Shooting Abroad

One of the questions I get asked most frequently is: “I want to shoot pistols, where can I go to do it?” This is either asked by people who had pistols and had them banned in 1997, or by people who never had the chance and want to have a go. Less frequently I am asked where to go to shoot self-loading rifles which are also banned, but the principle is the same.

I think it’s safe to say there are few people who have travelled more than myself in search of the best place overseas to continue with the sport of pistol shooting, so I shall share my knowledge on the subject:

In general

Before you even think of going overseas, I will make the point here to novice shooters that you are probably better off going to your local gun club and trying air pistol shooting first. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, you might find that shooting a muzzle-loading pistol, or long-barrelled revolver, or one of the other legal contraptions that we shoot nowadays in Britain does. If, however, you really want to shoot a modern pistol, then…

About 80-90% of countries fall into a similar pattern when it comes to allowing non-residents to use and own pistols. They all have their own bizarre quirks that I could spend hours listing, but I won’t waste your time with the more esoteric provisions. Suffice to say if you have a specific question, e-mail me, I may not know the answer but I can point you in the right direction most of the time.

Basically, in most countries it is not a problem to join a gun club there and shoot pistols owned by the club, provided pistols are legal there. In a few of the Eastern European countries the laws are so tough as to not be worth bothering with as there are so few types of handgun legal there and very few gun clubs (on the other hand, the Czech Republic has some of the least restrictive gun laws in the EU).

However, once you’ve joined the club in the country of your choice, you probably will be thinking to yourself: “I’m tired of shooting with this old clunker, I want my own gun.” And that’s where the trouble begins, because in most countries you need to be a resident of that country in order to own a pistol there. Most countries also have some sort of secure storage requirement, so you have to have some sort of residence there, although in some cases you can store the gun with a dealer. In addition to the residency requirement, most countries also require a probationary period that must be completed prior to your even being able to apply for a licence. For example, in France and Spain you must attend regularly for six months, in Germany and the Netherlands you must attend regularly for a year! In some countries the probationary requirement is waived, but usually only if you are permanently moving to that country and taking up residence and if you have a licence from your home country – i.e. a firearm certificate. This is of course of little help, if you were moving country you wouldn’t be reading this!

Countries and locales that fall into the “You can join a club and use a club gun but you must be resident to get a licence” category include:

Austria, Australia, Finland, France, Germany, Gibraltar, Greece, Guernsey, Hungary, Italy, Jersey, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, New Zealand (tourist licence required), Norway, Poland, Sweden and doubtless many others.

Of course, you may be thinking to yourself that you don’t even want to join a club, you just want to go out for the day and have a go. Once again, this depends on the country, it would take me forever to detail each country but suffice to say in some countries it is possible to walk through the door, pay for a day membership and start shooting, but in many you need to attend on a specific guest day, and in some you also need to take safety training before they will even let you touch a gun. If you have a firearm certificate, this usually helps grease the wheels as your hosts will assume that you at least know one end of a gun from the other and that you aren’t a criminal. It does help to take your FAC along and also your European Firearms Pass if you’re in another EU country.

However, rather than me blather on about this I think if you just want a day out then you’ll be far better off doing a search on the net or in the phone book (if possible) and giving the local club a phone call prior to travelling.

The other thing I’ll point out to you is that even if you come to the conclusion: “Oh, I was going to buy a holiday home in France/Spain etc. anyway so I can keep a pistol there” is that you really need to have a good command of the local language as gun laws are extremely complex and the local licensing officer will expect you to understand them. For example, in France not only does a pistol have to be unloaded but it has to be disassembled or fitted with a trigger lock while being transported to and from the range. Also, a lot of overseas shooting schemes have tripped up by trying to play silly buggers with the residency requirement. The police are usually the licensing authority, and they will expect that residence to be occupied by you for most of the time.

The pistol licensing laws in most other European countries are in fact a lot harsher than they were in GB prior to the ban, limits on the number of guns you can have, limits on the calibres you can have, limits on how you can carry them, limits (or even prohibitions) on the possession of ammunition, prohibitions on handloading etc.

However…

…there are exceptions to the above, and not surprisingly this is where most shooters have eventually gravitated to. I will deal with these separately.

Belgium

There is a club in Belgium which caters to British shooters, although from my investigations most of them are fairly accommodating to the idea.

I did have a whole section here describing how to get a non-resident licence, however it became impossible after the law changed in 2006 after a multiple murder in AntwerpHere is a report on the subject.

Canada

Canada is unusual in having a specific provision in their law that specifically allows non-residents to hold firearm licences, and moreover, with that licence you can get permission to buy a firearm. However, Canadian gun laws are of Byzantine complexity and there are so many permits and licences you have to get that I’d better run through it.

Firearms are divided into three main classes, prohibited, restricted and non-restricted. Handguns with a barrel length of 105mm or less or chambered in .25 or .32 calibre are prohibited, as are a long list of semi-automatic rifles, and also (really annoyingly) is any pistol magazine that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition or any magazine for a centrefire semi-auto rifle that holds more than five rounds (with some very limited exceptions). So you are somewhat limited in what you can legally own.

You can’t get authority for prohibited weapons. Handguns that aren’t prohibited plus AR-15 rifles are “restricted”, but many types of semi-automatic rifle are “non-restricted”. However in both cases you still need a Canadian firearm licence. To get it, first you have to complete the Canadian Firearm Safety Course and also the Canadian Restricted Firearm Safety Course, which is offered by most gun clubs in Canada. Then you fill out the licence application and send it in – what is not mentioned anywhere on the application form is that you also need to send a copy of your police record with it – you can obtain this from your local police under the provisions of the Data Protection Act.

Once you’ve got the licence, you can then buy a firearm. Restricted firearms are also registered and each requires a registration certificate, but with these there is another catch – you also need to apply for an “authority to transport” the firearm so you can take the firearm from the shop to the place you store it, although this may not be absolutely necessary if the shop/club/place of storage are all the same business, usually to get an ATT for range use you must be a member of a gun club, but obviously you will be so that shouldn’t be a problem. Contrary to what it says on the CFC website and the ATT application form, in Ontario and Québec (and the maritime provinces) the club you are a member of applies for the range use ATT for you. If you store it with someone who has a licence, they must get a “restricted firearm storage permit” because the gun isn’t registered to them. So basically for a handgun, you need as many as four bits of paper/plastic (licence, registration, ATT, storage permit)!

This is a very quick run-through, and there is more information and a comprehensive cure for insomnia at the Canadian Firearms Centre website. You can download the many, many forms you will need and marvel at the complexity of their licensing system and wonder how much money people are making out of supplying it to them.

France

France used to have a really complex licensing system, but in 2013 they revised it, however, it may be less complex now but it’s still restrictive.  The new system is based on the categories in the European Firearms Directive, but using more nuanced language.  So handguns fall into Category B, as do most semi-automatic rifles (except semi-automatic rifles with a fixed two-round magazine, which are in Category C).  Note also that any rifle in five modern military calibres (including 5.56mm) is in Category B.

So you have to be a member of a gun club, have attended at least three times in the past year, pass a medical exam and have the favourable opinion of the FFTir.  And also secure storage for the guns.  So somewhat similar to how it used to be in GB, except for the addition of the medical exam.

