Airgun injury toll sparks amnesty call

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A national "hand-in" campaign for the four million home-held airguns was demanded by MPs yesterday as part of tighter controls on firearms.

The Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs was alarmed after learning an estimated 10,000 cats and 2,000 people are injured each year by airguns, often fired by children. Swans and badgers are among wild animals hit by the pellets.

The MPs were concerned at the lax laws on air weapons but refused a total ban on airguns to match the ban on handguns after the Dunblane massacre.

The committee said high-powered air weapons should be licensed - which would be for the first time - and the age of any purchaser should be at least 17. The MPs said the Home Office should start reducing the number of airguns held in British homes by campaigning for them to be surrendered at police stations.

"We are extremely concerned at the number of serious injuries by air weapons," said the MPs, although there is evidence that the number of shootings with air weapons has fallen. Their report said figures for 1998-89 showed air weapons caused nearly two-thirds of all recorded firearms offences.

They were appalled the Government had not introduced a national database of certificate holders for handguns after that ban was introduced in 1997.

The MPs called for a general review of the Firearms Acts, shotgun controls to be strengthened and for police to have the power to revoke shotgun licences for people they believe have become unsuitable. The changes would bring controls over shotguns closer to those covering more powerful Section One firearms such as rifles.

The committee chairman, Robin Corbett, the Labour MP for Birmingham Erdington, said: "We want licensing of all firearms which have the potential to kill - this will mean licensing most of the air weapons now in circulation."