Government air gun review after MP’s Hartcliffe toddler shooting debate

Ministers are to review regulations governing the safety of air weapons after a Bristol MP called a Parliamentary debate on the issue following the shooting of a toddler in Hartcliffe last summer.

Pointing out that the incident, which saw 18 month-old Harry Studley shot in the head and critically injured, was sadly not an isolated incident, Karin Smyth (Bristol South) told the Commons: “Too many lives have been unnecessarily lost and too many serious injuries have been inflicted upon innocent civilians. Sadly, a large proportion of these victims are children and young people. We cannot ignore the issue and we need to do something about it.”

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Responding for the government, Home Office Minister Nick Hurd told the Labour MP of his “intention to review the regulation of air weapons in England and Wales.” He said: “I think that this is an appropriate time to take stock of the regulatory position and assess whether the current controls, which are already strong, continue to be appropriate and effective.”

Karin Smyth highlighted recent law changes in Scotland: “Following a series of tragic incidents involving air weapons, the Scottish Government acted to address the problem. Under the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015, it has been an offence since the start of this year to use, possess, purchase or acquire an air weapon without holding an air weapon certificate.

“It is a condition of that licence that weapons are securely stored in order that access and possession cannot be gained by a person who is not authorised.”

Criminal convictions north of the border must be disclosed as part of the license application process, and the police there must be satisfied that the applicant can possess an air weapon “without danger to the public safety or to the peace” before issuing an air weapon certificate.

Karin Smyth pointed out: “In the run-up to the change in the law, 20,000 air weapons were surrendered to the authorities in Scotland and destroyed—20,000 fewer potentially lethal weapons were on the streets, and I think the House will agree that that makes Scotland safer.

“Most of the law in England and Wales on air weapons dates from the 1960s and it is time properly to re-examine the legislation to see whether it is fit for the 21st century. When an issue has such a devastating effect on the lives of families with such regularity, I would expect the Government to be considering such action already.

“At the very least I would expect a detailed consideration of licensing in the light of the change to the law in Scotland; of whether the fitting of trigger locks should be mandatory for all new air weapons sold; and of whether the reasonable precautions requirement on all airgun owners for the safe storage of air weapons and ammunition is adequate.

“I want children and young people in my constituency to be protected from future tragedies like those that have been all too common in recent years.

“Surely Bristol South’s children deserve the same protection as children living in Scotland.”

Nick Hurd said: “I intend to look carefully at the existing controls on air weapons, including how best to ensure that such weapons are stored safely and securely, so that they do not get into the hands of children. The hon. Member for Bristol South suggested that features such as trigger locks should be used, or that air weapons should be required to be stored in a locked cabinet. Those issues need to be looked at in some detail.

“As the hon. Lady rightly pointed out, the recent decision by the Scottish Government to introduce a licensing regime for lower-powered air weapons has quite rightly led to a renewed focus on the regulatory position in England and Wales.”

He also outlined a series of measures aimed at improving guidance for owners of air weapons to help secure and handle them safely.

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