There are limits on how many Category B firearms you can own, namely a dozen and you can only possess a maximum of 1,000 rounds of centrefire ammunition per Category B firearm at a time.  Although you can also own up to ten additional single-shot .22 pistols (this is because at one time they didn’t require a licence in France so there are a lot of them floating around).  Magazines that hold more than 31 rounds are banned; but you have to get special permission (presumably proof of being an IPSC shooter) to own a magazine that holds more than 20 rounds… and you can’t own more than ten magazines total.

However, France is close, so if you want to join a club there I suggest you have a look at the French Shooting Federation website clubfinder gizmo.

This is a summary of the licensing procedure.  This is a summary of what a Category B firearm is.  You can also have a look at the French firearm laws via the UFA website (I recommend you do as the summaries are a bit vague). Another good place to look for a gun club is in the French gun magazine CiblesHere is a company offering shooting holidays.

Israel

I mention Israel separately because some people seem to be under the illusion that Israel is some sort of gun-owning nirvana. Actually Israel has a licensing system that was put in place originally by the British, however the police are not quite so narrow-minded as in other countries about issuing licences, well, at least if you’re an Israeli. You can join an Israeli gun club but once again, you need to be resident or at least a very frequent visitor to get an Israeli licence.

There are however lots of ranges in Israel and it’s worth mentioning because if you go there you may be able to wangle a go with an Uzi or an M16 as loads of people are issued them and a lot of ranges are used by both the military and civilians. There was a company in London called Edenbridge that was organising trips to a training camp in Israel where you did get to have a go with lots of interesting things that go bang but I haven’t heard from them recently. Main problem is the cost of getting there.

Isle of Man

I’ve done a summary of the gun laws on the Isle of Man. After the handgun ban a lot of people moved their handguns to the Isle of Man, one of the reasons being that the Isle of Man has a treaty with the UK so you don’t need an export licence to send your guns there. However, once the Government there realised what was happening they sent a circular to the dealers on the Island pointing out that people could only shoot their guns if they held a certificate or permit issued by the Isle of Man Police. In theory, the Isle of Man Police can issue a visitor’s permit so that you can use a gun held by an Isle of Man dealer or firearm certificate holder, but I don’t think they have done this to date.

As with France etc., you can join a club there and shoot the club guns, but you really need to be a resident to have your own guns and shoot them.

The main reason I mention the Isle of Man separately is because it is so convenient to get there, at least during the summer when the Sea Cat is running. There are two pistol ranges on the Island, although only one club that is primarily a pistol club, and only some sixty-odd firearm certificates on issue to pistol shooters. However, one of the ranges is about five minutes walk from the port in Douglas, so you can go across as a foot passenger on the Sea Cat, which costs little, and stay in a hotel in Douglas, which costs very little indeed (due to massive overcapacity except during the TT) and you don’t need a car. The range in Douglas itself is a typical 25m indoor dungeon, and it is only open on Sundays and a couple of weekday evenings, but if you get a large enough group together they will open especially for you (P.S. this range flooded in February 2002, and is not currently in service although there is a plan to get it running again).

One of the endearing qualities is that the back of the range is part of the wall of the port, so there is a water pump going most of the time!  This is the other club.

Ireland

My personal view is don’t bother, however lots of people ask, so… basically only single-shot .22 rimfire handguns and .22 semi-automatic pistols with at least a 10cm barrel for use in ISSF competition are legal.  The licensing system in Ireland is described elsewhere on this website.  I suppose theoretically you could join an Irish gun club and use a club gun, but it seems silly if you’re from GB, especially if you have an FAC, because Northern Ireland is just generally less hassle.

Jersey

Jersey is nice and close, you can’t own a handgun there but you can join the Jersey Pistol Club and borrow a member’s gun (they don’t have any club guns).  The one point I would make is that the Jersey Government made a policy statement saying they wanted to discourage “gun tourism” and attempted to ban non-residents from joining clubs. I talked them out of that, and the Jersey legislature also removed a prohibition in the Bill against temporary members also. However, clearly the situation is not going to improve to the point where you will be able to keep guns there.  More information here.

Northern Ireland

The advantage of Northern Ireland is that it is part of the UK so your firearm certificate carries some weight there and handguns are still legal.

The club that gets most of the press is the Newtownards & District Shooting Club. There are however many other pistol clubs in Northern Ireland, the only people with a comprehensive list to hand that I know of are the PSNI firearm licensing dept. in Belfast.

As with most other places, it’s not a problem to join up and use the club guns, the procedure is essentially the same as GB (except there is a 12-month probationary period – but that won’t matter if you have a certificate already). The problem is, as per usual, if you want your own gun.

In the past with considerable effort to get a non-resident firearm certificate and potentially store a firearm with a dealer or club, but the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004 introduced a new system of visitor permits (for people resident outside the UK) and letters for visitors from Great Britain (to bring in guns covered by their certificates). The new law doesn’t make any provision for storage of guns in Northern Ireland by non-residents, unfortunately.

Poland

Poland has pretty restrictive gun laws, but apparently Mike Wells has figured out a way of storing guns there for British shooters.

Spain

I get asked about Spain a lot, not surprising seeing as two million British citizens live there now. Spain has a complex licensing system. To begin with, you have to have Spanish national ID, as well as a certificate of Empadronamiento (proof of property ownership). Then you also have to join the Spanish shooting Federation, and join an affiliated gun club. Once you’ve done that, you also have to take a comprehensive written test, and a shooting test. This is given in Spanish of course, and is apparently quite tricky, so training is recommended. Once you pass, you pay for your training certificate, and then you also have to have a criminal background check done as well as having a psychometric test done, and photos taken, all of which costs more money. Once you’ve done all that, you can then apply for your licence, which allows you to buy a single handgun. If you shoot well with it, you can have your licence upgraded so that you can acquire up to six handguns. You must also attend at least one competition a year to retain your licence. This website gives more info. Use a translation engine if you can’t understand it. Lots of different licence categories covering different things, Category F is probably the one you’ll be interested in, if target shooting is your interest. There are also demonstration tests on the site, but not for Category F unfortunately.

Spain (like everywhere else) has its quirks, the licensing issue mentioned above basically rules out shooting holidays by non-residents. Also, semi-automatic rifles in modern military rifle calibres are banned (5.56mm NATO, 7.62 NATO, 7.62×39, 5.45×39), although you can have, say, an AR-15 in .222 Remington, or a semi-automatic rifle in 9mm Parabellum. There aren’t many rifle ranges suitable for centrefire rifles either, and no private rifle ranges at all longer than 100m. Handloading of ammunition is also tightly controlled, and you can’t have more than 200 rounds of ammunition.

Switzerland

Without doubt the best place for target shooting on the face of the planet, if you can afford it, go there! Staying in Switzerland is actually inexpensive, it has a reputation for being costly because of the tourist trap areas, but outside of those there are plenty of inexpensive hotels and taxes are the lowest in Europe. Switzerland also has the severe advantage of being a damn nice place to go on holiday even without any shooting, so if you are dragging the family along they will have something to do.

Although there are heaps of ranges all over the place, it is assumed you’re going to bring your own gun, so you may be limited to the commercial indoor ranges. There are several throughout Switzerland, and the fastest way to find one near where you are going is to buy a copy of Visier and look at the ads, or you can look on the net (remember, French or German, not English) or you can ask me if you’re really stuck.

