Another pointless prohibition looms


June 18, 2005 – Over the years I have been running this website, I have occasionally received e-mails from irate supporters of the Government, who complain about my portrayal of Tony Blair on this website (especially the tagline, which they appear to especially dislike).

But the beauty of the internet is that very little is ever forgotten, and it’s at times like this I’m glad I did use the tagline that adorns every page on this site, simply because it’s accurate.  [later removed – Ed.]

Under the guise of “violent crime reduction”, the Government, in fact Tony Blair personally – introduced a Bill that among other things will prohibit the import, manufacture and sale of “realistic imitation firearms”.  (You can read the explanatory notes by clicking here.)

What is a “realistic imitation firearm”?  Well, it’s basically anything other than a firearm that strongly resembles a make and model of firearm.  This runs the gamut from airsoft guns to deactivated firearms, to model kits, prop guns and many types of blank-firing gun.  Of course, upon the Prime Minister’s announcement in Parliament on June 8th, these types of gun largely became worthless (or certainly will become worthless) due to the proposed prohibition of sales.  This may not bother the casual owner of an airsoft gun they bought at a model shop for £10, but for people who collect guns in this category, it means they were more or less instantly deprived of thousands of pounds.  Dealers are of course even worse off, unless they manage to shift their stock before the prohibition comes into effect.

One would think for such a Draconian prohibition to come about that something staggering had happened recently involving imitation firearms.  No, not really.  Armed crime has been rising for some time, but it’s unclear exactly how much of it is committed with imitations, as opposed to actual working guns.  Criminologists have long disagreed on this subject.  Home Office statistics for the year 2002/03 indicates 1,815 offences were committed with imitation firearms, however, even the Home Office cautions against the accuracy of these statistics, as they often depend on a determination made by a victim of a crime.  In truth, the general moaning of the police about being called out to deal with armed incidents when someone is found waving an airsoft gun about had more than anything else to do with it.  One could argue the police need to come up with better tactics, as there will still be millions of air guns and other types of imitation in circulation, assuming this prohibition works.

Even if one accepts the Government’s argument that there is a problem, it’s hard to see how legislation that causes dealers to dump their stock at firesale prices is likely to help.  Nor is it clear how much of an impact it could have, given that there is general agreement that there are well over a million (perhaps several million) guns that fall into the category of a “realistic imitation firearm” already in circulation.  Moreover, there is no legal prohibition on such a gun being transferred or being possessed by anyone, including a criminal, mentioned anywhere in the Bill, except for the prohibition of sales.

Yes folks, you heard that right, there is no provision in this Bill whatsoever to prohibit people convicted of criminal offences, even armed robbery, from possessing a “realistic imitation firearm”.  Given this reality it is quite easy to categorise this prohibition as little more than a publicity stunt, which will adversely affect collectors, re-enactors, actors and people pursuing various innocent hobbies to a far greater degree than it will impact on Joe drug dealer.  The Bill does contain a slight increase in the criminal penalty for possession of an imitation firearm in a public place “without lawful authority or reasonable excuse”, but so far this law (introduced in 2003 for imitations) has attracted more attention when the police have used it to harass children playing Cowboys and Indians than for any impact on actual armed crime.

Bear in mind this legislation supposedly addresses exactly what the Government said the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 was for; the 2003 Act contained an increase in the age limit for possession of air guns, a ban on self-contained air cartridge guns, a ban on possession of imitations in a public place, etc.  But two years later, here we are again with yet more silly legislation, which also increases the age limit for possession of an air gun (from 17 to 18), increases the penalty for having an imitation in a public place, and also bans another “bogey man” type of gun.

The cry continues: “The gun law isn’t working – what we need is another gun law!”  Sigh.  No, actually what we need is an attempt to address the social problems that lead to armed crime, rather than criminalising people selling an airsoft gun at a car boot sale.  (Shall we take bets on how much time and money the Home Office will spend on making the provisions of this prohibition known when it comes into force?  I suspect the payout will be on “virtually none”.)

Please, go and see your MP and ask them to oppose the prohibitions contained in this Bill and the increase in age limits for possessing an air gun or imitation gun, and to support any amendments that remove them or provide compensation.  You can contact your MP at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.  If you don’t know who your MP is, you can use this tool to look them up.  If you’re not very good at talking to politicians, this discussion document should give you some ideas what to say, but always make the point that you will be personally affected by this legislation.

“Fortunately, in this country there is no necessity to carry a loaded revolver on a bicycle.  An empty one is sufficient to frighten away tramps, if they stop you on a dark, lonely road; or even a short bicycle pump when pointed at them will scare them off.” – from “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p. 219, by Walter Winans, 1901.


More armed crime?

One does not have to read far in the news media from the last few weeks to see that firearm-related offences are a hot topic at the moment.

For example, you can go to the BBC news website, read that article and hyperlink to several dozen others.  People getting mindlessly shot on their way home, people being mindlessly shot in bungled armed robberies, drug dealers seeking revenge on rivals, and so on.

And we can look at the increasing number of offences and see that serious armed crime rose 3% in the last recorded year, i.e. from April 2002 to April 2003.

Now what you might be expecting is for me to point out how serious armed crime is going up, despite all the silly gun laws that have been passed in recent years.  However, there is frankly little point in my doing that, because to begin with, the editorial pages and opinion pages of virtually every national newspaper already reflect this point.

But you see, newspapers have to make out that the sky is falling, because it makes it sound interesting, and the more interesting it is, the more newspapers they sell, and not only that, but it makes the Government squirm and that means even more column inches in the political columns of the same newspapers.  A good example of this squirming is the curious juxtaposition of Home Office officials pronouncing that armed crime is extremely rare and you shouldn’t be too concerned about it (as one minister points out in the above BBC article), which had been preceded by the Home Secretary announcing that armed crime is such a serious problem that new laws are needed as soon as possible.

