RSPCA’s call to tighten up on airgun licensing

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Southwater based animal charity the RSPCA is calling for mandatory licensing of airguns in England and Wales, as it revealed it received 4,500 calls in five years about attacks on animals using such weapons.

The charity will be giving the recommendation as part of a submission to the UK Government’s current review of the regulation of air weapons following two serious incidents involving children.

The RSPCA has received, on average, 900 calls a year since 2013 reporting incidents of animals being targeted by people using air weapons.

Sussex, though, does not figure in the top ten counties with the highest number of calls.

Now the charity wants to see England and Wales follow the lead of Scotland, where airgun owners and users have been required to have a licence since January 1 2017.

However, in 2017 the RSPCA still received 884 calls reporting air gun attacks on animals across England and Wales.

A total of 4,500 reports of air gun attacks were received by the charity from January 1 2013 to December 31 2017.

Her Majesty’s Senior Coroner for Suffolk, Dr Peter Dean, wrote to the Home Office requesting a review of legislation covering the use and manufacture of air weapons, following the death of a 13-year-old boy in May 2016 after he was accidentally shot with an air weapon.

David Bowles, RSPCA assistant director of external affairs, said: “The review around the regulation of air weapons is welcomed by the RSPCA and we hope our submission to the Government will help demonstrate the scale of calls to us every year and remind the Government it is important to protect animals as well as people.

“It is heartbreaking that such a tragic incident has sparked this review and our thoughts go out to Benjamin’s family and friends, but we hope that any future regulation of these weapons in England and Wales will better protect people and animals.

“The RSPCA has long been calling for stricter controls over airguns as well as better education and explanation of the law for those buying one. Our 24-hour cruelty hotline receives hundreds of calls every year reporting airgun attacks on animals.

“Animals can suffer horrendous injuries and often die as a result of airgun attacks and these weapons are potentially extremely dangerous for people as well.”

The RSPCA and British Association for Shooting & Conservation plan to stage a joint conference this spring to bring together key stakeholders from industry, the police, animal charities and more to try to identify the scale of the problem and find practical solutions.

In 2017 the RSPCA received calls alleging attacks on 519 wild birds, 341 cats, 125 wild mammals and 111 dogs, amongst others.

The penalties faced if caught deliberately using an airgun to injure an animal can be up to six months in prison and/or an unlimited fine if found guilty under the Animal Welfare Act.

Legislation in Scotland and Northern Ireland requires anyone who possesses, purchases or uses an air weapon to have a licence.

Incidents in which an animal has been shot or targeted by someone using an airgun should contact the RSPCA’s national cruelty line on 0300 1234 999.

- Jacqui Cuff, Cats Protection’s Head of Advocacy & Government Relations, said: “While these latest figures are both shocking and sad, it’s highly likely they are an underestimate because air gun attacks on cats are rarely witnessed. Cats tend to disappear when injured so a cat that’s been shot may just hide away, not survive its injuries and never come home.

“Cats Protection has been putting pressure on the government since 2015 to update the laws on airguns and currently have an urgent appeal on our website to cat lovers to contribute to the current consultation (www.cats.org.uk/airgunsconsultation).

“We think licensing would benefit both people and pets by improving public safety and deterring anti-social behaviour. It would also make it easier to track down culprits while, at the same time, not affecting those using air guns for legitimate purposes such as target shooting.”