A lot of the indoor ranges have club guns that are far superior to other clubs in Europe. Usually in most European countries they will have a tatty S&W, an IMI Jericho, perhaps a Hi-Power or if you’re lucky a Glock. Go to Switzerland and you may find that you can rent a SIG P210 or a Hämmerli target pistol!

You can also buy a pistol in Switzerland and keep it there, essentially you apply at the local town hall for a permit (takes two weeks usually), although it is more complicated for non-residents (you’ll need your firearm certificate, passport and a letter of good character from your local police, and perhaps other paperwork such as details of your Swiss address). My suggestion is to look at the legal summaries on some of the Swiss gun dealer websites, such as Gun Factory. Once you’ve got the gun you have to find somewhere to keep it, such as with a local club. From a legal standpoint it is your possession at that point so it has to be locked up somewhere so that you don’t inadvertently “transfer” it, which requires some paperwork.

If you’re really keen you can join the British Alpine Rifles who organise regular trips to Switzerland, if you have a firearm certificate and complete the rather complex membership requirements (including heavy duty references) the Swiss become more trusting and will issue an acquisition permit more quickly, usually in a day. The only problem is that I don’t think BAR can handle too many more members.

There are some snags. Basically it is nearly impossible to take your guns out of Switzerland once they’re there, unless you are permanently moving them. This is a teeny bit annoying if you want to shoot a competition in Germany, for example. The only way is to get a Swiss export licence and import licence, but once outside of Switzerland you have nothing to indicate legal possession as you are not a resident of Switzerland, so it’s best avoided unless you want to spend time in a German or French nick trying to explain the complexities of gun laws.

Remember, Switzerland is not part of the EU so your EFP etc. carries no weight there. This is important if you fancy taking a rifle along, as there are various requirements for marksmen bringing in guns for competitions (such as a limit of 250 rounds of ammunition). On the subject of rifles if you want to shoot SLRs, Switzerland is the closest thing to heaven you will find, almost everyone there seems to have one, many given to them by the Government!

The only other real problem is getting there.

United States

Often I am asked something along the lines of: “I’m going on holiday to Boston, where can I go and shoot a pistol?” Er…

Although the US has a reputation of being full of guns (that is true to some extent, some two-fifths of privately owned firearms in the world are in the US), you need to pick the destination carefully. Many States and cities have very tough gun laws.

Following is a brief list, States with very tough handgun laws include: New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts (as well as the District of Columbia). Most gun owners have simply moved out of those areas, so there aren’t many places to shoot even if you are permitted to. In addition, many States also prohibit non-resident aliens from possessing firearms, or impose additional requirements, and this includes Arizona (hunting licence issued by any State or match invite) and Washington for example. This usually does not preclude you from renting a pistol at a pistol range, but sometimes it does (see FAQ below).

My best advice is to pick somewhere in the southern part of the US (excluding California) or the south-east, as regardless of the gun laws, this is where most of the pistol shooting is to be had. There are loads of places to shoot in Nevada, Arizona, Texas and Florida, and these are also good tourist destinations. I also quite like some of the ranges around Atlanta but there’s not much else to do other than shooting (okay, Six Flags and Civil War battlefields, but not like Florida).

In some places there are even dealers who will rent you a submachinegun, although these places come and go due to the heavy duty insurance they have to have which is very expensive, plus the legal complexities of them doing it (hint: Las Vegas).

Ranges vary in my experience from a single lane with a single gun to rent, to a mammoth setup with huge indoor ranges and dozens of guns to pick from (and those two quite ironically were about 30 miles apart).

A good place to start looking is Real Pages, search under “Guns” or “Rifle Ranges”.

And then of course people ask me how to keep a gun in America. Ugh. This is a very difficult question to answer. First of all you need to be in a State that allows aliens to possess firearms under State law. Assuming you’re past that one, you still have the Federal requirements to fulfill and that is very complicated to explain.

The US tightened up its requirements for possession of firearms by aliens in 1998 and this was also tightened by a regulatory change in 2002 because of the attack on the World Trade Center.  This was relaxed a bit in 2012, to exclude people who don’t enter with a non-immigration visa. So if you enter with a non-immigrant visa (e.g. B-1 or B-2 rather than the visa waiver program), then 18 USC 922 (y) requires the purchase essentially to be for “hunting or sporting purposes”. Sporting purposes are very narrowly defined by the 2002 regulations, basically only for a competition (under the auspices of certain organisations) or to attend a trade show, you can prove “hunting” basically only with a valid hunting licence. I’m not sure how you would demonstrate to a dealer that you wanted it for a “sporting purpose” other than hunting, although technically that’s as sufficient as a hunting licence.

One principle of US law that is difficult to wrap your head around is the prohibition on interstate transfers of firearms. What this means is that a person resident in one State cannot buy a handgun in another State, but in this context, a person from another country cannot buy a handgun in a State either unless they are a resident of that State, so you need to be able to prove that. And how you typically do that is to get State ID or a Driver’s License. And doing that if you’re not a bona-fide resident is pretty difficult because of the DHS SAVE system which States check before issuing ID (although various States have started issuing “alternative” identification under the REAL ID Act, which does not require the State to check the DHS SAVE database – be aware though that federal law requires you to be lawfully present, to buy a gun or otherwise, obviously).

The exemption in 18 USC 922(y) of Chapter 44 for sporting or hunting purposes can be looked up at the GPO if you really want to (scroll down to subsection (y)), for sporting or hunting purposes. There is another exemption for people who have been in the US for at least 180 days and have a letter from the Attorney General etc., but I’m assuming six months is a bit long for a visit!

ATF has their own FAQ, but it doesn’t cover all the likely questions – it’s probably best if I give some of my own Q&A, although bear in mind this may not be 100% accurate:

1) Can I buy a handgun in the US?

Only if you’re resident, can prove it, have State ID, and if you’re there on a visa, have a hunting licence (or were admitted for “sporting purposes” and can prove it) -or- you’ve been resident for 180 days, can prove it, have State ID, have a letter attesting to your good character from the embassy and have been granted a waiver by the Attorney General of the United States. (You also have to complete the general purchasing requirements that apply to everyone else, i.e. be at least 21 years of age, not be a convicted felon, comply with any waiting periods and so on).

2) Can I rent a handgun at a rental range?

Yes, depending on State law, you can rent and use a handgun at a range, because of an exemption in the federal law for this purpose, as licensed dealers can lend a handgun to a non-licencee for use on a range on their premises for “sporting purposes”. However, if you’re there on a visa, the new regulations introduced in 2002 (and amended in 2012) require that you have a hunting licence to prove that you are renting it for “sporting purposes” (Arizona has a State law that extends this to any non-immigrant alien). Non-resident hunting licences can be quite expensive in some States. I strongly suggest if you plan on doing this that you check prior to arrival where you can obtain a hunting licence from as it varies from State to State. In most cases you can get a non-resident hunting licence through the mail before you travel to the US. It doesn’t matter which State issued the hunting licence, but you must have one if you’re there on any non-immigrant visa.

3) Can I borrow a handgun for use in a competition?