However the reality that doesn’t sell newspapers is that serious armed crime is actually falling, and has been falling since November 2002, which is why the Government released the statistics early, although you wouldn’t know that from reading the BBC website.  Tucked away on an obscure part of the Metropolitan Police website is this press release, which indicates that the Flying Squad are being extremely effective at reducing armed robberies in London, and remember that armed robberies are the most common serious firearm-related offence.

Now, speaking as a gun lobbyist myself, the lesson I take away from this is that the mainstream media is pretty useless if you actually need factual information, but that aside, the real lesson here is that armed crime rises and falls due to the degree of enforcement of the law, not the amount of laws that Parliament endlessly pisses out that do nothing but aggravate the ordinary person who is as likely to commit a firearm-related offence as they are to sit in a see-through box held up by a crane for 44 days.  Obviously the police need some laws to enforce, but strangely enough, it’s been illegal to commit armed robbery for a pretty long time.

Of course, anyone who has studied the subject objectively for more than five minutes has already learned this lesson, but politicians need a scapegoat, and gun owners are the obvious choice when it comes to armed crime, by and large.  The current scapegoats being lined up are owners of air cartridge guns, but don’t be surprised if owners of imitations, deactivated firearms and air pistols of other types are next.

So to avoid being a scapegoat, we come to the final lesson for the day, and that is to make your MP as fully aware of your unwillingness as you can, because MPs are responsible for this endless nonsense of laws we are subjected to, and if you don’t like talking to your MP, remember there is at least one thing that an MP is even less likely to abolish than the handgun ban, bans on air cartridge guns, etc., and that is Parliament!

Your MP can be reached at the House of Commons, Westminster, London, SW1A 0AA.

“There are idiots.  And there are Congressmen – but I repeat myself.” – Mark Twain

Another day, another knee jerks…

In the wake of the recent murders in Birmingham, there has been considerable discussion of the issue of the status of imitation guns and air guns in the press and by Government, and as is usual after a tragedy in this country, wackiness is sure to follow.

Two girls are machine-gunned to death, and the Government response is to announce a rise in the age limit for the possession of an air gun, a ban on air guns that use air cartridges and a mandatory minimum five-year sentence for possession of a prohibited firearm. In addition the Government claims that a national tracking database of illegal firearms will be ready by April.

As per usual, when you look at the proposals closely, they don’t make as much sense as the average Daily Mail reader is likely to believe after thinking about them for two seconds.

Raising the age limit for the possession of an airgun is highly unlikely to make a real difference to serious firearm-related offences, although the underlying reason for this change is because of instances of vandalism, rather than gang warfare. However the current age limit of 14 was conceived so as to allow young people to conduct pest control – the current spin is that youngsters can easily be supervised for sporting purposes, and this is true, and it has always been true, but airguns are used for things other than sport. In many rural areas they are a vital tool for pest control, and close supervision of young people engaged in pest control is not practical. In Northern Ireland the age limit is sixteen, and this has been a problem in rural areas there for a long time, and BASC has been campaigning to have it changed for years. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland did propose lowering the age limit for this purpose to 14 in 1998, although the current draft of the proposed new law there does not include it. However it does seem rather bizarre to propose an age limit of 17 in Great Britain when the age limit in Northern Ireland is 16, and that lower limit has already caused problems.

On the issue of mandatory sentences, a “minimum five-year sentence” sounds tough, but in reality it is a largely meaningless statement for a number of reasons. To begin with, it will only apply to people indicted for possession or distribution of prohibited weapons. So anyone dealt with by way of summary judgement for this offence, or who has been convicted of distribution or possession of unlicensed non-prohibited weapons will not be affected. In addition, even if the sentence is applied, sentences usually run concurrently for this offence, so for example, a person convicted of armed robbery will get 4-7 years for armed robbery and five years for possession of the pistol he used, meaning a total sentence of 5-7 years. Armed robbery is the most common of serious firearm offences, and in these cases it will not make an appreciable difference. In addition, a person is eligible for parole after serving only half their sentence, making “five years” in fact only two and a half.

The Government appears to be portraying this measure as one of deterrence, however most criminals have an inkling of what I’ve said above and will know it is largely meaningless, and in any event, it is hard to see how it would have dissuaded the killers in Birmingham, given that the prospect of four life sentences for murder and attempted murder did not.

On the subject of the “illegal firearms database” which supposedly is to be in place in April, this appears very unlikely as the Government only advertised the job for the feasibility study a couple of weeks ago. It seems highly unlikely it will go from a feasibility study to full operation by April, especially since section 39 of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 requires a central database of all shotgun and firearm certificate holders, and the Government has announced they do not expect this to be in operation until 2004!

Another suggestion, this time by the police, is for a firearm amnesty. However, it is implausible that criminals will voluntarily turn in their guns, and this is readily proven by the fact that the last amnesty was in 1996, and armed crime has been rising ever since. Home Office guidelines in fact mean that there is in effect a permanent amnesty in place allowing the surrender of unwanted guns to the police, so in essence what the police are proposing is to publicise that. It may be worthwhile in some respects, but it is not going to reduce armed crime. The example given by the police of a successful programme in West Yorkshire is misleading because there is no evidence that any of the guns handed in there have been used in armed crime, or were going to be, although armed crime has dropped in that area.

Shooters should be increasingly concerned by the comments being made by the police, most especially by the Association of Chief Police Officers, because ACPO is a taxpayer funded organisation. In one week an ACPO spokesman claimed that 60% of firearms recovered by the police were converted imitation firearms. The next week, another spokesman said it was 70%. The following week, the same spokesman said it was 75%. I frankly don’t believe them, and the fact that they are unable or unwilling to produce the underlying statistics upon which these percentages are based supports that view. ACPO already found themselves in hot water last year, by attempting to claim that “50%” of guns recovered by the police in London were converted Brocock air pistols. In fact, it turned out that this statistic was based on converted guns only (i.e. excluding factory-made firearms that fire live ammunition), and the number of guns the percentage was based on was less than 20.

