Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals


  1.  The RSPCA welcomes the opportunity to give evidence to this important inquiry. The Society has concerns over a number of areas of current legislation (see below), but would like to concentrate our submission on the use and abuse of airgun weapons.


  I.  Certification is currently required for ownership of high powered air weapons, but is not required for low powered air weapons. The RSPCA would wish to draw the committee's attention to the potential damage that lower powered air weapons can cause, particularly to wildlife.

  II.  Although low powered weaponry will rarely kill an animal outright, wild animals (particularly birds and small mammals) can be fatally injured by being shot with such weapons. Unfortunately the RSPCA has few statistics on this matter because fatally injured animals usually retreat to well wooded or sheltered areas to die and therefore do not show up in statistical data. However the RSPCA does have enormous anecdotal evidence from the Society's inspectorate on damage done to wild animals. Additionally low powered weapons can cause painful and sometimes life-threatening injuries to domestic animals, and in urban areas attacks on cats are not uncommon. For this reason the RSPCA would recommend that certification be introduced for all air weaponry.

  III.  Information from the RSPCA inspectorate indicates that the abuse of air weapons is a problem which is particularly seen amongst the young. At present the legal age at which an airgun can be bought is 17. The RSPCA does not believe that a young person is equipped to be in charge of a weapon which has the potential to cause injury to an animal. As a result the RSPCA would recommend that the age at which you can buy an air weapon be raised to 18.

  IV.  In applying for certification for the ownership of an air weapon the RSPCA would recommend that the following be considered.

  Need. The RSPCA does not believe that certification should be granted unless specific need can be demonstrated by the applicant and appropriate conditions determining the need be entered onto the certificate. In this way we would hope to exclude malicious intent.

  Competency. The RSPCA does not believe that anybody should have charge of a weapon unless their competency can be proved. A trained marksman is able to limit injury and ensure an outright kill—thus significantly reducing distress to the animal.

  Insurance. Any weapon can cause unintentional damage to another's property (including animals) and airguns are no different. The RSPCA would like to see third party insurance as an integral part of the certification process.

  V.  The RSPCA understands that new ballistics technology will enable airguns to be traced. This will significantly assist the RSPCA in prosecuting those who injure and maim animals with air weaponry. However, this will not be possible without a link between gun and owner, underlining the need for certification in this area.


  I.  The RSPCA recognises that when used responsibly by trained marksmen, shotguns can be very useful tools in culling animals. However, in irresponsible or untrained hands, shotguns can cause horrific injury.

  II.  At present the police do not have discretion to apply limiting conditions on the shotgun certificate and the same rules should apply here as apply to all firearm certification.

  III.  As with the ownership of airguns. The RSPCA believes that the onus should be on the owner to prove competency and need before being granted certification. Additionally the RSPCA believes that permission to hold ammunition should be based upon approved usage.

  IV.  1997 Amendment Act

    The RSPCA believes that clarification is needed regarding section 3 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 in so far as there is no mention of competence on the part of the operator and suitability with regard to the actual weapon used to humanely kill animals under section 3 of this Act.

  The RSPCA would welcome the opportunity to clarify any of these points if the committee feels that it would benefit from more detailed evidence.

October 1999

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