I’ve gotten conflicting advice on this from ATF, sometimes they say it is okay, sometimes not – so I don’t think they know. Here is my interpretation of the law – even if you have been “admitted to” the United States specifically for the purpose of attending that competition, then you still cannot have a handgun transferred to you. However, I have been told by the ATF that if you have a hunting licence you can borrow a gun from a fellow competitor, but I have also been told the contrary by ATF also, it boils down to what is a “transfer”: the longer you have the firearm the more likely it is to be considered a “transfer” – borrowing a competitor’s gun and using it on a course of fire under their supervision is probably okay, taking it back to the hotel and cleaning it probably isn’t; but there is no case law so no-one really knows for certain. (Note that if you take your own gun to the US with you, such as a rifle, that’s okay because there is no interstate transfer – but you must be attending a competition or going hunting and have an import permit however, and if you’re entering with a visa, to get one you have to attach proof such as a copy of a hunting licence from any State or a match entry form – note the 2011 edition of the form pre-dates the 2012 rule changes, so ignore questions 13 and 14 if you’re not entering using a visa.)

4) Can someone else buy a handgun for me?

No, this is a straw purchase and is a federal felony (actually two, lying on paperwork followed by an illegal interstate transfer), even if you did complete all the residency requirements, unless it is a gift from a close relative who is a resident of the same State. (Plus many States have restrictions on private transfers).

5) What if they buy it and keep it and I only borrow it?

Probably not, because the exemption for borrowing guns for “sporting purposes” only extends to federal firearm licencees (gun dealers) lending people guns to use on their own range – the exemption doesn’t extend to you borrowing a gun off a non-licencee. However, once again it depends on what you consider to be a “transfer”, which a court would probably decide on how temporary or not your possession of the firearm is.

6) Does this apply to rifles?

Unfortunately, pretty much yes, because although interstate transfers of rifles by dealers are legal, it is conditional on the laws of both States being complied with. Obviously a US dealer cannot comply with a foreign law, so you’re in the same situation. Plus you’ve still got all the non-immigrant alien crap to comply with also.

7) I’m staying with a friend, can I use their handgun for self-defence?

No, because the exemption in 18 USC 922(y) applies only to sporting purposes (and moreover, that you have specifically been let into the US to attend). After being in the US legally for 180 days you can get a waiver from the Attorney General which you get by showing you have been resident for 180 days and have a letter from the local embassy attesting to your good character.

8) Can I attend a firearm training course in the US?

So you’ve read the above and thought to yourself, well you could borrow a gun temporarily and go on a training course where they’d lend you one. Unfortunately this requires licensing from the State Dept. under Part 120.9 of the ITAR. A handgun is a “defense article”, so any training with one is: “defense training”. This section is currently under review. Some of the bigger training companies will do the export licensing if you’re willing to fork over the cash.

Fun isn’t it. You’d never guess the US is the most litigious society in the world would you? Anyway this article has gone on long enough, I’m ending it here!


“Exterminate gangsters with guns. Fight fire with fire… If I had my way, I would arm honest, dependable citizens and declare open war on all manner of gangsters. I would shoot on sight. If the gangsters were obliged to face the same weapons they use in menacing honest citizens, they would change their tactics.” – Police Commissioner Roche, quoted in the Buffalo Times, Buffalo, New York, July 11, 1933.

Targeting the right people

 

February 26, 2006 – Recently released crime statistics from the Home Office indicate that armed crime in England & Wales fell in the most recent reporting year, 2004/05.  Armed crime dropped overall by 5% and armed crime involving the use of a handgun fell by 15%.  This is the first recorded decrease since 1997, and shows that the police focus on armed crime is finally starting to pay off, although the overall rate is still far higher than it was in 1997 and so is the rate of handgun-related offences, despite the utterly futile handgun ban in 1997.  The statistics also seem to indicate interestingly in table 3.03 that the use of converted imitation firearms in crime is not as great as the police and Government have been saying for several years.

However, all is not sweetness and light in my opinion.  Several so-called “targeted” operations have in fact ended up with the arrest and conviction of people who frankly were no threat to public safety, and in many cases they were entirely unaware they had committed an offence.  I have frankly been astonished at the number of e-mails I have received from respectable people who have no criminal records who have been arrested and in most cases convicted of what can only be described as relatively trivial offences.  However, because of recent legislation, (mainly the Criminal Justice Act 2003), they find themselves facing 5-year sentences for possession of a prohibited firearm.

How this all came to pass bears some examination.

Under the Firearms Act 1982, an imitation firearm that can be readily converted into a working firearm with ordinary household tools and without specialised knowledge is treated as an actual firearm for the purposes of the law.  This has always been a serious offence, but it became much more serious with the handgun ban in 1997, because such an imitation firearm (they are usually handguns) became a prohibited firearm, and in 2003 a 5-year mandatory minimum sentence was imposed for the possession of a prohibited firearm.  In addition, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 also prohibited “air cartridge” guns, meaning mainly the Brocock pistols and rifles that have been sold since the mid-1980s.  Possession of one now without a firearm certificate also makes the possessor subject to a 5-year minimum sentence.

The problem is that over time the goalposts have moved significantly, and most people are simply unaware of the dramatic changes in the law.  The Home Office has done virtually nothing to remedy this situation, as their notifications of changes in the law usually involve sending a few leaflets to police stations for them to stick on their notice boards, putting up an obscure website and maybe notifying Home Office approved gun clubs.  None of which is likely to inform the overwhelming bulk of people who own imitation firearms and air guns of the changes in the law.

The situation is not helped by increasingly restrictive interpretations of the 1982 Act by the Forensic Science Service.  It has reached the point now where almost all blank-firing guns sold in this country since 1982 could be regarded as being: “readily convertible” going by various recent court cases and current FSS guidance.

Part of the reason for the crackdown is because the police have targeted some gun shops that decided to simply import imitation firearms from the continent, either unaware that they failed to meet the standards laid down in the increasingly restrictive FSS guidance, or because the people running the business were indeed in the business of supplying criminals knowingly.  In targeting those shops, the police obtained the details of people the guns had been sold to, and arrested them as well.

In many cases, these people were totally unaware they had acquired something that was illegal, but yet, many of them have been prosecuted, even though it is unclear in some of these cases how this is in the public interest.

A lot of these cases also revolve around a dealer in France who sold guns to people in the UK via their website.  However, although it sounds fishy, bear in mind that at one point that dealer was advertising in UK gun magazines and it was not completely unreasonable for the legally naive purchaser to think he had broken no law by purchasing an imitation from the French dealer – especially given that France is an EU state, which implies harmonisation of the rules.  But unfortunately not in this case, as you were likely to find out if you were one of the said purchasers.

This situation has now reached the point where the courts are beginning to show resistance to the cases being brought.  A judge in Derby was highly critical of the Home Office failing to clearly notify people of the changes in the law regarding “air cartridge” guns when an individual was convicted there of illegally acquiring one.  The fact that it is estimated that less than 10% of people who own these guns obtained a firearm certificate (as required when the law changed) tends to indicate the judge was correct and even the Home Office appears to accept that estimate.

As bad as this situation is, it is set to get far, far worse when the Violent Crime Reduction Bill is enacted.  This Bill contains a prohibition on the sale, manufacture and import of “realistic imitation firearms”.  It’s not entirely clear at this point what the definition of a realistic imitation firearm will be when the Bill is enacted, as it’s still going through Parliament, but it seems likely to include most types of airsoft gun, as well as some realistic-looking toys.  The penalty for violating the law is a maximum sentence of 51 weeks in prison.

