AIRGUN owners have been given six months to get a licence for their weapons before strict new laws come into force at the end of the year.

The Scottish Government pledged to introduce the licensing scheme following the death of Glasgow toddler Andrew Morton, who was killed by an airgun in 2005.

The two-year-old died after being hit on the head with an airgun pellet near his home in the Easterhouse area of the city on March 2.

It is estimated that there are about 500,000 unlicensed air weapons in Scotland.

It will be a criminal offence to have an air weapon without a licence or permit from December 31, 2016.

Anyone found guilty of the new offence could face up to two years in prison.

Owners will be able to apply to Police Scotland for an air weapon certificate from July 1.

The force will also operate a “surrender” campaign, during which people can hand in unwanted weapons before the new legislation comes into force.

Justice Secretary Michael Matheson said: “This government has a long-standing commitment to eradicating gun crime in Scotland and this new legislation will better protect our communities by taking these potentially lethal weapons out of the hands of those who would misuse them.”

He added that police, animal welfare groups and members of the public had to face the results of air weapon misuse every day.

Mr Matheson also said air weapons caused anti-social behaviour, as well as injuries to wildlife, pets and, occasionally, people.

“We are not banning air weapons outright, but ensuring that their use is properly regulated and users have a legitimate reason for owning them,” he said.

“We believe this legislation strikes the right balance between protecting communities and allowing legitimate shooting in a safe environment to continue.

“We will be publishing clear information on how air weapon owners can apply for a certificate or permit.

“I would encourage anybody with an air weapon to stay on the right side of the law by using the six months from July 1 to apply for the right to possess an air weapon.”

People who already hold existing firearms or shotgun licences will not require a new certificate until their existing one is due for renewal.

Assistant Chief Constable Mark Williams said: “Police Scotland fully supports the changes to air weapon legislation and in support of these developments will launch an air weapons surrender campaign later this year.

“This will allow people to hand in any unwanted air weapons before licensing takes effect.

“Police Scotland will also be running a campaign to allow people to hand in any unwanted air weapons before licensing takes effect.”

The parents of the toddler murdered with an air rifle, Sharon McMillan and Andy Morton have been campaigning for a ban on the weapons since his death.

He died after he was shot in the head in 2005 by air rifle-wielding thug Mark Bonini, 27.

The tot had been in the street with big brother Brian, then aged 13, watching fire engines when drug addict Bonini shot him from a first-floor flat window.

At the time, the grieving family were told firearms legislation was reserved for Westminster, leaving the Scottish Government powerless to act.

But after the Scotland Bill, Clause 11 bringing the regulation of air weapons to Holyrood, was finally approved in 2012, they lobbied MSPs to ban airguns.