However, the Government appears to be using this “evidence” and some other anecdotal support in aid of their idea of banning air cartridge air pistols, which apparently can be converted to fire live ammunition too easily for the Government’s liking. In reality the evidence to support this is very weak indeed, and in any event, it is illegal for any criminal to possess any air gun under the provisions of section 21 of the Firearms Act 1968 (which makes possession of any firearm by a criminal illegal) and also anyone who converts such a gun to fire live ammunition commits an offence under section 5(1) of the Act, punishable by up to ten years imprisonment. Making it illegal again seems to me rather pointless – it already is illegal. The only effect will be to put legitimate companies out of business, because of the acts of criminals. It seems rather odd to punish law-abiding businesses in this way, through no fault of their own.

The Government has also proposed making it an offence to have an imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse – in aid of this view Home Office minister Bob Ainsworth MP gave on Radio 4 the example of how a police officer could not arrest a person carrying an air gun who may be committing acts of vandalism until he witnessed an act of vandalism being committed. Mr Ainsworth appears to have not read the Firearms Act 1968, which says quite plainly that is an offence to have a loaded air weapon in a public place without lawful authority or reasonable excuse. Once again this an example of bait-and-switch, perhaps it should be made an offence to have an imitation firearm in a public place without reasonable excuse, but as Mr Ainsworth’s explanation points out, the Government is exaggerating what effect this is likely to have.

The real solution is actually quite obvious, and that is to enforce the law as it currently stands. When armed robberies reached an unprecedented level of nearly 6,000 recorded offences in 1993, the Metropolitan Police tasked the Flying Squad with cracking down on these criminals, and lo and behold, in 1994 the number of armed robberies fell to 4,104 recorded offences. In 1996, the Met disbanded the unit so that they could “share their experience” with other units, and armed crime has risen ever since.

Endlessly we hear in the news concerns expressed about guns being carried as “fashion accessories” and drug dealers shooting each other, and various colourfully named police programmes such as “Operation Trident” which aim to tackle various offences. The problem is that this type of firearm-related crime is focused on by the press, but in fact Home Office statistics indicate that 53% of serious firearm-related offences are armed robberies, and the rise in those offences from 2000/01 to 2001/02 was 34% (from 3,965 to 5,323 offences). This is the real problem, and this appears to be the only problem that the Government has not thought up some silly scheme to deal with. If police forces set up task forces to deal with armed robbery along the lines of Roy Penrose’s successful attempt in 1993, armed crime would drop, and it would drop markedly and rapidly, provided the funding is in place to enable the police to do it.

I am often reminded of Alun Michael’s press release of 27 February, 1998, which begins with the sentence: “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.” As we know now, this claim was a wild exaggeration, and the current claims being made by the Government are wild exaggerations. In fact it is simply window dressing, which does not address the actual problems.

You need to write to your MP and urge them not to support this foolish legislation when it comes before Parliament unless it is amended into something likely to be effective, and urge them also to put their name to Early Day Motions 488 and 503, which help make the point.


The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard is probably the most anti-gun politician to ever make it to the Prime Minister’s office in any Commonwealth country.  He is on record saying that he hates guns and can’t understand why anyone needs one, and his CV includes pushing Australian States (who are responsible for domestic gun law in Australia, rather than the central Government) into enacting a ban on all semi-automatic long guns and pump-action shotguns in 1996 (with some limited exceptions for occupational purposes and certain clay events).  Not surprisingly, because the people who handed their guns in were the honest, law-abiding people of Australia, the ban wasn’t effective at stopping firearm-related crime, and large rises in armed crime, particularly in Sydney, coupled with a nutcase shooting up a classroom in Victoria have led to another knee-jerk gun ban in Australia.

Starting on July 1st, people who legally own revolvers that have a barrel length less than 100mm, semi-automatic pistols with a barrel length less than 120mm, or pistol magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition, or any handgun with a calibre more than .38″ (with some exceptions up to .45″ for people who use them in certain sports) will have to hand them in.  They will be compensated, although the basis of the compensation is still unclear.

It’s not clear what effect this ban will have or is supposed to have, other than buying handguns off shooters who will go straight to the gun shop and buy a replacement with a longer barrel.  Several States in Australia opposed the plan after pointing out the failure of the 1996 ban and that the proposed ban would simply be a replacement programme for shooters.  Also they don’t want to pay the compensation bill.  However, after revising downward how many guns were going to be handed in, and how much compensation would have to be paid out, the Federal Government managed to twist the arms of the States into agreeing.

When Canada pulled the same stunt in 1995, they were at least wise enough to grandfather the handguns that were already in circulation at the time.  How making an Australian shooter turn in his S&W model 10 with a 2-inch barrel and making him buy one with a 4-inch barrel will make the public safer in Australia is truly one of the most bizarre questions criminologists will ever have to answer.

The only silver lining here is that this idea appears to have hurt the Government politically; the anti-gunners know it’s pointless; the pro-gun people are even madder now than they were in 1996; and the average person in the street is wondering why their tax money is being spent on another gun ban when they only just paid for one back in 1996 which was portrayed as the solution to the problem.


A Senate committee reported late last year on problems with the law there; for the most part they appear to have agreed with shooters that most of the problems are in the administration of the law by the police, and that the current regulation of firearms in myriad categories through a maze of endless decrees since 1939 needs to be consolidated, with particular attention to using the category system of the European Firearms Directive.

Sounds good, but a new internal security law will actually make the situation worse by giving the Minister of the Interior greater power to shift guns from one category to another.

Hopefully when a specific firearm-related Bill comes before the French legislature, it will reflect the views of the Senate Committee on Law and Internal Security.

“Legislate in haste, repent at leisure.” – trad.

The Disaster Facing Shooters in Europe

Shooters, especially target shooters, are facing a catastrophe of major proportions in Europe as Governments react in a predictable knee-jerk fashion to various criminal acts in which firearms were used.

The first crime committed was the shootings at Nanterre in France, where a man named Michael Durn opened fire at a local political meeting with two semi-automatic pistols, killing eight people and wounding thirty more.

