The Royal Armouries


The Royal Armouries in Leeds are probably the premier firearms museum in the United Kingdom.  It is a big place, and the following pictures only cover a fraction of it.  I took a lot of pictures so each one has a shortcut unlike the other features on the site.  Enjoy!

A tribute to 007 – a bit naff but it draws in the punters, I suppose.

A Colt 1911 and a Steyr-Hahn – the Steyr incorporates the intriguing rotary barrel locking principle, the Colt, hmm, well, I don’t think anyone knows much about the Colt .45<G>.  Both of these models saw action in WW1.

A 4-bore shotgun – for those around the turn of the century who considered wandering around in Africa and suffering serious pain in the shoulder was an enjoyable activity!

Adams revolver – a very nicely kept Adams percussion revolver ca. 1870

French armour – sorry, I didn’t make any notes, I think it was 15th century.

Artillery Luger – a mint condition example, ca. 1917 with buttstock.

Broomhandle Mauser – very nice example, from the Boer war with engraved buttstock, worth a few quid I suspect!

Borchardt Pistol – the first semi-automatic pistol, once again, a mint example, drool.

Bullpup Rigby Rifle – made for someone who lost an arm in WW1, no doubt worth a small fortune as well.

Dolne thingymebob – Why have one weapon when you can have three?  A vicious looking piece of equipment, ca. 1890.

The first firearms – very early handguns, surprisingly considered an advancement on the bow and arrow, due largely to their ease of use.

Armoured Elephant – an elephant with armour, just the thing for the Indian warrior.

World War 1 Enfields – A selection of Enfield rifles, note the one in the middle with the extremely rare barbed wire cutter.

Engraved Webley – This revolver set someone back a lot of money!

Webley-Fosbrey – The only semi-automatic revolver

Gatling guns – A couple of mint condition Gatlings.

Greener Prison Shotgun – Another very rare gun, chambered for a special shotgun round so that it was useless to a thief.

The Hall of Steel – A large collection of guns and armour arranged up the middle of the main staircase in the Armoury.

The Hall of Steel, again – Another view of the Hall of Steel, from the ground floor.

Enfield with Howell self-loading conversion – the most interesting Enfield in the Armoury, unfortunately the picture is a bit dim.  Essentially a hole drilled in the barrel, with a tube alongside the barrel, with a gas-operated rod attached to the bolt handle.  The gun has had a pistol grip fitted with a handguard to prevent the bolt handle from hitting the hand during cycling.  It worked, but was too impractical.

Japanese LMG – I know little about Japanese machineguns so I will not embarrass myself, although this one is interesting due to it’s method of hydraulic operation.  No wonder the Japanese lost!

Kolibri 2.7mm pistol – the smallest calibre semi-auto pistol ever made, check out the size of the ammunition!

The guns of David Kucer – miniature replicas made by Mr Kucer, worth visiting the museum just to see this exhibit, in my opinion.

Guidelamp Liberator Pistol – A single shot .45 stamped steel pistol, made to be dropped to the French resistance although none ever were, they were dropped in the Phillippines and India though.  Perhaps the only pistol ever made that could be manufactured faster than it could be reloaded!

Marlin rifle – a mint original from the late 19th century.

Mars pistol – very rare, very big, one of the first attempts at a practical semi-auto pistol design in the UK.

Minature Borchardt pistol – one of David Kucer’s guns, up close.

Modern military weapons – a selection of cast-offs from the Pattern Room.

Modern police guns – I say “modern”, but no-one uses the Sterling anymore and the Mini-14 is only a reserve weapon now as well.  For some reason they do not have an MP5 on display which has replaced both guns.

Revolvers of the Old West – A selection of mint condition guns from the days of the old west.

Samuri – not a very good picture I’m afraid, the Royal Armoury puts on shows every day to show you some aspect of military history.  This one was the dressing of the Samuri.