So in other words, someone selling a lawfully acquired airsoft gun to their next-door neighbour could potentially get 51 weeks in prison when this Bill is enacted.  If you don’t think it could happen, I’ve got some e-mails to show you…

It is essential that you contact your MP and urge some serious expenditure by the Government on informing people of the provisions of this Bill when it is enacted; and by “serious expenditure” it must include TV advertising and ads in major newspapers and on billboards too.  Failure to do so will undoubtedly result in greater costs down the road as the police are involved in pointlessly arresting people.  In addition, when the police conduct these operations, the focus must be on actual criminal enterprises with serious criminal intent, not on people who are arrested a few hours after receiving a package from what they thought was a legitimate business, or some hapless James Bond fan who simply wanted a replica PPK to bolt over the mantelpiece.

The Olympics

While you’re writing to your MP, it’s a good idea to tell them that repealing the handgun ban would be a good idea.  The crime statistics show quite clearly that it has been completely useless, and it’s clearly no deterrent to madmen going by various terrorist offences since then, not to mention various incidents involving criminals running around with machineguns.

Various shooting organisations have asked shooters to write to their MPs to ask for the Home Office to grant section 5 (prohibited weapons) authority to members of the Olympic squad so they can practice with their .22 pistols.  My personal view is that this is a silly idea, because first of all the average target shooter in this country will never qualify for the Olympic squad, and secondly the Home Office will never grant a blanket authorisation to anyone to possess any sort of prohibited firearm for target shooting because it would set a legal precedent so that anyone could obtain it.  The most they’ll ever do is grant authority for people to bring them in temporarily for competitions like the Olympics in 2012.

Frankly there’s virtually no chance at all that this Government will either repeal the handgun ban or grant prohibited weapons authority to target shooters to possess them, however, making noise about it now puts it on the political agenda and eventually there will be a change of Government, maybe even before the Olympics.  So it’s important that MPs know now that this is an issue with their constituents.

Canada

Some of you may be wondering what happened in Canada after my last editorial; to cut a long story short, the Conservatives won, barely (only 40% of the vote, 30 seats short of a majority but more seats than anyone else).  They will not implement a federal handgun ban, although the Government of Ontario still wants one.  Various other thefts of large handgun collections have occurred in Ontario; so many that it beggars belief that there is not some sort of organised criminal activity going on targeting legal handgun owners.

There is a lesson in this for all gun owners.  Make sure you are not followed when coming home from a gun club or gun shop; be careful who you tell about your shooting interests; keep your firearms securely and do not leave them unattended for long periods (one of the thefts in Ontario involved a collector who had been in hospital for several weeks).


“There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people.” – Vice-President of the United States, Hubert Humphrey, in a speech in Virginia, May 1, 1965.

 

And finally, some good news…

According to the recently released Firearm Certificate Statistics for 2002-03, the number of shotgun and firearm certificates in England & Wales have increased, by 26,450 shotgun certificates and 8,670 firearm certificates.  Whether this is an indication of a new trend upwards in certificates or merely a lot of people scared off after Dunblane returning to the sport is unclear, but anecdotally, I do seem to run into new shooters quite frequently, which is a good sign.  (Although I do think sometimes I am gate crashing a Catholic sermon, as I can’t seem to get quite as excited about shooting gallery rifles as new shooters do – but they have no experience of pistol shooting).

However, this is small potatoes compared to the situation in the Republic of Ireland, where the Gardai (Irish police) have been put under pressure by a couple of shooters seeking firearm certificates for a pistol and a 7.62mm calibre rifle – not allowed under a long-standing (since 1972) policy.  As the court date approached, the Gardai threw in the towel, and have begun issuing firearm certificates for handguns and larger calibre rifles again.  This is absolutely fantastic news for shooters in the Republic who have suffered under the most repressive firearms regime in the developed world for many years.

With the ban on handguns being lifted in Poland a few years ago, it also means that Great Britain is the only jurisdiction in Europe where handguns are banned.  Doesn’t that give you a warm, fuzzy feeling?  Sigh.

The Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) are threatening changes to the Firearms Acts there, however, so Irish shooters are not out of the woods yet.  At the moment the proposed changes relate to penalties for firearm offences and secure storage requirements.

Postcomm Pat and his black & white policy

If it wasn’t bad enough that we have to deal with stupid Government policies, Royal Mail has been moaning to Postcomm (the post regulator) about guns (including toys) showing up in the post.  Being fair-minded people they apparently want to change their carriage policy to ban the carriage of anything even vaguely firearm-related.

This is a truly serious threat to shooters in this country given how reluctant other carriers are to carry these items, and it would really help if as many shooters as possible make submissions to Postcomm about these proposed changes.  Especially focus on relating experiences you may have had with other carriers.  This is our submission.  Don’t delay, as the consultation only lasts until March 14th.


“They’ll have to shoot me first to take my gun.” – Roy Rogers, commenting on the proposed ban of handguns in California in 1982.

 

Labour’s Gun Policy Backfires

What does £100 million buy you? Not a lot if you spend it on banning handguns, as the Government is rapidly discovering. According to their own statistics, published by the Home Office, serious offences involving the use of firearms increased by 31% in England and Wales from 1998/99 to 1999/2000. In the period 1997/98, 54 people were shot dead in England and Wales, by 1999/2000 the figures had risen to 62 fatalities. All indications are that the next batch of figures will be even worse. 

Of course, anyone who had actually studied the issue knew this would happen, but during Labour’s pre-election “promise the moon” phase in 1997, they got carried away and are now reaping the consequences. 

Pistol shooters don’t like the Tories with good reason; it was the party of Michael Howard and Michael Forsyth after all that proposed a handgun ban after the shootings at Dunblane, but they were careful never to suggest that it would have an impact on armed crime generally; they merely suggested it would reduce the likelihood of another nutter using a legally held gun to commit carnage. 

But then Labour decided to turn the whole issue into a political football in order to win a few more votes, with the appearance of gun control supporter Anne Pearston at the 1996 Labour Party Conference, together with Tony Blair’s personal pledge to ban all handguns.

And then along came Alun Michael MP, appointed as Home Office Minister of State when Labour came to power in 1997, and currently relegated to the back benches after his disastrous run as leader of the Welsh Assembly. On November 3rd, 1997 he commented in the House of Commons that:

“There is a danger.

In the last year for which full information is available, there were 398 incidents of theft of legally held handguns. In that year, therefore, there was more than one incident per day–sometimes involving more than one weapon–of guns going from legal to illegal possession. That figure should give pause for thought to anyone who thinks that it is safe to leave handguns in the possession of members of the public.”

The clear implication was that criminals steal these guns and use them in crime – how then how does the Government now reconcile this statement with the reality that 54% of serious firearm offences were committed with handguns according to their own statistics in 1999/2000, a rise from 44% in 1989? (Not to mention their own research that shows the theft figures are flawed). And remember this infamous press release, dated February 27, 1998, that began:

 “The Government fulfilled its pledge to remove all handguns from the streets of Britain today as the final phase of firearms surrender came to a close.”

If it weren’t so serious it would be laughable. 

And what do the police say about all this? The Metropolitan Police limply responded recently that at least armed robbery figures were down. So you’re less likely to be robbed, but more likely to be murdered. Wonderful. Of course, the Police Federation are also strong supporters of the ban, according to the October 1997 issue of Police:

“The Police Federation played a significant role in bringing about this step… we… welcomed the new administration’s swift implementation of its manifesto commitment to enact a total ban.”

