Today, I held a Westminster Hall debate on the airgun safety. This debate was called following the death of George Atkinson, 13, who died when a pellet hit his head after an airgun went off accidentally.
In today’s debate I called for two changes to the current law to ensure that this tragic death would not be repeated. These were small but important changes, the first of which was to tighten the wording of the current legislation on airguns. Currently the law states that:
It is an offence for a person in possession of an air weapon to fail to take reasonable precautions to prevent someone under the age of 18 from gaining unauthorised access to it. A defence is provided where a person can show that they had reasonable grounds for believing the other person to be aged 18 or over. The maximum penalty for someone convicted of this new offence is £1,000.
The weakness in the current legislation is that “reasonable precautions” is open to interpretation. Therefore, following an incident where someone is injured or killed by an airgun it is harder for the police to investigate if the reasonable measures have been implemented. Mr Hanson called for the law to be changed so that it was clear that both the weapon and the ammunition was locked away in a metal gun cabinet. The same rules that are in place for all other firearms covered by the Firearms Act 1968. This would deter children from gaining access to the air weapon without the permission and presents of someone over the age of 21, as the law currently states.
I also called on the Minister to implement the compulsory purchase of trigger locks with new weapons. This would further improve safety.
In Scotland a new law has been passed which will see owners of airguns need to apply for a licence in line with other firearms. I asked the Minister if he would undertake a review into the action taken by the Scottish Government to see what impact it has had.
In the last 27 years, 17 children have died as a result of airguns.
I called this debate in Westminster Hall to question the Government on how they plan to ensure that injury and deaths from airguns are eradicated. The death of George was a tragic accident and one we never wish to see repeated.
The current legislation needs tightening to ensure that those who own airguns know their responsibility to keep them stored in a locked metal gun cabinet. Not just taking ‘reasonable precautions’ as the legislation currently states. Clarity will drive up safety and reduce injuries. I believe that this should be introduced alongside the compulsory purchase of trigger locks with all new airguns.
But this debate was also about encouraging responsible ownership through joining an airgun club. Not enough people know where their local clubs are or how to get in contact with them. I wanted the Minister to work on this to help owners of airguns gain the information that they need.