After being arrested, Durn escaped from interrogators and jumped to his death after crawling through a skylight.

Upon further investigation, many facts came to light:

He had been seeing a psychiatrist for several years, even prior to applying for authorisation to possess firearms.  Not only that, but he was under care because he suffered from a condition where he had fantasies about killing himself.  And even more incredibly, he had threatened his psychiatrist previously with a pistol, but the police took no action.  On the day of the killings in Nanterre, his authorities for his pistols were expired, apparently due to the licensing department being unable to process applications in a timely manner.

One might think that here were enough facts to lead to a thorough public inquiry, but with an election looming in France, and crime being the major issue, Prime Minister Lionel Jospin announced a far-reaching decree (gun laws are made by decree in France under a 1939 law) that would effectively ban all handguns that fire cartridges more powerful than .32ACP (with the exception of .32 S&W Long and .38 wadcutter), as well as all military-calibre firearms and many other things besides.  Not only that, but many common sporting types of ammunition such as .357 Magnum and .38 Special would be reclassified as “military-calibre” as well, extending the ban to many types of lever-action rifle that are currently unlicensed and commonly owned in France.

This decree was announced three days before the first round of the French Presidential election.  Not surprisingly, shooters were unimpressed, and this is undoubtedly one of the factors that led to Jospin being defeated by right-wing extremist Jean-Marie Le Pen, who condemned the new decree immediately after it was announced.

Shooting is a more popular sport in France than in Britain, and there are currently 140,000 shooters who are licensed, the vast majority of whom would be affected by the new decree, and they are authorised to own somewhere around half a million guns.  It is unclear how many guns that do not require licensing would be affected, but it is a substantial number.

All the guns affected would have to be turned in when the shooter’s license expires, or by the middle of next year at the latest – without compensation.

French shooters are slightly more fortunate than we were because they can convert their guns into something that is not banned, for example by rechambering their military-calibre rifles to a non-military calibre, or by altering their semi-automatic rifles so that they do not function semi-automatically (this is illegal under British law).  However, it is hard to see how handguns could be modified, short of deactivating them, and these form the bulk of the guns affected.

Prohibitions of this type without compensation are almost certainly illegal under Article 1, Protocol 1 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and it will be interesting to see how things unfold in France.  At the moment things appear to be going pretty badly although shooters have won a small victory because the bans in the decree have run out of time to be enacted by the current government.  It will be up to the new government to move them forward.

Notably the police, although heavily criticised for their mishandling of Durn, have also criticised the new proposals, pointing out that the facilities for storage of guns handed in do not exist, and that the Government did not consult at all with them before announcing the decree.  I suspect also privately they are worried that the guns they carry are next up for the chop, not a popular idea given the levels of violent crime currently in France which have left several police officers shot dead.


The situation in France is bad enough, but it has been made worse by the killing of sixteen people in a school in Erfurt, Germany, by a disgruntled former student, Robert Steinhäuser, who then committed suicide.

The emotional outpouring in Germany has been great, and it remains to be seen what the German government will do.  As in France, there are elections underway in Germany, although the tragedy occurred so closely to the start of the election campaigns that the politicians have not been able to coherently respond so far.  The right-wing wants a crackdown on violent films and videogames; the left (and the media) want a crackdown on guns.

The facts appear to be that Steinhäuser had planned his crime almost a year in advance; although he obtained a gun license and bought his guns legally he did not declare them to the police as he was required to do.  The Erfurt city government has been criticised for not enforcing the law correctly, for example by not following up on gun sales frequently enough to ensure they have all been declared.  More relevantly, the pistol used in the killings was acquired privately.  The seller declared the sale to the authorities as he was required to do, but still Steinhäuser’s failure to declare the purchase was not followed up, even though the authorities had that information to hand.  Legal action against the Erfurt city government seems likely but whether or not that has any relevance to shooters is open to question.

The real problem for shooters, not just in Germany but worldwide, is that Germany is the main centre for the manufacture of firearms and accessories used in the target shooting sports.  Not only that, but the headquarters of the International Shooting Sports Federation are in Munich, and Germany is also the largest region for the International Practical Shooting Confederation in Europe.

Prohibitions in Germany on the scale of those seen in the UK or those proposed in France would be an absolute disaster for the sport.  It would be the equivalent to the sport of football of the Chancellor of Germany telling FIFA that football was to be banned there – even worse in fact, if you also assume that Germany were the major centre for the production of footballs!

Compounding the difficulties for shooters in Germany is the fact that on the very same day that Steinhäuser was on his rampage, the lower house of the Bundestag was passing a new gun law, which among other things restricts further the number of guns a person can own, and introduces a police permit requirement for airguns, starter pistols and similar items.

The upper house is scheduled to vote on the Bill at the end of May, although it could be delayed as a result of the tragedy in Erfurt.  No amendments have been announced as of yet although there seems to be consensus on raising the age limit for a license to be issued to a higher age, such as twenty-one.  (Steinhäuser was nineteen at the time).

The FCC reports

Not to be left out, our very own Firearms Consultative Committee finally issued its eleventh annual report, which actually isn’t that bad except for Chapter 2.

The report recommends in this chapter a ban on rifles with a muzzle energy of more than 10,000 ft/lbs (i.e. things like .50BMG calibre rifles) and also a ban on long-barrelled revolvers.

It is, however, completely devoid of any rationale as to why they should be banned, and it is noteworthy that the FCC came to the conclusion they should be banned on a “majority vote”, which means the police want them banned, but the shooting organisations don’t.

The report harps on at some length about how .50 calibre rifles are designed for “anti-materiel” use, but totally fails to mention that armour-piercing ammunition is already banned, as it is in every other EU country, and without AP ammunition, these rifles are not significantly more deadly than many other types of rifle commonly used for hunting and target shooting.  The use of a muzzle energy figure to determine lethality is, at this level of power, seriously flawed and unscientific.