Schmeisser MP18 submachinegun – the first successful SMG design, from WW1, this is the Schmeisser, not the MP40!

Semi-auto hunting rifles – not sure how many people use AR-15s to hunt, but I’m not going to argue!

Sniper rifles – a display of sniper rifles.

Stgw 44 – the first true assault rifle, deployed by the Germans towards the end of WW2, many of the general features were copied in the AK-47 (Kalashnikov denies this, but I find it hard to believe).

A big tent – from the era of jousting.

Thompson SMG – a good example of a M1928 Thompson, for some reason they also have a commercial 1927 semi-auto on display.  Also note the early Colt rifle underneath it.  Worth a bit, I suspect!

Tiger attacking hunting party – a set piece depicting an Army officer on an African hunt with unforseen problems!

Soldier’s kit – what a soldier wears in the British Army nowadays.

Soldier – And another one, this time with a mannequin.  Note the AGS-17 grenade launcher in the foreground, captured in Iraq.

Vickers and Browning machineguns – as used during WW1, the Browning was known as the “Digger” because of the reciprocating bolt component which whacked back and forth under the receiver.

Webley revolver with bayonet – what this was intended for I don’t know!

.455 Webley self-loading pistol – as bought by and issued to the RAF.

Pistols of the Great War – a selection of handguns issued during World War 1, note that most of them were revolvers!

Guns of the Zulu War – A bit more effective than a spear, as the Zulus found out after the British Army adopted more effective tactics.


Morges military museum

A visit to the Swiss military museum at Morges:

While in Switzerland recently your intrepid Editor decided to visit the Swiss military museum in the town of Morges, a picturesque town not far from Lausanne.  Approximately half an hour drive from Bière, the museum is a must-see for anyone attending the Tir Fédéral.

The museum covers the whole of the history of the Swiss military, though a large segment appears to focus on the Napoleonic Wars, due to the fact that the French-speaking areas of Switzerland were annexed by Napoleon and many Swiss served in the French Army.

Below are a variety of pictures of the exhibits in the museum:

Pictured above are a selection of rifles showing the development of the Vetterli bolt-action rifle, the first bolt-action rifle issued to any army.  The rifle used a tubular magazine and fired a 10.4mm rimfire cartridge.  Below them is an 1866 Winchester rifle, fitted with a socket bayonet, a rifle used during military trials of the late 1860s.

Pictured above are modern Swiss military weapons.  At top is the SIG 57 assault rifle, chambered for the 7.5mm Swiss GP11 round, originally developed for the M1911 Schmidt-Rubin rifle.  Below that are a number of prototype rifles, the top two being developed by the Bern Ordnance factory and the two below that being the SG541 developed by SIG.  These chamber the experimental 6.45 NSK round.  This round was eventually dropped in favour of 5.56mm, called the 5.6mm Swiss in Switzerland.  This round, the GP90, although having similar ballistics to the standard 5.56mm NATO round has a lead core with a mild steel/nickel alloy jacket.  The rifle at bottom is the SIG 90 assault rifle, adopted in 1986, essentially the SG541 chambered for the GP90 round.  To the left of it are the two current issue service pistols, the elegant and costly SIG A49 9mm pistol (P210) on the left, and the more common SIG A75 (P220) which is replacing the A49.  Both are 9mm.

A selection of Swiss cavalry rifles, from when soldiers rode into war on horses.  At bottom is the Schmidt-Rubin M1889/00 cavalry rifle, of which only 7,000 were made.  However, it formed the basis for the famous K31, the standard rifle in World War 2 and perhaps the best known Swiss rifle.

A rare 1882 7.5mm cyclist’s revolver.  The Swiss Army even today still has a cyclist’s corp.  They serve primarily as an anti-tank unit.  Hence the “mountain bike”, I kid you not!  Note the large lanyard loop on the butt.

