5. Determining the Application
Under the 2015 Act all air weapon certification will be undertaken by the Police Service of Scotland. The decision as to whether to grant, renew or refuse an Air Weapon Certificate (AWC) is a matter for the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Scotland.
Section 5 of the 2015 Act sets out the criteria against which the police will determine any application. The Chief Constable may only grant or renew a certificate if 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.
The Scottish Government's aim is that the licensing regime should take an approach which is commensurate with and proportionate to the relative lethality of air weapons and the danger they pose in most circumstances. In line with this, the Government will generally expect the police to take a lighter approach, in most cases, than might be required in the case of a shotgun or firearm application under the 1968 Act. It is expected, therefore, that the majority of air weapon applications can be decided on the basis of routine firearms licensing checks.
The police should also be guided by the information given on the application form, such as the reasons given for possessing and using an air weapon, and their local knowledge, for example of the locality in which a person intends to shoot. If the police deem it necessary, they may elect to undertake further, more detailed enquiries. This may include, for example, a home visit though it is anticipated that this will only be required in a very small number of cases.
In summary, a variety of options are available to Police Scotland in considering an application, including but not limited to:
- Enhanced police system checks
- Home visit/interview with the applicant
- Interview with applicant's family/friends/colleagues
- Inspecting the storage location of the air weapon(s)
- Local enquiry
- Checking land on which a person plans to shoot or club premises to confirm good reason/safety
The first test which the police must undertake is an assessment of whether a person is fit to be entrusted with an air weapon. This test broadly replicates the assessment for a firearms certificate in section 27 of the 1968 Act. Reference should be made to the guidance on this aspect given in the Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law.
An assessment of a person's fitness is a judgement made by the police on the available evidence. Amongst other things, the police will assess whether, to their knowledge, the applicant is of intemperate habits or unsound mind, or is otherwise unfit to be entrusted with an air weapon. This assessment may include evidence of alcohol or drug abuse that may indicate that a person is unfit or unsuitable to possess an air weapon due to the possible impairment of judgement and loss of self-control, evidence of aggressive or anti-social behaviour, or evidence of disturbing and unusual behaviour of a kind which gives rise to concern about the future misuse of air weapons.
While the application form AWL1 requires the applicant to declare any known or past medical conditions which might affect their ability to possess and use air weapons safely, there is no requirement or expectation on the police to contact the applicant's GP unless it is deemed appropriate to do so in the circumstances. The onus to report such matters is the responsibility of the applicant and failure to do so, or making a false statement on the application form, is a serious offence under section 31 of the 2015 Act and could lead to a fine and/or imprisonment.
As noted in Chapter 4, certain people may be prohibited from possessing any firearm, including air weapons, as a result of previous convictions. The Chief Constable will, however, wish to assess any known or suspected criminal involvement when considering an air weapon application.
A single, minor conviction in the past, or minor offences unrelated to firearms or public safety issues should not necessarily lead to a refusal to grant an AWC. A series of convictions, however, or a record of violence including domestic abuse, the misuse or mis-handling of firearms, evidence of association with known criminals or cases where the applicant is found to have knowingly or recklessly made a false statement in order to obtain a certificate will be of particular relevance.
Decisions on applications and revocations should be made on an assessment of all the relevant information and on the specific circumstances of each case. Evidence of previous convictions or intemperate behaviour, for example, might not result in an automatic refusal if, since the conviction, the applicant has led a law-abiding life and shown a capacity to be entrusted to possess a firearm.
Assessing good reason
An applicant must also be able to demonstrate that he or she has a "good reason" to use, possess, purchase or acquire air weapons. An air weapon certificate may be granted by the Chief Constable if satisfied that the applicant has a good reason and that this will not result in a danger to public safety or to the peace.
It is not possible to list every potential use which might be considered good reason to have an air weapon. However, the Scottish Government believes that the following may be considered good reason, taking account of all the circumstances of the individual case:
- Sporting purposes (including the safe shooting of appropriate live quarry)
- Vermin and pest control
- Target shooting (on private land or at an approved air weapon club)
- Taking part in re-enactments
- Theatrical use – for example a theatrical armourer or a theatre manager
Further detail on each of these is set out at Appendix 4.
Evidence to justify good reason could come from:
- Request for written authorities where relevant
- Evidence that the land is suitable for safe shooting
- Evidence of permission to shoot on that land
- Verification of club membership
- Evidence of involvement in a theatre, TV or film production
- Operation of a recreational shooting facility, shooting gallery or stall, etc
- For collectors, membership of a recognised body
As with other firearms, the police will encounter cases not covered here where they may properly judge that good reason is proven. Each case must be judged on its own merits, being mindful of the consistent application of the legislation and the need to provide fair and equitable treatment to all applicants, while maintaining the duty to protect the public from air weapon misuse. Any decision to refuse on grounds of good reason must be reasonable.
The Home Office Guide on Firearms Licensing Law lists what would be considered good reason for possession of firearms. Further reference may be made to this for air weapons due to the similarities in legislation and enquiries in relation to the grant/renewal of air weapon certificates.