The report mentions the use of such rifles by terrorists in Northern Ireland – where it is very difficult indeed (more so than in GB) for a licensed shooter to own any sort of centrefire rifle, let alone a .50, and given that terrorists have illegally imported and used any number of firearms it is laughable to draw a comparison between licensed shooters and the use of firearms by terrorists.

Also mentioned is a comment that the committee felt that these rifles are not “appropriate for civilian target shooting”.  Pardon?  Since when did the police and the Government decide what is “appropriate” for a person to do in a supposedly free country?  Using a water pistol for target shooting is arguably not “appropriate” either, but no-one suggests they ought to be banned!

No clear case as to why long-barrelled revolvers should be banned is made in the report, the committee simply recommends that they should be banned.  It appears the “third way” nowadays actually translates into: “my way or the highway”.

Obviously such a ban is an utterly ludicrous suggestion, and the fact that shooters are buying such guns merely illustrates how totally foolish the handgun ban was to begin with anyway.  There is no way of actually defining such guns in legislation without banning all rifles, otherwise they would have been banned in 1997.  The report proposes a ban on firearms with revolving cylinders, which would catch some types of rifle while leaving long-barrelled pistols using other action types unaffected, making a complete nonsense of any such prohibition.

This is all worth writing to your MP about, by the way!  The Government has yet to respond to the report so the more letters the better.

Suggestions such as this recall to mind the comments made by then Chief Supt. Brian MacKenzie in 1996 following the Home Affairs Committee recommending that handguns should not be banned.  He stood up at a meeting of the Police Superintendent’s Association and referred to the HAC report as a: “…load of rubbish that should be thrown in the bin.”

Hmm, well, six years after the event with both reports in my hands I’m pretty certain which one I think should be on its way to the landfill…

The Home Office attitude was that a public inquiry was unnecessary since, as a senior official stonily told us, “There is nothing to learn.”  The 1988 Act, he was happy to say, was preceded “by no research at all,” nor could he “point to any specific section and say that it addressed a particular problem.” – Jan Stevenson commenting on the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988 in the May 1996 issue of “Handgunner”.

ACPO, again

ACPO, again

I don’t think there has been any one piece of earth-shattering news in the past few months, however, I thought it was time for an editorial because several small things have happened that are noteworthy.

New guidance on firearms law

The new Guidance for Police has been published, and you can read it by clicking here.  There are many noteworthy things in it, however the main point to be made is that shooters were successful in convincing the Home Office that the number of rounds that should generally be allowed for a target shooter per calibre is 1,000; with larger limits for those who use .22 rimfire.  This is an improvement upon the original suggestion of 500 rounds.  My personal view is that the 1,500 limit suggested in the 1969 guidance appears to have worked well for several decades, so why change it?

The other main point is that the number of “uses” per year, recorded by your club, per gun, should be at least three before warning bells start tinkling in your licensing officer’s head, as opposed to the proposed six times, in order to substantiate your “good reason” for wanting a rifle or muzzle-loading pistol for target shooting.

US clamps down on foreigners with guns

As I speculated in the last editorial, there will be fallout from the attack on the World Trade Center, and the bad news is that it is going to become substantially more difficult for foreigners in the US to own or even use firearms.  The actual new regulations aren’t that much different, it’s just that they’re taking them more seriously now and new measures have been thought up to make the regulations enforceable.  There are more details elsewhere on this website by clicking here.

The meat of it is that if you want to visit the US with your guns now, you must have an import permit, and those take a couple of months to get.  The picture as regards even renting a gun at a shooting range in the US is very murky, it’s not clear whether even this innocuous activity is still legal.  Final regulations will be issued in May, and pressure is being brought to bear to make them as reasonable as possible, given the circumstances.

The SHOT show

I’ve done a review of the SHOT show that you can read by clicking here.  Given all the hassle at the airports it is amazing that anyone showed up, in my opinion!

ACPO strikes again

ACPO (the Association of Chief Police Officers) have once again demonstrated that they are no friends of shooters with a misguided attack on Brocock, the importer and manufacturers of air cartridge pistols.

ACPO apparently based their stupid press release on a comment of an employee of the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS), to the effect that 50% of all recovered handguns were Brocock air cartridge revolvers converted to fire live ammunition.  Later, (much later, after the press had all stuck their oars in) it became apparent that NCIS had been seriously mistaken – their figures in fact show that of recovered firearms converted from other items, six out of thirteen recovered firearms were converted air pistols, and of those a proportion were converted Brocock guns.  These thirteen guns comprise only a fraction of the total number of firearms seized however, and in reality the converted Brocock guns amount for no more than 4% of the total guns seized, and in all likelihood an even smaller percentage than that.

Several important questions need to be answered, first of all, why were NCIS so incredibly mistaken about their own statistics, and why did an NCIS employee open his mouth with the press watching and cram his foot into it?  Why did ACPO respond with a knee-jerk press release, essentially libeling Brocock, without checking the facts first?  And what exactly are two public organisations funded by taxpayer money doing, spending taxpayer money to create a massive amount of hysteria over virtually nothing?

We can be sure of only one thing: a lot of criminals who previously didn’t know how to illegally make a handgun now do, and the people responsible for the advertising campaign for how to do it are NCIS and ACPO.

They must face sanctions as a result of their reckless irresponsibility, and writing to your MP with the above details is an excellent place to start.

Overheard at the SHOT show:  “The gun went civil service on me.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means it won’t work and you can’t fire it.”

The fallout from terrorism

Since the attacks on September 11th, my mailbox has been full of e-mails speculating on what the Government might do or should do in the aftermath.  Regardless of their merits it does seem to me at least that an awful lot of people are running around like chickens with their heads cut off.

Terrorism is nothing new in the UK of course, although nothing on the scale of the attack in New York City has ever happened here, the closest thing was a bomb at Canary Wharf.

So what will happen?  Well, of course my crystal ball is exceedingly murky because the Government in these situations does have a tendency to have a knee-jerk response and that response will be to whatever the terrorists do.

