Memorandum by the British Veterinary Association
CONTROLS OVER FIREARMS
1. The British Veterinary Association welcomes
the opportunity to submit evidence to the Home Affairs Committee
inquiry into controls over firearms. The British Veterinary Association
is the professional body which represents veterinary surgeons
in this country. We undertake to achieve this through our three
main functionspolicy development, protecting and promoting
the interests of the profession and the provision of services
to our members.
2. Veterinary surgeons have a unique position
when considering this issue. On the one hand, they are often,
in the course of their work, required to use firearms for the
destruction of animals whilst, on the other, they experience the
results of the failure of the controls when animals, injured as
a result of the misuse of these weapons, are brought in for treatment.
3. This submission has been compiled after
consultation with the relevant specialist divisions of the Association
and will offer evidence on air weapons, shotguns and other firearms
4. Injuries caused as a result of wounding
with an air weapon are most frequently seen in cats, although
dogs and urban horses are also treated for such injuries. In most
cases, the injuries are malicious wounding as a result of the
animal having been used for target practice. In the case of urban
horses, injuries to the eyes are frequently seen.
5. As these weapons are not generally powerful
enough to kill, injuries caused as a result of wounding by an
air weapon are rarely fatal unless the heart is hit directly.
However, these injuries do cause the animals pain and suffering.
6. Unfortunately, the Association does not
have statistics on the number of animals which are brought into
veterinary practices suffering from such injuries. The incidence,
however, is considered to be highanecdotal evidence suggests
a region the size of Tyne and Wear could experience at least one
case per week.
7. The Association would like to see the
widespread availability of these weapons restricted through some
form of licensing. We believe that the current controls only govern
the age of the purchaser and a restriction on their use within
a specified distance from a public highway. However, as these
weapons are not powerful enough to have any practical use, they
are only really suited to recreational target shooting and, as
such, their use could be limited to recognised shooting ranges.
8. The use of shotguns is often promoted
as a humane method of destroying livestock on farm, in addition
to which they are a valuable tool for assisting farmers in the
control of vermin. At the present time, and in the current economic
climate, one of the main concerns regarding the availability of
shotguns is their use in farmer suicides.
9. As is the case with air weapons, the
inadequacies of the current controls lie with the ease with which
shotguns may be obtained. Anyone may purchase a shotgun provided
that they have the money to pay for the certificate, the correct
cabinet in which to store the weapon and someone of stature willing
to testify to the soundness of character. It should perhaps be
noted that veterinary surgeons are often asked by their farming
clients to make these declarations.
10. The Association would wish to see certificates
issued only upon the successful completion of a training course
in the use of these weapons, in order to ensure that those owning
shotguns are fully conversant with the qualities and limitations
of these firearms. A further restriction on the availability of
shotguns could be imposed by restrictions on the number any one
person may own.
11. Under certain circumstances, veterinary
surgeons dealing with farm animals and equines find that the use
of hand guns as a humane killer has a distinct advantage over
other forms of euthanasia. However, interpretation of the current
legislation is variable depending upon which police force is responsible
for the enforcement. Some constabularies interpret the legislation
to mean that veterinary surgeons cannot hold free bullet humane
killers under licence whilst others do allow such weapons to be
held. In the case of the latter, some authorities now require
veterinarians to pay for the licence which before was free of
charge as a result of the need for the weapon to protect animal
welfare. The veterinary profession would like to see the removal
of these inconsistencies in the application of the current law.
12. Given that handguns are an appropriate
form of euthanasia, the Association believes that licences should
continue to be issued to veterinary surgeons who have attained
a degree of competency through the successful completion of a
training course to include firearm maintenance. However, the number
of license holders within any practice should bear relation to
the workload and only those with a licence should be allowed access
to the weapon. Part of the licence condition should be a requirement
for a full record of the ammunition used, and the circumstances
under which it was employed, to be maintained and regularly inspected.
A compulsory refresher course for renewal of the licence at, say,
five year intervals could also be a condition of the licence.
Captive Bolt Pistols
13. The recent changes to the firearms legislation,
in effect, removed captive bolts from the firearms legislation
enabling them to be purchased and stored without controls. Subsequent
to this change, MAFF has been taking the view that, unless the
farmer holds a slaughterman's licence, captive bolt pistols may
only be used on the farm for emergency slaughter. This has been
to the detriment of the welfare of chronically affected or cull
animals which are not regarded by MAFF as emergency cases.
14. The British Veterinary Association would
welcome a change which would allow farmers to use captive bolt
weapons for the on-farm slaughter of casualty animals without
the requirement for a slaughterman's licence to be held. Instead
we would support the view of the Humane Slaughter Association
which has called for a recognised training programme on the use
of captive bolt pistols on farms.