Remember, they “played a significant role” in squandering £100 million of taxpayer’s money on a law that has been followed by a sharp increase in the crimes it was supposed to prevent. 

And what of the anti-gun lobby, remember the pages of heartfelt calls for a ban in the national press, because even if it saves only one life it’s worth it? Well, according to the Gun Control Network’s website, the increase in firearm-related homicide is not “statistically significant”.

So if your child is murdered by a madman in Dunblane, that’s a tragedy, but if your child is gunned down by a drug dealer in Bolton, that’s not “statistically significant”.  A low blow? They’re the ones saying it!

The only real effect of the handgun ban has been to hand the gun lobby a brick bat with which to hit the Government every time further controls are suggested. More controls on shotguns? The proportion of shotguns used in crime is at an all-time low and the handgun ban didn’t work. More controls on airguns? Fatalities with airguns are at an all-time low and the handgun ban didn’t work. A ban on replicas? There are millions in circulation with no idea who has them AND THE HANDGUN BAN DIDN’T WORK!!!!

Of course, the £100 million question is whether the Government is wise enough to learn from its mistakes. Time will tell.

What would Walter Winans say?

On the 23 – 31st of August this year at Bisley, a most peculiar event will take place, the Commonwealth Shooting Federation championships. That in itself is not peculiar but the circumstances under which they will take place are, to put it mildly, extremely bizarre. 

The National Rifle Association, the custodians of Bisley National Shooting Centre, are in very serious financial trouble, with an overdraft closing in on £2 million by the end of the year. As the Commonwealth Games are one of the premier showcases for the shooting sports, especially Target Rifle, the NRA’s favourite discipline, the NRA lobbied hard for the shooting events to be kept in the Games. Eventually the Commonwealth Games Committee agreed, as many of the smaller Commonwealth countries only send teams to the shooting events. 

So far so good. 

The NRA and the NSRA made an application for funds to the National Lottery in order to do up Bisley to hold the shooting events from the Games in 2002. Originally (according to the NRA) attempts had been made to find a shooting venue close to Manchester where the rest of the events will be held, but this was abandoned and Bisley was chosen. 

So the NRA and NSRA received a grant for £6 million, which they split between themselves. Unfortunately for the NRA, they had not realised that “matching funds” were needed in order to secure the grant, and had to dig deep to find the money, several hundred thousand pounds. Of the £3 million, most was spent on new facilities for the shotgun events, but most of the NRA’s matching funds were spent on Melville range in order to hold the pistol events. 

Now this is where things start to get a bit bizarre. You see, pistols are banned in Britain and so the improvements have been accomplished for the purpose of holding two pistol events, the Commonwealth Shooting Federation match this year, and the Commonwealth Games next year. 

One might think the NRA has some pretty serious funds to spare that they can spend money on a sport that is banned. Er, no. 

It has now transpired that the NRA expected to recoup the funds they spent from various sources, such as Sport England, the Ministry of Defence (for future range rental fees) and the City of Manchester. But, apparently there are no written contracts to that effect. After all, the NRA is a very trusting organisation. 

Problems arose because the chosen venue for the Games, the City of Manchester, was less than welcoming to the idea of shooting events. Although they eventually agreed to them, they have been less than forthcoming with money with which to stage them. Not surprising, you might think, given that they are taking place some 200 miles away from Manchester. 

Sport England have also said no money will be forthcoming. The MoD, one of the most cash-strapped agencies in the UK, have also, not surprisingly said “no”. Hmm, what, other organisations are not as trusting as the NRA? Stop me before I choke on my own sarcasm. 

The pistol events

In years gone by, shooters would drive down to Bisley, get out of their cars (or buggies, going further back) with their pistols and ammunition, sign in for the relevant competition and start shooting. Walter Winans, one of the greatest pistol shots of the late 19th and early 20th centuries described shooting at Bisley in great detail in his book The Art of Revolver Shooting, published in 1901. In one passage he states: 

“I always have my Bisley sights made solid with the revolver, without any screws, and have some made to shoot higher, others lower, each on a separate revolver. If I find that the light, or my shooting, does not suit one sort of sight, I take another revolver. I have some fifteen revolvers prepared in this way.” 

Capital thinking, Walter. 

This year and next year, things will be slightly different. Competitors will have to arrive at Heathrow Airport.   Prior to arriving, they will have been issued a visitor’s permit with the authority of the Secretary of State attached. Competitors will surrender their pistols to Customs. From there, they will be taken by secure transport to the armoury at Bisley Camp. On the day of the competition, and for brief practice sessions, their guns will be given to them by the armourer who will supervise them while they shoot, together with range officers who also have the authority of the Secretary of State. 

Want to spectate? You’ll have to get a ticket from the NRA to allow you onto Camp. If you want to watch the pistol events, you will be separated from the shooters by a glass partition behind the firing point (paid for by the NRA, incidentally). 

One wonders whether the NRA wouldn’t have been better served by getting heavily into debt attempting to stop pistols from being banned in the first place. To quote Walter again: 

“The place to practise is at home; there is no economy in paying half-a-crown for every six shots at Bisley, when you can shoot as much as you like at home for nothing.”

I may be wrong, but I don’t think Walter considered Switzerland to be “home”. Oh well, Walter, rest in peace, but while you’re spinning in your grave, take heart in the fact that the NRA has at least named one of the pistol, er, gallery rifle ranges after you.


“Only quite recently there was a report of a mad dog in a crowded street of New York.  The policeman on the beat killed it at the first shot, and did not hit anyone in the crowd.  If a London policeman started ‘loosing off’ a revolver in a crowd, I fear the ambulance corps would be kept busy!” – Walter Winans, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p.224, 1901 

Time to vote

Another General Election is upon us, and frankly I have yet to recover from the last one.  Shooters lost a great deal in terms of our freedoms prior to the last election.

Unfortunately, there is very little chance of a change of Government, and even if there were, the likely replacements, the Conservatives, are what got us in this mess to begin with, with laws like the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1988 and 1997.

Labour has undertaken to bring forth a consolidating Firearms Act sometime in the next Parliament, that in itself is welcome, however, it is a sure bet that the Bill will contain various other provisions not currently in law, such as tighter controls on shotguns.

So how do shooters decide who to vote for, given that in many areas, both main candidates are anti-gun or at best don’t care about the issue?

The first thing to realise is that your vote does count.  The recent fiasco in the United States illustrated that clearly.  If shooters vote en bloc they can facilitate change, but once again, who do we vote for?

The dynamics of this election are a lot more complex than the general media appears to realise.  There is a real battle going on here, but it’s not between Labour and the tories, it’s between Labour and “New Labour” as Blair likes to term the party nowadays.  New Labour forms an identifiable chunk of the Labour party, and in most cases, the MPs who represent that chunk are in far more marginal seats than most of the rest of the party.  This is because many of them have been elected in seats that were formerly under the control of the tories.  It is these seats that Tony Blair is keen to keep in Labour hands, and it is these seats that are the most vulnerable.  If these seats were to be lost, the Labour Government would survive, but there is a real chance it would veer off to the left.

This would make Labour less popular, but it would also make them more anti-gun, probably.  It’s a bit of a conundrum to know what to do.

My personal view remains the same now as it did in 1997.  Forget about who leads what party, forget in fact what party your candidates represent.  Talk to the candidates from the main parties in your area, and figure out which one is the most pro-gun.  If none of them are, attempt to convince them.  Then vote for the best one.