In the United States the picture is clearer, at least as regards guns.  More gun control laws are distinctly out of fashion as guns fly off the shelves due to worry about terrorism.  Of course, there is far more chance of being hit by a car crossing the road to get to the gun shop, then being a victim of one of Osama’s zealots, but providing there is no further crisis that causes a mass panic there will be two outcomes, I suspect.  One is that there are a lot of first-time gun owners and many of them will find that shooting is something they enjoy.  If nothing else, firearm instructors will be making some money in addition to the gun shops.  The second outcome is that I suspect in a couple of years time there will be a lot of barely used guns on the market.

One of the more intriguing things that has happened in the US is that the Airline Pilots Association has come out strongly in support of allowing pilots to be armed, and a measure allowing them to be armed after undergoing training seems certain to become law.  This is not as simple an issue as some have made out.  Using a firearm on board an aircraft is not something to be undertaken lightly.  There have been those that have suggested it would be unsafe because of the possibility of explosive decompression.  As it turns out, an airliner can take quite a large number of bullet holes through the fuselage without problems, assuming the bullets even penetrate it.

The problems are in fact somewhat less dramatic.  Airliners are packed with passengers (well, not at the moment).  Discharging a firearm on an aircraft means an excellent chance of hitting a bystander.  Discharging a firearm also means a good chance of a mass panic.  On an aircraft this is a serious problem because if the passengers all cluster in one area of the aircraft it can cause a load imbalance that can cause the aircraft to pitch.

Another problem is that hijackers are far more dangerous than a mugger or armed robber would be.  In many cases they are well-trained, motivated and heavily armed.  To take them on requires extremely well-trained personnel.  For these reasons the FAA Air Marshall firearm training course is probably the most demanding of any police organisation anywhere on the planet.  Pilots probably don’t need this level of training as they are merely defending the cockpit rather than actively engaging terrorists in the passenger cabin, but still, they will need excellent training with regular practice sessions.

However, the main problem with this proposal, which I have yet to see mentioned anywhere else, is that it suffers from the substantial loophole that it only applies in the United States.  What happens if a US airline flies to France or some other European country for example?  Will the pilot find himself arrested for illegal possession of a firearm as he steps off the plane?  Even more alarming, what about flights by foreign airlines from the United States?  A terrorist may well target a British Airways or Air France flight knowing that the air crew are almost certainly unarmed due to the existence of more restrictive legislation in those countries.  Many foreign airlines have flights that take off from airports in the US.  Unless these problems are addressed by reciprocal legislation in other countries, the US legislation is largely futile.

Whether or not the Government here will reciprocate is an intriguing question.

What about my guns?

One of the major concerns expressed by shooters is that a crackdown on terrorism will mean a crackdown on them.  It’s impossible to say at the moment.  Certainly firearms have not featured in the terrorist acts so far.  Given how restrictive firearm laws are in Europe my personal feeling is that it is unlikely, although there may be changes in other laws that indirectly affect shooters, such as a law requiring everyone to carry photo ID, a firearm certificate would be an example of that.

Certainly concern about more restrictive gun laws appears to be fueling a fire sale of stock among certain European wholesalers, prices have fallen to silly levels for certain guns in France and Germany.  Unfortunately shooters in the British Isles won’t benefit from that as our wholesalers carry so little stock nowadays.

The new SA80

The Ministry of Defence has announced that the modified SA80, the L85A2 individual weapon (rifle, to you and I) and L86A2 light support weapon have passed all tests “comfortably” and are in the process of adoption, some 10,000 having been converted already.

I’ve made no secret of my opposition to this move in earlier editorials, and the cost appears to have gone up now too, from £80 million to £92.5 million.  Clearly replacing many of the major parts of the gun with better designed bits from H&K will improve things, but what is perhaps more worrying is the spin the MoD is putting on it in the press package.

It describes the alterations as “minor”, no doubt in order to conceal just how truly horrendous the gun was prior to the changes.  Other worrying comments are the weak attempt to explain away the difficulties left-handed shooters face using it, plus the excessive weight (which the MoD attempts to conceal by giving the weight figure minus the sights – a rifle with no sights isn’t much use).  Perhaps the all-time classic comment is that reliability has improved just as a new Vauxhall Astra is better than one made in 1986 – missing entirely the point that a Kalashnikov made in 1951 beats an SA80 made in 1986 hands down!

Also the “special forces” cop out continues, the MoD simply cannot explain away why the special forces have adopted completely different weapons made by Diemaco, so instead they say that they cannot comment, when everyone knows from the contract award that the special forces are using different guns.

Of course, now there is talk of putting in ground forces in Afghanistan, things could get very messy very quickly.  It is perhaps a good job that the units that will be first in aren’t armed with the SA80!

According the MoD, the SA80 will remain in front-line service until at least 2020.

“I was armed to the teeth with a pitiful little Smith & Wesson’s seven shooter, which carried a ball like a homeopathic pill, and it took the whole seven to make a dose for an adult.  But I thought it was grand.  It appeared to me to be a dangerous weapon.  It had only one fault – you could not hit anything with it.  One of our conductors practiced a while on a cow with it; as long as she stood still and behaved herself, she was safe; but as soon as she went to moving about, and he got to shooting at other things, she came to grief.” – Mark Twain, critiquing the S&W No. 1 .22 revolver in the 1860s.

Disarmament hasn’t worked in England, but no-one admits it

By Jeffrey R. Snyder

Values are not derived from facts, and do not “follow” from facts. Thus, a correction in a person’s state of knowledge by the addition of new or correct facts does not, presto-chango, alter a person’s values. For this reason, one can never “win” a gun control debate by replacing or correcting the opposition’s false facts with true facts.

The facts are not why anti-gunners believe what they believe. In fact, the facts are often merely justifications for what they want to believe. At best, new facts may lead a person to re-evaluate his values, but, even then, the facts do not determine the values. 

