth ball weapons, are there not?
  (Mr Degenhard) Yes.

  249. They are not all traceable, in other words.
  (Mr Degenhard) No. Presumably the weapons could be traced, but the ballistics on ball weapons is not perfected and we cannot trace those at the moment.

  250. Is it possible to tell how recently an air rifle has been fired?
  (Mr Degenhard) No.

  251. You mentioned earlier to one of my colleagues that you would like to see the age for purchasing air weapons raised from 17 to 18. Given that that is 12 months, what is the argument for that?
  (Mr Degenhard) It is not just purchasing, we would like there to be a control introduced so that people less than the age of 18 should not be using these weapons.

  252. I am trying to get at the difference between 17 and 18.
  (Mr Degenhard) It is across the board. It is one year in the right direction. We did not think we could justify 19.

  253. So if they are older they would be more responsible?
  (Mr Degenhard) I think so. It brings that legislation in line with others, the age to vote and so on.

Mr Fabricant

  254. You mentioned the numbers of people who attack swans. Is there any information about the age of them?
  (Mr Degenhard) This is a group and a dynamic check showed that we are talking about people between the ages of 11 and 16. There were some older people doing this as well, people who are protecting pigeon lofts and Koi carp and such other hobbies in their back gardens.


  255. You go on to introduce this concept of before a certificate could be gained you would have to prove the need for having the weapon. How would you do that? You would not go and say "I need a weapon to shoot the cat next door," would you?
  (Mr Degenhard) I would hope that if that were the need then it would not be permitted in the same way as section 1 firearms are licensed, i.e. you have to show a need. A need could be being a member of an air pistol and air rifle club and then a restriction would go on the certificate saying you may use it there and nowhere else.

  256. I thought you were saying earlier as far as the abuse of air weapons is concerned that those who are likely to do this of whatever age are unlikely to be members of clubs.
  (Mr Degenhard) Members of those associations were suggesting that this is a learning curve towards using shotguns and rifles. I think a lot of teenagers do enrol in sporting and shooting clubs, but it evaporates when boys discover girls and discos and their social life develops and it is left by the wayside. In that period we are talking about the younger people maybe at clubs.

  257. You go on to raise the issue of competency and you say that you do not believe anyone should have charge of a weapon unless their competence can be proved. To whom would they prove it?
  (Mr Degenhard) I go on later to suggest that it has to be a competent assessor and therefore we suggest making it compulsory that you are a member of a club if you have an air pistol or air rifle and therefore a suitable person at that club assesses the person's competence using club weapons before they get their own.

  258. Let me just be clear on this. You would make it mandatory for those getting certificates for air weapons to be members of clubs?
  (Mr Degenhard) Yes.

  259. And the competence is in what? It was a large number of disciplines. I think it was Mr Hoare who mentioned 36 competencies within his association.
  (Mr Degenhard) This is rifle shooting and shotgun shooting, I presume. There ought to be an ethos which is taught with the weapon. People who pursue martial arts, for example, who go to responsible organisations to learn those activities are taught the ethos that goes with it. They are not just taught accuracy and how the gun works. There is a large amount of responsibility which ought to be taught to those people as well and there would be a knowledge base part of the competence and a practical part of the competence.

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