Pets targeted by airgun attacks almost 200 times in one year
The Scottish SPCA estimated that up to 500,000 air weapons are in circulation in Scotland.
Pets and wild animals were targeted in airgun attacks almost 200 times in just one year, an animal charity has revealed.
Scottish SPCA chief superintendent Michael Flynn told MSPs the charity dealt with 178 incidents in which cats, dogs and other animals were targeted with the weapons in 2012.
Holyrood's Local Government and Regeneration Committee has been taking evidence on a Scottish Government Bill that would bring in a licensing system for airguns.
Mr Flynn gave the committee examples of some of the worst incidents the charity has dealt with, adding that many attacks, particularly on cats, take place in built-up housing estates.
He said: "A couple of years ago we had a Staffordshire bull terrier that we believe had been tied to a tree and shot because it had 14 pellets in its head.
"We've had cats with eyes taken out, and we do get the occasional fatality.
"Swans seem to be a particular target, with one in Livingston two years ago. It was reported by members of the public and had 14 separate pellets.
"That's 14 loads, 14 aims and 14 shots. Sadly that bird had to be put down."
Mr Flynn continued: "If you imagine your pet comes home and has been shot, that's an attack on you as well."
Jennifer Dunn, from the League Against Cruel Sports, said she believed figures are under-reporting the number of animals, particularly domestic cats, being targeted.
She said: "The people we spoke to feel less safe in the community when their pet had been targeted, particularly because airguns are so widely available and in most cases they have no idea who did this apart from its was someone living in the same community as them."
It is estimated that up to 500,000 air weapons are in circulation in Scotland.
She continued: "We believe that because there's so many airguns in circulation that the only way to halt airgun attacks on animals is to have some form of licensing implemented."
In a written submission to the committee, Gun Control Network, said 2012-13 statistics on firearm offences in Scotland show one of the two attempted murders involved an air weapon and 43 of the 65 incidents in which someone was injured involved an air weapon.
The organisation's Dr Michael North told MSPs that across the UK there was an average of around one fatality per year due to airgun use and that over a period of around 20 years about 15 young people had been killed in airgun incidents, whether accidents or criminal acts.
He said: "We feel that one of the problems has been a rather lax, casual attitude towards air weapons and feel very strongly that registration sends out the right message."
Chief Inspector Fraser Lamb, from Police Scotland's firearms and explosives licensing unit, said police will adopt a "lighter touch" approach to airgun licensing.
"It's all about the absolute lethality of these weapons," he said. "It is accepted that at close range they are lethal, without a shadow of a doubt.
"However, when we license someone for a firearms licence, for instance, we have something which is capable for sporting purposes of killing a deer at several hundred yards. An air weapon won't do that.
He added: "Again with shotguns, extremely lethal at very short range, devastating, and proportionately more lethal than what an air weapon would be.
"I think what we have got to do is accept that they are lethal weapons but it is different standards of range in relation to lethality.
"It will be a lighter touch and proportionate to that lethality."