A close-up of an early production SIG 90 assault rifle, otherwise known as the SG550.  Having shot (and owned) one of these I can tell you that they are very accurate rifles.  The Swiss are very fond of target shooting and possibly this rifle makes too many concessions to sport, being heavier than most of the competition and being prone to rust.  It also is hard to clean.  However they are exceptionally reliable and robust.

A very rare Swiss contract Gatling gun.  The Swiss are among the greatest pioneers in the area of firearms.  If they haven’t designed it themselves, they will buy it themselves as soon as it hits the market!

The Swiss were also the first Army to adopt the semi-automatic pistol, Georg Luger’s famous Parabellum, way back in 1900.  First deliveries were from DWM in Germany, but later production involved the assembly of DWM parts at the Bern ordnance factory.  When World War 1 cut off the supply from Germany, Bern began making their own Lugers, eventually simplifying the design.  Shown above are the four distinct models, from the first DWM Luger to the last Bern production model.  For some reason the Swiss chose to stay with the 7.65mm Parabellum calibre right up until the adoption of the SIG P210 in 1949.  Note the 7.5mm cavalry revolver with buttstock at the bottom.

The history of the Schmidt-Rubin rifle is in this display case, these examples being based on the original 1889 design.  This was the first successful rifle to use a straight-pull bolt-action mechanism.  The top three rifles chamber the 7.5×53.5mm round, which is remarkably similar to the .30-06 used in the US Springfield and Garand rifles despite being developed more than a decade earlier.  Moving downward are later versions of the rifle chambering the 7.5x55mm GP11 round.  The middle rifle is the M1911 Schmidt-Rubin, standard issue in World War 1.

Swiss weaponry from the World War 2 period.  At the top is the prolific Karabiner 1931 or K31 Schmidt-Rubin rifle, chambered for the GP11 7.5mm round.  Note the sniper model of the Schmidt-Rubin with a remarkably advanced scope for the time.  Swiss submachineguns however were somewhat over-engineered and elaborate, the Swiss having the time to make them as they were not heavily involved in combat during the war, with the exception of shooting down some Nazi Messerschmitts!

A Swiss Maxim gun, chambered for the GP11 7.5mm round.  Maxim guns of course were responsible for a large proportion of the casualties during World War 1.  The Swiss once again showed foresight in their acquisition, though they were neutral during the war.

The history of the Swiss Army knife!  The current issue knife is on the right.  Victorinox and Wenger make this knife, it is called the “Swiss soldier’s knife” and is available at most good cutlery shops.  Note the lack of tools compared to the prolific commercial models, and the aluminium handle, more hard-wearing than the well-known red plastic grip.  The pointed tool at the bottom is not usually found on the commercial knives.  It is intended for puncturing food and ammunition cans, and for scraping carbon off difficult to reach areas of the assault rifle.

A close-up of the SIG P210, known as the A49 in Swiss military use.  Widely regarded as the best (and most costly) service pistol ever issued, and sought after by collectors and target shooters alike.  Note the design of the slide to frame fit, the slide runs inside the frame, a design feature not found on most other pistols, that contributes to the gun’s superb accuracy.  Pistols are given to officers in the Swiss military.

The current issue SIG P220, or A75 9mm pistol.  This gun was developed to replace the A49, which was simply too expensive to make.  The gun was the first to use the chamber wedge method of delayed blowback, which is exceptionally simple and cuts down greatly on the machining necessary to make the pistol.  This design feature has been widely copied, most notably by Glock and Ruger, two of the largest handgun makers in the world.  The P220 itself is a hugely successful design, over two million have been made of the different variations of it.  Another innovative design feature is the slide.  Most pistol slides are simply machined from a block of steel, but the slide of the P220 is made by shaping a piece of sheet metal over a mandrel, and then pinning a breechblock in place, greatly reducing the amount of machining necessary for production of the gun.  Most people will know of the P220 series as Mulder and Scully carry them in the X-files TV programme.