Unlike in the US, there is no party where pro-shooting philosophies can be clearly identified.  The UK Independence Party sometimes makes such noises, but sometimes it makes anti-gun noises, and in any event they stand little chance of gaining real power.

Also, unlike in the US, the power to make gun laws rests almost entirely in Parliament.  Local politicians can do very little about it, the worst they can do is to prevent planning permission being given to shooting ranges or gun shops.

You have to vote carefully, to make a long story short.  Many shooters seem to think that voting tory is the only real option, it’s not, and it is a serious error to think this in my opinion.  The tories have never had a minister as pro-shooting as the current Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey MP, for example.

Certainly a narrowing of the massive Labour majority in the Commons will benefit shooters though, because the smaller their majority the harder it will be for them to get anything extreme through.  Unfortunately, until we can convince the tories of the error of their ways, gridlock is the best option in the “big” picture as it’s called.  Achieving that though I think is difficult.

So remember to vote, but be careful who you vote for, and be sure you talk to the candidates in your constituency before you vote.  It is easy to do, they will soon be assailing you with hotlines you can call, knocking on your door etc., take the time and make the effort.


The future of target shooting

I have been inspired to write on this subject by a recent article in Target Sports magazine by Richard Munday, who is a well-known and respected member of the shooting community, in addition to being President of the British Alpine Rifles.

Richard in his article bemoans the lack of attendance of the events at the Imperial Meeting at Bisley in the short-range (gallery rifle etc.) events, and suggests alterations to them and new events to encourage attendance.

I think Richard has the right idea, but as I have mentioned to him before, I think we are barking up the wrong tree.  The events at Bisley and a lot of other places are in essence the old course of pistol fire adapted to gallery rifles (for those of you who don’t know, these are .22 rimfire or pistol calibre rifles such as the Winchester M1894 or Ruger 10/22).  I personally think it is a serious error to even attempt to adapt these courses of fire for gallery rifles.  It makes some sense for muzzle-loading pistols that are still legal and air pistols, but not for rifles.

The problem I perceive is that the old pistol courses of fire where in decline long before the handgun ban anyway.  ISSF disciplines have grown ever more esoteric and the events ever more poorly attended.  Even when I go to events that are supposedly to ISSF rules now, most of the equipment used is not to ISSF rules or if it is, totally outside the bounds of anything remotely competitive in ISSF competitions.

For example, at the Imperial Meeting, most of the 300m events can be shot with Target Rifles, which are not to ISSF rules.  Pistol competitions I go to in mainland Europe feature mainly customised 9mm pistols, similar to the SIG-Sauer P226 Sport reviewed on this site, rather than the high-end .22 pistols you see at the Olympics and ISSF championships (you do see them, but only about 20% of shooters have them).

10m air pistol for example is an ISSF event, one would expect with the handgun ban that it would have become massively more popular, but no, most people seem to have gravitated to rifle sports or they have adapted the ISSF 25m courses of fire for use with multi-shot air pistols!

Frankly, the courses of fire are simply ultra-dull, they weren’t too exciting with centrefire pistols, even less exciting with .22 pistols, and coma inducing with gallery rifles.

This is not to say they cannot be challenging, but the reality is that with a rifle at 25m the margin of victory is usually only a few points (especially with the ISSF pistol targets).  For a typical club shooter to be able to put up nearly a perfect score without too much practice underlines how dull it is.  Richard even makes the point himself in his article, with a picture of himself with a perfect score on a duelling course of fire.  Could he have done that with a pistol, I wonder?

Certainly some of the new shooters at my local club do find it interesting, but most GR shooters were originally pistol shooters, and while ISSF disciplines adapted to rifles can be made artificially more difficult with smaller bullseyes, tighter time limits and so on, I think it a rather pointless exercise.  There is little point in adapting declining disciplines to try to appeal to equipment that makes them relatively unchallenging when compared to the pistol equivalent.

A different approach

My personal view is that clubs like Wrexham R&PC have got a better idea.

Wrexham have adapted the Sportsman’s Team Challenge from the US for gallery rifle competition.  The Team Challenge has three stages in which steel plates on racks must be knocked down.  .22 rifles are used in two of the stages, and it is this that Wrexham have picked up on.  Several other clubs are also taking a similar approach.

This to my mind is vastly more interesting, for various reasons.  It’s challenging, and perhaps more importantly, it carries more prestige to win it.  Knowing that people around the world shoot the discipline make it seem more worthwhile, which is not the case with pseudo-ISSF style disciplines adapted to pistol-calibre rifles, which are only shot in this country by a relatively small number of people.

Another alternative are the Bianchi Cup-style events, also more interesting than the events put on at the Imperial, but these are few and far between.

Yet another alternative came to my attention recently, and that is IPSC rifle.  Many people will be familiar with practical shotgun and pistol events, IPSC rifle is basically practical pistol with a rifle, at longer ranges.  The Practical Rifle League in this country has for many years dominated practical rifle, but PRL events are similar to service rifle, IPSC is a different kettle of fish.

Much to my surprise I discovered that IPSC rifle actually requires in Standard Division the use of manually-operated rifles.  I suspect most people like myself assumed everyone used centrefire semi-auto rifles.  They are banned in the UK, so obviously international competitions would have been out of the question if everyone used semi-autos – but they don’t.

The main problem with IPSC rifle is finding a suitable range to do it on, but you can use gallery rifles within the terms of the rules (or the more powerful ones at least), so this is an interesting option for the former pistol shooter I feel, something worth looking into at any rate.

Doubtless there are other options, but ISSF duelling and precision with pistol-calibre rifles is like trying to flog a dead horse in my opinion, and in talking to other shooters it is a widely held view.  Sorry, Richard.  If it had anything going for it the current ISSF .22 rifle disciplines would have been taken up in greater numbers, but this has not happened, as my local club with its 50m range set up for ISSF .22 disciplines that no-one wants to shoot can attest to!

Time to innovate.


“The place to practise is at home; there is no economy in paying half-a-crown for every six shots at Bisley, when you can shoot as much as you like at home for nothing.” Walter Winans, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p. 125, published 1901.

Five years later…

It is with some shock that I realise that five years have passed since the creation of Cybershooters.

Cybershooters was started in the aftermath of the tragedy at Dunblane, in order to better distribute information among shooters, who were obviously going to be in for a pasting.

We were targeted with kneejerk legislation that went far beyond anything anyone could have imagined in March 1996, namely a near total ban on the private possession of handguns, with very few exceptions.  Virtually all target shooting sports with pistols, with the limited exception of those performed with air pistols and muzzle-loading pistols, were effectively banned a year later in 1997.

Looking back over those five years, it is painfully apparent what a complete and utter waste of time the handgun ban has been.  Lord Cullen, tasked with holding a public inquiry after the tragedy, did not even recommend a ban on handguns, but the issue became a political football with one-upmanship leading to a law that was far beyond anything that could have been justified in the name of public safety.  £100 million was spent on confiscating private property, yet precious little was done to implement Cullen’s other recommendations, especially the ones that didn’t have anything to do with guns.

It was done because “if it only saves one life”.  Yet now one of the organisations that said that, the Gun Control Network, says that the increase in handgun-related homicide since Dunblane is not “statistically significant“.  62 people were murdered with firearms from March 1999 to March 2000 according to the most recent statistics, 42 of them with handguns, apparently the highest figure on record.