Consider as a case in point the fact that the English press is beginning to learn that the universal pistol ban enacted in 1997 following the Dunblane massacre has not delivered the country from gun crimes. And consider the reaction to this news. 

In an article titled “Britain’s Tough Gun Control Laws Termed Total Failure” appearing in the May 3-16 issue of Britain’s venerable Punch magazine, Peter Woolrich writes:

“Four years after the Dunblane massacre, Britain’s tighter gun laws have failed completely… There are now an estimated 3 million illegal firearms in the UK, perhaps double the number of four years ago, and the only effect the knee-jerk political reaction that led to the Firearms (Amendment) Act of 1997 has had is to shut down legitimate gun clubs. 

“The new research suggests that in some areas a third of young criminals, classed as those aged 15 to 25 with convictions, own or have access to guns ranging from Beretta sub-machine guns to Luger pistols… ‘There is a move from the pistol and shotgun to automatic weapons,’ says Detective Superintendent Keith Hudson of the National Crime Squad. ‘We are recovering weapons that are relatively new– and sometimes still in their boxes from eastern European countries.’

“Home office figures soon to be released will show that, overall, armed crime rose 10 percent in 1998…” 

Additional Proof

The article goes on to favorably quote Bill Harriman, a spokesman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, who criticizes the current legislation for focusing on the law-abiding instead of being directed at illegally-held firearms. The article further pointedly notes that “…the government had plenty of evidence at its disposal to realize that simply banning certain types of weapons is ineffective. For example, fully-automatics have been prohibited since 1937, but it has not stopped criminals from using them.”

Now with these facts, the author could go in at least two directions. He could use this information as the beginning of an examination of whether gun control is a valid or effective means of securing reductions in crime, for example, by questioning whether it ever can in fact succeed, or whether it imposes too high a price on the law-abiding. Alternatively, he could take it as evidence that not enough restrictions have yet been enacted. 

At this point we are on pins and needles! What, oh what, will our British author do? What direction will his values or his “knee-jerk response” take him? 

The article concludes by examining existing loopholes and inconsistencies in the current law, such as the fact that it did not control access to ammunition and permitted persons who could not acquire or own pistols to acquire and own shotguns, and criticizes the “laxity” of the Dunblane legislation.

It quotes the Home Affairs Committee recommendation that “…the time is now right for Parliament to address the entire issue and produce an completely new Firearms Act. Any lesser step will be insufficient.”

Nowhere does the article argue that new legislation could or should re-establish pistol ownership by law-abiding members of shooting clubs, let alone raise the issue of whether people have a right to the means to self-defense. 

Knee-Jerk Response

One of the interesting, and revealing, things about the article is its seemingly tough criticism of Parliament for a “knee-jerk” political and ultimately ineffectual response, which, the article implies, Parliament should have known would not work.

By sheer coincidence, my wife and I were in England at the time the Dunblane legislation and report were being considered. The English media and populace were absolutely rabid for the banning of pistols. Leaders of sportsmen’s clubs who appeared on television, wrote op-ed pieces or lobbied Parliament to defend the rights of law-abiding citizens to own and shoot pistols for sport– self-defense is a taboo subject– were simply savaged in the papers and on television.

Often the strongest and angriest criticism was that, by resisting the proposed ban, the country’s pistol owners were not respecting the grief of the parents whose children had been massacred! 

One would never know any of this reading the Punch article. The way it is written, one would think the poor English people were blameless in the outcome, patiently sitting by expectantly, and hoping merely that the experts in Parliament would protect and serve them well. And then, lo and behold, the bumblers simply did the most expedient and easy thing.

Sure, a “complete ban” sounded good, it played well on television, but ultimately– and they should have known this– it would prove ineffectual. And now, now, things are worse. By George, this time, they better get it right!

Refusal To Charge

And this refusal of the author to charge the people with their own stupidity and cupidity, this refusal of the people to own up and take responsibility, is symptomatic. In the end, the article exhibits the same response as the original response to Dunblane. We bear no responsibility for ourselves; we take nothing upon ourselves. Government must do something to protect us.

Close those loopholes, clamp down further. Evil still works unencumbered, and you, our protectors, must stop it. 

It is this underlying “knee-jerk” reflex, this utter and childish dependency of the individual and society upon government, this learned helplessness, this presumption that the individual cannot act, that only the state can act, which is the reason for the prohibition on pistols.

This valuelessness of the individual, this timidity, this rejection of personal responsibility, is why mounting revelations of the ineffectualness of gun laws lead only to demands for more and more restraints, and why the facts prove powerless to change men’s minds. It is not information that is lacking. It’s that there’s no there there.

This article was originally published in American Handgunner magazine and is reproduced with permission.

Sam Cummings: “I am not personally an enthusiast of the M-16.”

Sen. Stuart Symington: “In Vietnam they are enthusiastic because of the weight.”

Cummings: “The World War Two carbine was a useless weapon… Everybody loved it because it was light, but it was a dog.”

Symington: “Why is it a dog?”

Cummings: “Ballistically.  You can have a hatful of the cartridges in your stomach and still live long enough to blast the man who fired at you.”

Stenographer: “He’s right!  He’s right!  I was in the Battle of the Bulge and I shot a German six times with a carbine and he was able to shoot me!”

– US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing, 1967

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 

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

Law and disorder

The new year begins with yet more evidence that the handgun ban was a futile waste of time, courtesy of Criminal Statistics for England & Wales.  The latest edition covers the period from March 1999 to March 2000.

To cut a long story short, there has been a sharp increase in firearm-related offences, especially with handguns.

There is however a lot of interesting stuff in these statistics. For example table 3.12 indicates that 142 handguns were stolen from residential premises 1999-2000. As very few handguns can be legally kept at home now and this figure is not dramatically lower than years when they were legal, it supports the argument shooters made that most stolen guns were illegally held to begin with.

Also, table 3.10 on locations of armed robberies.

Robberies at banks and building societies have fallen, no doubt because of target hardening, but offences on public highways and at shops have increased sharply.

