Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the British Veterinary Association


  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 functions—policy 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 in turn.


  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 high—anecdotal 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.


Hand Guns

  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.

October 1999

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