If made law, this will make all air weapons subject to a licensing regime. The proposed licensing regime broadly follows the principles and practices of the Firearms Act 1968. It will be an offence for a person to use, possess, purchase or acquire air weapons without a air weapon certificate, although it is proposed that a number of sensible exemptions shall apply. For instance, use or possession by the members of air weapon clubs approved by the Chief Constable under the Act at the club, or whilst engaged as a member of the club at events or competitions elsewhere is allowed. The full list of exemptions is in schedule 1 of the Bill. If passed, the Bill will also create a number of other offences in this area.
The Bill provides that applicants for a certificate must be at least 14 years old. The application must be verified by someone who has known the applicant for at least 2 years and is, in the opinion of the Chief Constable, of good standing in the community. The verifier must not be a relative of the applicant, a registered firearms dealer, police officer or other member of police staff or ordinarily resident outwith the UK. In the case of applicants under the age of 18, a parent or guardian of the applicant must also consent. Any licence will be subject to various prescribed mandatory conditions, with additional conditions where the holder of the licence is under the age of 18.
An application to grant (or renew) a certificate will be made to the Chief Constable and may only be granted if he is satisfied that the applicant is fit to be entrusted with an air weapon; is not prohibited from possessing an air weapon or other firearm under section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968; has a good reason for using, possessing, purchasing or acquiring an air weapon, and in all the circumstances, can be permitted to possess an air weapon without danger to the public safety or to the peace. In certain circumstances, the Chief Constable must revoke the certificate, and in certain other circumstances has a discretion to do so (see section 11 of the Bill). Any person aggrieved by any decision made by the Chief Constable in this context may appeal within 21 days of the date of the decision to the Sheriff Court. There is nothing in the Bill to suggest that only an applicant (or holder of a licence) will have the right of appeal, but as there are no public notification requirements, one would not expect many appeals from persons other than an applicant (or holder of a licence).
The Bill also provides Courts will get the power to cancel a certificate in certain circumstances. This power arises predominantly in criminal proceedings. The existing rights of appeal which exist in these judicial proceedings will automatically give those aggrieved at the cancellation of their certificate rights of appeal also. The Courts are also to have the power to order the forfeiture or disposal of an air weapon where an air weapon offence has been committed.
The Law Society of Scotland's Licensing Law sub-committee has commented on the Bill. It suggests that the proposed licensing regime is refined to provide that each certificate describes every air weapon held by the individual to which it is granted. The sub-committee makes the point that the Police would then know how many air weapons are in circulation, as, unlike shotguns, air weapon do not have serial numbers.