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The BBC's Robert Walker
"This discussion will go on for some time"
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Thursday, 13 April, 2000, 14:40 GMT 15:40 UK
Row over tighter gun laws
Shotgun competition
Shooting lobby say plans will harm innocent users
Proposals to tighten Britain's gun laws have been met with a furious reaction from the pro-shooting lobby who say the plans will penalise innocent users but do nothing to stop armed criminals.

A report by a cross-party committee of MPs has called for low-powered air weapons to be licensed and said children should not be allowed to handle firearms until they are aged 12 or 14.

Airgun incidents
In 1998/9 there were 8,665 offences
In 1997 1,194 people injured by airguns
About 10,000 cats injured by air weapons in 1996
The MPs were also "appalled" that the government and police forces had failed to introduce a computer database of all firearms holders demanded in the gun crackdown which followed the 1996 Dunblane massacre.

But enthusiasts said an age restriction would damage Britain's future prospects in sports such as rifle shooting and described the proposals as a "fundamental attack on the life-blood of shooting".

The Home Affairs Select Committee said any gun capable of killing should be subject to controls - bringing airguns under the same legislation as other firearms for the first time.

Weapons were handed in after post-Dunblane crackdown
It also warned of a rise in the number of air-powered weapons held.

The estimated four million airguns in circulation account for 70% of firearms held legally and two-thirds of firearm offences recorded, but fall outside the scope of current gun laws.

MPs said airguns should be licensed with holders showing they were fit to have a licence, had a safe place to store the weapon and a good reason for keeping it.

Civil liberties

But John Hoare, secretary of the National Small Bore Rifle Association, said: "The people who will be most affected by the proposals are those who are law abiding and cause no mischief, damage or injury to anyone. They will not affect the criminals.

"The current law is not enforced. We should give it a chance to bite before we bring in unjustified restrictions."

Firearms consultant Colin Greenwood said: "What the committee propose will destroy the sporting use of airguns, cost thousands of jobs and achieve nothing.

"The proposition that a father cannot even teach his child to use an airgun on his own property is an outrage against civil liberties."

But committee chairman Robin Corbett MP said they had set out to simplify a very complex system.

Asked if the proposals would threaten ordinary gun users he said: "That is not our intention and we do not think that will happen."

He said the committee was unsure whether the minimum age for firearms use should be 12 or 14.

Underworld gun survey

Proposals were also made to strengthen shotgun controls, with applicants proving they were fit to hold a licence and having to supply police with two character references.

Under the discussion document, police would also have the power to revoke shotgun licences if they feared someone had become unsuitable.

The report backed an earlier proposal for a survey of all illegal weapons seized by the police and Customs officers over a year, to paint a picture of Britain's underground gun culture.

The committee also proposed that young people should reach 18 before being allowed to hold firearms unsupervised, and 16 before using such weapons unsupervised on private land.

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27 Oct 99 | Scotland
Firearms offences at new low
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