HC Deb 17 December 2001 vol 377 cc9-10
5. Mr. David Atkinson (Bournemouth, East)

If he will introduce legislation to control the (a) availability and (b) use of ball-bearing guns. [21148]

The Minister for Police, Courts and Drugs (Mr. John Denham)

Any ball-bearing gun that is capable of inflicting a lethal injury is already regarded in law as an air-gun and is subject to the same range of controls. However, most are less powerful than air-guns and cannot be regarded as firearms, so it would not be proportionate to extend the firearms regime to them. We recognise, however, that it is often young people who use ball-bearing guns in an irresponsible and dangerous manner. As part of our determination to tackle antisocial behaviour by some young people, we are looking for ways to tackle that problem.

Mr. Atkinson

As the Minister acknowledges, the targeting of members of the public by users of BB guns is now a growing menace in many communities. Such weapons can wound, take out an eye, or psychologically traumatise the victim, especially if they are young. Why then did the Government Whip object on Friday 23 November to my private Member's Bill, which would have brought the use of BB guns within the law? Will the right hon. Gentleman meet me to discuss how my Bill can progress through the House?

Mr. Denham

I am happy to meet the hon. Gentleman to discuss the issues, but as I said earlier, we are not convinced that simply extending firearms legislation to BB guns is proportionate or right. There are two issues: one is increasing availability, the other is tackling problems of misuse and irresponsible use. The problem is essentially created by young people. We are determined to tackle the whole range of antisocial behaviour by young people, including issues relating to BB guns and air-guns.

Mr. Chris Mullin (Sunderland, South)

Has not the time come to take another look at the regulation of air weapons, with a view to raising the age limit at which they can be used? They are the cause of a great deal of low-level mayhem in our constituencies. My right hon. Friend will have noticed that only the other day, for example, a young girl in Gateshead lost an eye after coming under sniper fire from an out-of-control, under-age youth with an air weapon.

Mr. Denham

I accept what my hon. Friend says about the nuisance caused by those weapons. We are looking to advice from the Firearms Consultative Committee on what further measures need to be taken. We must examine ways of tackling those who are abusing and misusing the weapons, as well as concentrating on the issues of supply and regulation.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

The Minister talks about supply and regulation, but surely air-guns are available to virtually anyone who wants them. That is the problem with the regulations. Does he agree that we need to revisit the law in general on this subject, and, I suggest, raise age limits considerably, so that young people who are minded to create mayhem cannot obtain air-guns or ball-bearing guns, for example? We could increase age limits, and older people might be more sensible when using those weapons, if they had to use them.

Mr. Denham

I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that merely concentrating on supply and sale does not tackle the problem of misuse, which we must also consider. As we take forward our measures on antisocial behaviour, we recognise the concern on both sides of the House about the growing problem of those weapons, and we are determined to make inroads into that problem.

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