One of the most common things you will find in Swiss homes, the SIG 90 assault rifle.  The Swiss Army comprises 450,000 men who are given their service rifles and who have to complete a minimum of two weeks service each year, serving from the age of 18 until they are 50 (this age will be dropped to 45 soon).  After completing their service, the fully-automatic capability of the rifle is permanently disabled, and the rifle is given back to the former soldier who may keep it.  Soldiers are also issued a comprehensive cleaning kit, three 20-round magazines, and a “corn-beef can” of 50 rounds of 5.6mm ammunition, as well as a bayonet.  Swiss soldiers must practice their marksmanship regularly under the terms of the Obligatory Rifle Shooting Programme.  Switzerland has one of the highest rates of gun ownership in the world, yet maintains a remarkably low homicide and armed crime rate.

The current Swiss uniform and battle kit.

Swiss Army mobilisation during World War 2.  After some early border skirmishes with the Nazis, the Swiss did allow some German troop trains to cross their country into Italy, but later closed the border.  Although some skeptics believe Germany did not invade as Switzerland was a good place to hide their gold, the thought of attempting to cross the Alps and face the most heavily armed population on Earth at the time was probably a large factor in Hitler’s thinking as well.  Documents uncovered after the war indicated that the Nazis had intended to invade Switzerland.

If you would like to visit the museum, it is located south of the Morges exit from the N1 motorway, between Lausanne and Geneva.  Follow the road signs to Morges town centre, the museum is located at the Morges Chateau.  The museum is open every day from 1:30 pm to 5 pm, except over the Christmas period.  Opening hours are longer on most weekdays and during the summer.

“Shoot twice” – the caption on a Swiss postcard of 1914, depicting a Swiss militia man being asked by the Kaiser what the Swiss would do if he sent an army of half a million Germans against the quarter million Swiss Army.

Swiss Ammunition Enterprise

Recently I was lucky enough to have a tour of the manufacturing facilities and museum of the Swiss Ammunition Enterprise, known more commonly as RUAG.

The company is divided into two separate divisions, and I visited the small arms ammunition plant in Thun.

Unfortunately I couldn’t take pictures inside the plant, but I took plenty inside the museum!  The main product made at Thun is the Swiss Army service ammunition, namely 5.6mm Swiss, although it has essentially the same dimensions as 5.56mm NATO.  This is also called GP90 by the Swiss, meaning Gewehr Patrone 90.

First I thought I’d give you a rundown on their ammo.  Originally it was adopted in 1987 as a replacement for the aging 7.5mm GP11 round used both in the Schmidt-Rubin and the Sturmgewehr 57.  Unlike NATO, the Swiss adopted an ordinary lead core projectile for their ammo.  Originally it had a nickel alloy jacket, but this was changed in 1998 to an ordinary copper jacket as it was found that the nickel jacket was wearing out barrels on the Sturmgewehr 90 too quickly.  The picture illustrates both projectiles, on top of a GP90 ammo box:

The original nickel alloy plated bullet is shown between two of the later copper jacketed bullets.  Note that the earlier bullet has an exposed lead base, while the later design has a plug in the base.  This was done apparently due to environmental concerns.

Without the steel penetrator tip of the NATO round, I doubt this bullet is as effective in terms of penetration, but it is very accurate, probably the most accurate full metal jacket 5.56mm round made.  The Swiss also use a 1 in 10 inches twist in their service rifles, rather than the NATO twist of 1/7.  This means longer barrel life, as there is less friction in the slower twist rate.  There is a theory that it will also be more lethal from the lower twist rate but Martin Fackler I think has put that one to rest (makes a difference in internal and external ballistics, but not terminal ballistics, provided the twist rate is fast enough to stabilise the bullet in flight).  In any event, I don’t think anyone has been intentionally shot with GP90 on a battlefield yet!