The figures in 3.13 show that there are a lot of prosecutions for illegal handgun possession, you can see this because from 1997 (when handguns were banned) the offences under Section 1 fall sharply and under Section 5 they rise sharply.

Table 3.8 indicates that there were no fatal injuries caused with an airgun in the period 1999/2000, which doesn’t lend support to the calls for licensing them.

The figures in table 3.6 show that shotguns and handguns were about as equally dangerous when fired, which totally blows the Home Office position out of the water that they presented at the Dunblane Public Inquiry in 1996 that handguns are more dangerous than shotguns.

Table 3D shows clearly that the overwhelming majority of homicides committed with firearms are with illegally held firearms (but not broken down by type, unfortunately).

I’m sure there is more that can be extracted from this information.

For what it’s worth, my opinion is that the rate of firearm-related crime is rising because of the complete shambles the Government has made of the Metropolitan Police. Moving members of the flying squad out to “share their experience” has not worked and efforts aimed at stopping armed criminals appear to be dropping off.  Looking at the figures that accompany these statistics I was struck by the fact that the decline in firearm-related offences appears to bottom out in 1997 (when Labour came to power) and then rise sharply.

Essentially what shooters have been saying has now been proved beyond doubt, i.e. that the handgun ban was politically motivated drivel intended to encourage voters to vote for Labour, backed up with limp-wristed so-called “criminology”, which has now for all intents and purposes collapsed under the weight of the outrageous lie we knew it to be.

ACPO again

The taxpayer-funded police thinktank, the erroneously named: “Association of Chief Police Officers”, has submitted evidence to the Firearms Consultative Committee that .50 BMG calibre rifles and long-barrelled revolvers should be banned using an order under Section 1(4) of the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1988.  This section allows the Secretary of State to make an order, subject to approval by Parliament, to ban firearms if they were not available in significant numbers prior to the Act and are “specially dangerous”.

Obviously handguns of any type are not specially dangerous as clearly shown by table 3.6 of the statistics referred to above, and how anyone could claim that a revolver fitted with an 18-inch barrel is any more deadly than an ordinary revolver is beyond me.  Long-barrelled revolvers have been around since the 1880s, so it seems unlikely an order under Section 1(4) could be legal.  ACPO are apparently in a mood because we found a way to carry on shooting handguns despite the ban.  That there are other ways to do that if long-barrelled revolvers are banned doesn’t seem to have occurred to them.

The use of .50 BMG rifles in armed crime in Great Britain is non-existent, and in Northern Ireland they have been used on rare occasions but only with armour-piercing ammunition that is prohibited in the UK under Section 5(1A) of the Firearms Act 1968.  That they are powerful firearms is beyond question, but “specially dangerous” with ordinary lead or mild steel core ammunition?  Not really.  In any event, there are only two ranges I know of in GB where they can be shot by civilians, which makes it next to impossible to show a “good reason” to own one.  This is a solution searching desperately for a problem.

Haven’t ACPO got anything better to do than harass responsible shooters?  They would be better named the Association to Create Petty Offences!

I strongly urge you to write to the FCC at the Home Office, 50 Queen Anne’s Gate, London, SW1H 9AT to protest this pointless attempt to destroy perfectly legitimate target shooting sports.

The SA80 saga continues, unfortunately

You really have to wonder about what goes on in Whitehall sometimes.

Not content with throwing away £100 million on the handgun ban, the Ministry of Defence wants to get in on the action by throwing away £80 million on a refurbishment effort for the L85A1 rifle and L86A1 Light Support Weapon that will entail sending 200,000 of them over to Heckler and Koch in Oberndorf, Germany, to be completely rebuilt.

So many parts will be replaced under this refurbishment programme that it is actually simpler to list the parts that won’t be replaced: the sights, the trigger mechanism housing (sans buttplate and pistol grip) and possibly the upper receiver shell, although that is open to question.  Everything else, barrel, bolt, gas system, furniture, even the magazines, will be replaced to give us the L85A2 and L86A2.

Now, I’m not going to sit here and suggest that the guns won’t be better afterwards, but you have to wonder at the logic of going to such great lengths to essentially replace 200,000 guns with 200,000 unproven guns, when there are plenty of other alternatives.  It would have been much easier to simply have bought the H&K G36 assault rifle off the shelf.  In talking with the MoD it became apparent to me that they don’t even know what the G36 is, despite City of London Police being armed with them!

That the SA80 is despised by the troops is patently obvious, going merely by the response to my review of it on this website.  Whether an expenditure of £80 million will restore confidence in it is doubtful.

It is utterly apparent that my views are shared, albeit privately, by pretty much anyone else in the MoD likely to ever have to shoot a gun in anger.  Want proof?  The MoD has recently acquired some £2.2 million plus worth of Diemaco C8 SFW carbines and C7A1s for special forces troops, this is in addition to the C7 rifles already used by grenadiers with M203s.

Now, if we’re going to arm the units of the armed forces most likely to see action with a completely different small arm, why not arm all of them with it, especially seeing as a Diemaco rifle is actually less expensive than the refit will cost?

You might care to make this point in a letter to your MP.  He or she will probably be fobbed off with some stupid letter from the MoD saying that information on special forces is classified, this is an absolute cop out and you should let your MP know that.  This is one time when shooters can stop a complete waste of taxpayer money and we should do it, now.

New guidance on antiques

Those nice people at the Home Office have come up with new guidance on antique firearms held under the provisions of Section 58(2) of the Firearms Act 1968, if you have Adobe Acrobat Reader you can click here to read it.

The march in March

Time to don your best slogans and march through London, yes it’s time for the next Countryside Alliance march.  I know some of you might not like fox hunting much but believe me, what’s left of shooting is next up for the chop if we sit here and do nothing.  Plus it is a way to let the Government know that handgun shooters will not be forgotten after we were scapegoated in 1997.  More information is available on the Countryside Alliance website.

Oh yes, and have a Happy New Year!