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Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 August 2005, 17:47 GMT 18:47 UK
Calls continue for airgun curbs
By Graeme Esson
BBC Scotland's news website

Air rifle
Westminster has brought forward proposals for new laws
The man who murdered two-year-old Andrew Morton is behind bars - but the guilty verdict is not the final chapter in his family's fight for justice.

The toddler was shot in his brother's arms as they went to see a fire engine near their home in the Easterhouse area of Glasgow.

He died in hospital two days later.

In the months which followed, Andrew's family has campaigned for the weapons to be banned.

His mother, Sharon McMillan, repeated the call for what has been dubbed Andrew's Law as she left the court after seeing Mark Bonini convicted of murdering her son.

Following the conviction, the Home Office said it would not hesitate to bring in further airgun controls if necessary.

A spokesman said: "Following the tragic shooting of Andrew Morton in Glasgow and other recent incidents in Scotland, the government is working closely with Scottish ministers to see whether other controls might be needed to tackle air weapon misuse.

"The government will not hesitate to bring forward whatever further measures it is agreed are necessary."

On the day the toddler died, Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson promised to look at the legislation covering the weapons.

She said she would be taking up the issue, which is reserved to Westminster, with the Home Office.

Andrew Morton
Andrew Morton's death sparked calls for a ban on airguns

Weeks later she helped launch a campaign urging people to hand in unwanted weapons.

The Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland (Acpos) said it believed there were about 500,000 air weapons in Scotland.

More than 1,000 weapons were handed in during the four-week If You Don't Need It, Get Shot Of It campaign and have now been destroyed.

Acpos firearms licensing spokesman David Mellor said that there was usually a flow of airguns being given up to police throughout the year and that the rate had increased since the campaign.

"It would be surprising if that did not continue," he told BBC Scotland's news website.

Firearms act

The day after Andrew's death, First Minister Jack McConnell told the Labour Party conference that he could not rule out a total ban.

The Scottish National Party held a debate at Holyrood calling for a specific Scottish firearms act to deal with the issue.

Weeks after the shooting, the airgun issue gave Tory leader Michael Howard an uncomfortable moment at his party's Scottish conference in Dumfries.

There are a whole host of measures that could be taken around that issue to make the supply of air weapons more tightly controlled
David Mellor
Acpos

He infuriated Andrew's parents by saying that he opposed a ban on airguns.

Sharon McMillan tackled him outside the conference, asking him whether he would still be against the ban if his son had been killed.

Last year the UK Government raised the minimum age for owning an airgun from 14 to 17.

The Home Office wants to raise the minimum age for owning airguns to 18 and restrict where they can be fired - but stopped short of an all-out ban.

The following day, Mr McConnell said these proposals closed dangerous loopholes - but admitted that they did not go far enough.

Tighten up

He raised the possibility that Scotland could go it alone and introduce further curbs.

The executive said on Tuesday that it was continuing to work with the Home Office to tighten up the measures already contained in the Violent Crime Reduction Bill.

"There is contact between Scottish Executive officials and the Home Office as we speak," said a spokesman.

Michael Howard being confronted by Sharon McMillan
Michael Howard was confronted by Sharon McMillan

There is no chance of any change to the legislation during the summer recess as parliamentary convention dictates that any amendments must be indicated while the house is sitting.

Mr Mellor, Fife Constabulary's deputy chief constable, said Acpos welcomed the proposals and said Scottish forces were keen that they should be properly enforced if they become law.

"We are working very closely with the Scottish Executive to see what further measures could be taken to try and reduce the harm and concern around the issue of air weapons," he said.

Acpos is keen to reduce the number of places where such weapons can be bought.

At the moment, they are being sold legally at places like sporting shops, while also being available through mail order and over the internet.

'Too easy'

"One of the proposals we have made, which the executive is looking at closely, is around restricting the outlets from which air weapons are supplied to registered firearms dealers," said Mr Mellor.

"There is a general appreciation that it really is just too easy to get hold of an air weapon and it should not be so easy.

"There are a range of things that could be considered around cool-off periods, having to produce evidence of ID and proof of age, and being able to test purchase, using young people to check that the vendors are complying with the law.

Mark Bonini
Mark Bonini was found guilty of murder

"There are a whole host of measures that could be taken around that issue to make the supply of air weapons more tightly controlled.

"We are keen to work with the executive to find the right balance."

Norrie Flowers, the chairman of the Scottish Police Federation, said it was not feasible to have a total ban on airguns.

He said there was a need for some form of registration scheme, but admitted that a licensing system would be very difficult to administer.

"At the point of sale there should be some sort of scrutiny of the individual who is buying it," he said.

"That does not stop airguns from becoming available elsewhere, but it stops the person coming off the street and buying one."

I was on the day after the shooting and I saw the state of the firefighters on duty as they finished their shift
Stewart Wilson
Strathclyde Fire Brigade

Mr Flowers said that the weapons had a legitimate use in rural areas.

But he added: "They are extremely dangerous weapons in the wrong hands and it would be difficult to justify someone having one in an urban area."

The murder trial heard that Bonini had taken pot shots at a fire crew before he fired the pellet which killed Andrew Morton.

Stewart Wilson is the Fire Brigades Union's representative at the Easterhouse station, which had answered the call.

"I was on the day after the shooting and I saw the state of the firefighters on duty as they finished their shift," he said.

Bricks and bottles

"You could tell that it (Andrew's death) did affect them. It is a terrible thing."

He said that attacks on crews with air weapons were not unheard of, although it was more usual for bricks and bottles to be thrown.

While the firefighters were the focus of such attacks, he said that their presence in areas like Easterhouse tended to attract a large crowd - which meant that children and other bystanders could be in danger if the crews were being targeted.


SEE ALSO:
New laws rule out ban on airguns
08 Jun 05 |  Scotland
Mail order call for knife sales
08 Jun 05 |  Scotland
Hundreds hand in unwanted airguns
07 May 05 |  Scotland


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