Memorandum by the Royal Society for the
Prevention of Cruelty to Animals
INQUIRY INTO CONTROL OVER FIREARMS
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 killthus 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.