What comfort is it to the families of those 42 victims, and the many dozens of other victims gunned down since Dunblane, to know that they were killed with illegally owned guns?  Not much.

The handgun ban was wrong.  It has achieved nothing other than to penalise law-abiding target shooters and waste huge sums of taxpayer’s money.  It has enhanced public safety not one jot.  That unfortunately appears to be one of the main legacies of the Dunblane massacre.  It is not a pretty picture.

What lessons have been learnt?

The only lesson the Government learnt from Dunblane apparently, is that you can appear to look tough on crime by cracking down on legitimate gun ownership.  Want proof?  Look no further than the Sunday Times from the 4th of March, in which Home Office minister Charles Clarke is quoted as saying:

“I am pleased to support the campaign of the Gun Control Network to abolish replica firearms. This is a scheme which has the support of much of the police service and others. There do remain some difficulties to deal with, but the government is sympathetic to this.”

The Gun Control Network point to a large increase in the sale of replica guns after the handgun ban.  The implication is that there is some insidious plot by former handgun owners to replace their handguns with replicas, which we sit at home stroking and drooling over, presumably.

In reality, low power firearms powered by carbon dioxide were removed from license controls by Section 48 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 (after having been placed there by a bizarre court ruling in 1986), the same Act that banned handguns, the same Act strongly supported by the Labour Party – and obviously with the controls on them reduced, the sales of them have increased.  Simple really.  Too simple for the Gun Control Network apparently, who would rather perceive a paranoid insidious plot on the part of gun owners to promote the “gun culture” (whatever that actually is).

This is the same organisation that is afraid to let anyone join up in case they are “infiltrated” by gun owners.  Consequently they have a membership of six people.  They claim to represent the “silent majority” of the public, in reality opinion polls show a roughly 50/50 split on whether the handgun ban is a good idea, so one can safely infer that the public would be even less supportive of a ban of replica firearms.

The police (in the shape of ACPO, as per usual) apparently support further controls on replicas, even a ban, so we can assume a squad of coppers will shortly be arriving on the doorsteps of every home in the country to cut off everyone’s hands, in case you should succumb to the temptation to put your hand in your pocket and point your finger at the local shopkeeper and claim that you have a gun.

Truly the insane will shortly be running the asylum.  Let us hope that it is merely pre-election rhetoric.

Women and guns

One thing that always puzzles me is why there are so few women who take part in the shooting sports, at least in comparison to men.  I can understand to some degree why women may not be interested in sports where they are at a physical disadvantage, such as perhaps Practical Shotgun, which requires a lot of running around with heavy equipment, but Target Rifle?  Smallbore rifle?  Clay-pigeon shooting?

What really gets my goat about it is that in most shooting sports women actually have a physical advantage over men.  For so many years I have seen protests by women’s groups demanding equality, one assumes they do this with shooting by simply not taking part.  After all, wouldn’t want to show up the men, eh?

Throughout history, women have demonstrated that they are formidable shooters.  And in fact they are able to shoot better than men.  Annie Oakley is perhaps one of the better known examples, being able to shoot glass balls tossed in the air, using a lever-action rifle while standing on the back of a horse, running around an arena!

Women have an advantage over men because they are on average shorter than men, and their body fat is concentrated lower on their body than men.  This gives them a much lower centre of gravity and consequently they have a much more stable off-hand (standing) shooting position.  In addition, one clinical study I read some years ago indicated that on average women also have better eyesight than men.  Shorter arms also mean less leverage and once again a more stable position, provided the gun is properly fitted.

Joanna Hossack showed what women can do when properly armed in the Queen’s Prize last year at Bisley, winning the Grand Aggregate against all male (and female) competition.

I really wish women would look past the male stereotype of the shooting sports and get involved.  Okay, so it may put me at a disadvantage but it is worth it to witness some of the miraculous shots I have seen women make.


“My greatest desire is that every woman be able to handle a firearm as naturally as they handle a baby.” – Annie Oakley, 1893

The Tir Fédéral 2000

The period from the 23rd of June to the 16th of July this year saw the holding of the Tir Fédéral in Bière, Switzerland.

This is quite simply the largest shooting competition in the world by a big margin, and is held once every five years.

The idea of the match is to promote marksmanship among the Swiss, whose Army is made up almost completely of part-time militia, however many foreigners attended, including myself!

The courses of fire are based on ISSF rules, the only departure being that some courses of fire are shot with Swiss Ordnance weapons which do not meet ISSF rules, namely the SIG Stgw 57 and the newer SIG Stgw 90.  There were ISSF pistol events and 300m rifle.

The rifle events were divided into four classes, Free rifle (i.e. the rifles most commonly used in ISSF 300m), Stgw 57, Stgw 90 and a class for the various Schmidt-Rubin straight-pull rifles which pre-date the sturmgewehrs.  By far the biggest entry was in the Stgw 90 class, and this class also had the most prizes available.

The event attracted a staggering 60,000 competitors!  It is difficult to describe the physical size of such an event.  There were hundreds of firing points, divided across six separate ranges, all next to each other.  You can get some idea from the official website.  The courses of fire for the most part were fairly short and simple, something necessary no doubt due to the huge number of competitors taking part.  Scoring above a particular score earned a “distinction”, and the shooter qualified for a medal.

Shooting my own Stgw 90, I managed to qualify for one distinction out of the several courses of fire that I shot, not bad considering no practice!  Frankly it was difficult to know which target to shoot, there were so many of them in front of the firing point.

The organisation of this event deserves mention.  It was phenomenally well organised, by far the best organisation I have ever seen:

To begin with you went to the sign-up desk and picked the courses of fire you wanted to shoot.  Then after paying for them and receiving your Livret de Tir, you took your rifle to weapons control, who inspected it to make sure it complied with the rules.

Then you went to the Stand de Tir that had been assigned for you to shoot at, and presented your Livret de Tir to the scorer.  In this case a ten-year old girl, the system was so simple.  The scorer asked which course of fire you wished to shoot first, pressed a barcode reader against the relevant code and it appeared on a screen next to your firing point.  Then you shoot!  The whole thing was scored automatically.  After signing and accepting your score a score label was printed off and stuck in your Livret de Tir.  If you had shot well enough, you then took your book to the medal desk who pressed their barcode reader against your book to see what you had won and handed you your medal.

Truly incredible!

This picture shows shooters on the line.

A view inside one of the Stand de Tir.  Note the rifle racks along the back of the tent.

In this shot you can clearly see the monitors by the side of the firing point that display the current score (supplied by Sius Ascor).  Note also the targets in the distance.

The display of Cantonal flags outside the exhibition hall.

Hämmerli had a stand inside the main exhibition hall.  This is a display of AR50 air rifles.

Not a very good picture of a SIG P210 commemorating the Cantons of Switzerland.  An amazing work of art.

A picture of part of the prize table!  The amount of prizes was amazing, including new VW Beetles!

Another shot from the Hämmerli stand.  Of interest here is the second rifle down, a SIG-Sauer 205 ISSF rifle with aluminium stock.  The SG550 below it is finished with a limited edition black finish.

Now you can have a SG550 in blue!

Your editor’s medal!

If you want to download the video, click here.  You’ll need a player which can play AVI files, such as Windows Media Player.