24 March 2005

S2M-2622 Firearms Legislation

Scottish Parliament

Thursday 24 March 2005

[THE PRESIDING OFFICER opened the meeting at 09:30]

Firearms Legislation

The Presiding Officer (Mr George Reid): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S2M-2622, in the name of Kenny MacAskill, on firearms legislation.


… … …

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I remind members of an important point: people outside the Parliament will not judge us by our actions today, nor by what we say, but by what we achieve in delivering a safer Scotland. We should put aside what are, frankly, semantic debates about the SNP motion and the amendments and focus on the core issue of how to deliver improvements in public safety.

A paradox that has intrigued me for a considerable time is that, 30 years ago, the two countries in which I felt safest were the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union—two countries in which the police were not armed. Of course, in one country, the situation was an indication of a submissive, highly controlled population that lived in fear of a draconian Government; in the other, it was the result of a society that had many common purposes and goals.

When my father died some years ago, it came as a great surprise to me to find that he had a blunderbuss in the house. My father was a GP and a patient had apparently given it to him as a present for a service that he had rendered. The weapon was likely to be more lethal to the user than to anyone at the other end of it, but, as many people who are faced with that circumstance do, I took it to the police at once and told them that I wanted nothing whatever to do with it. That illustrates and builds on Jeremy Purvis's point that the issue is not only the prevalence of air-guns, but the behaviour of those who have weapons of one sort or another.

I welcome the increased attention that is being given to the subject in the Parliament, at Westminster and in Europe. I do not entirely agree with what is going on at Westminster. For example, in the "Control on Firearms" consultation paper, David Blunkett stated:

"We do not believe that licensing of low-powered air guns and imitations, or restrictions on their sale, is proportionate or enforceable."

I disagree—we must do something about that. I say that as someone who used to have the 10-bob licence that people bought at the post office if they wanted to carry an air-gun in public places.

Jeremy Purvis rose—

Stewart Stevenson: Sorry, I do not have time, because the debate is short.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee has stated:

"We recommend that the purchase or sale of any imitation firearm by or to persons under eighteen via telephone, mail order or Internet should be prohibited".

Maybe, but the real issue is that when people buy a weapon, a face-to-face transaction should take place that is predicated on the requirement that the person who receives the weapon must show that they are authorised to have it. We need a debate about how we can achieve that. There is room for further debate on the recommended age limit of 18, given that we give kids access to the lethal weapon with four wheels and a steering wheel at age 17. Similarly, the committee suggested that the appropriate minimum age for the legal possession of a lethal firearm ... is eighteen".

We need to find a solution that is consistent and immediately understandable.

I welcome the fact that high-energy air-guns are now treated differently from other air-guns. However, with some air-guns it is possible to create a high-energy charge without the projectile containing the charge. Although there are other substantial loopholes in the legislation, the danger comes not from the energy that propels the bullet—be it explosive or compressed air—but from the person who holds the gun. Therefore, we must license people, register weapons and inspect their storage. Like other members, SNP members will welcome legislation and enforcement wherever it comes from, be that the EU, Westminster, the Scottish Parliament or through the actions of local authorities and police forces. However, we will stand condemned if we stand aside and do not take every opportunity to improve safety in Scotland.


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