Air weapon licensing call over 'senseless' pet attacks
Ministers have been urged to introduce a licensing regime for air weapons amid a growing number of "senseless" attacks on household pets.
Peers heard there had been thousands of shooting incidents involving domestic animals in recent years with armed thugs particularly targeting cats, many of which died as a result of their injuries.
The Government is currently reviewing the regulation of airguns in response to a coroner's call after a teenager was accidentally shot in the neck and killed by a home-made air rifle held by his friend.
Ben Wragge, 13, was fatally struck while playing with a group of boys at a friend's house in the village of Thurston, near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, in 2016.
Ministers said they were keeping an "open mind" around the regulation of airguns in England and Wales. The weapons are already subject to licensing in Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Raising the issue in the House of Lords, Tory peer Lord Black of Brentwood highlighted the growing number of "senseless attacks" involving airguns on domestic animals.
He said cats were particularly vulnerable to being shot, with nearly half of those hit dying "as a result of often horrific injuries".
He said: "The Cats Protection charity recorded 164 attacks on cats and kittens with an air gun last year while the RSPCA received nearly 900 calls to their cruelty hotline reporting air weapon attacks on animals - making 4,500 attacks in the last five years."
Lord Black added: "Is it not time to license these weapons to ensure that they are possessed only for legitimate purposes by responsible owners and not by those, who would cruelly inflict pain and suffering and often death on defenceless domestic animals?"
Home Office Minister Baroness Williams of Trafford said: "As a cat lover and a cat owner I totally sympathise with his question and the Government does take animal welfare very seriously."
She pointed out the maximum penalty for shooting a cat was being increased from six months in prison to five years.
"We are looking at the regulation of air weapons with an open mind," she added.
Lady Williams also said the country had "some of the strictest laws in the world on guns".
But opposition spokesman Lord Kennedy of Southwark pressed for tighter rules, particularly around the storage of air weapons.
"In the hands of irresponsible people, these weapons can kill," he said.