Some people seem to think that GP90 has a steel core.  I’m not sure where this rumour started, but it doesn’t.  It is definitely lead core, I saw the cores in the factory!  The following picture shows two partially completed bullets:

On the left is the later copper/steel (called “tombac”) jacketed bullet and on the right is an earlier nickel alloy jacketed bullet.  You can see the exposed lead core inside each jacket.  The bullet itself weighs about 63 grains, which once again indicates it has a heavy core.

SM also makes all the cartridge cases.  These are very high quality, and have a distinctive headstamp:

On the right is a fired GP90 case, the headstamp is a “T” (for Thun) above the year of manufacture, in this case “94”.  On the left is a round of commercially sold ammunition, this has a “T” above the calibre designation of “.223”.

SM doesn’t sell the GP90 ammunition on the commercial market (except to special order), although surplus GP90 is sold all over Switzerland at local rifle ranges for target practice.  They do however have a wide range of ammunition available to the general public, which you can see on their website.  They make the Blaser line of ammunition for example.  I have purchased some of their target load, the Swiss P:

It comes in the same size box as the GP90, and is even on stripper clips for the Stgw 90!  It is essentially identical to GP90 but uses the Sierra Matchking bullet instead.  At the factory I was told that they have now developed their own .223 match bullet that is more accurate than the Matchking, this I will have to try!  Even so, this stuff is the most accurate factory .223 I have ever used, more accurate even than Federal Gold Medal, although I have to admit I haven’t shot enough of both to determine if that is simply a fluke or statistically accurate.

One point: if you have thumbs strong enough to load a Stgw 90 magazine using these stripper clips you must look like King Kong!

It’s difficult to describe the plant without pictures.  Mind-blowing is not too strong a description.  Everything is automated, from melting the lead into lead cores, shaping the bullet jackets and inserting the cores and closing the bases, forming the cartridge cases, waterproofing them, loading the primers, (I was particularly impressed with the machine that seals the primer in) to putting the powder in the case, loading the bullet, pushing the completed rounds into a rack where they are then pushed onto the stripper clips, and then loaded and sealed into boxes.

The machines that make the cartridge cases were very impressive too.  There is one machine that cuts brass discs out of a sheet of brass, and then bangs them into a cup shape.  Then there are two rows of machines joined together, each row of machines is about 100 metres in length.  Essentially at one end the brass cups are poured in, then they are hammered, cleaned, hammered, cleaned and so on until at the end the last machine shoots out completed cartridge cases!  I noticed that most of the machines were made by Manurhin.

SM also makes pistol ammunition for the Swiss Army, the Pistolen Patrone 41, that was originally used in the SIG P210 (A49) pistol and currently the SIG-Sauer P220 (A75) pistol:

This is sold commercially at pistol ranges in Switzerland.  It is very accurate but also very hot, so it is not that suitable for target shooting.  Like the rifle ammunition, it used to be made with a nickel alloy jacket, but now it is copper jacketed.  It is fairly standard 124gr. FMJ, nothing to get excited about really.  Headstamps are the same as for the GP90 rifle round.  It comes in 24-round boxes, which is quite unusual, enough for three magazines worth.

Each member of the Swiss Army is issued a Stgw 90 to keep at home together with a single box of GP90 ammunition that is kept in a sealed can similar to a can of corned beef.

And onto the museum!  Unfortunately some of the best photos I took seem to have disappeared out of my camera, as they had two Stgw 90 PEs (the semi-auto version sold in gun shops) set up in the corner of the museum that I took pictures of with a novel CO2 conversion kit for indoor practice (made by a company called Waffen Furter in Olten).  More noteworthy than that were the serial numbers on the rifles: #000001 and #000002!

Given that there are a fair few photos I’ve decided to do hyperlinks to them:

A Vetterli 10.5mm bolt-action rifle, the first bolt-action rifle adopted by any Army, together with ammunition.

A selection of .22 rimfire ammunition made by SM in the past together with a SIG P210 fitted with a .22 conversion kit.

A prototype SIG SG541 assault rifle in 6.45mm NSK, the round nearly adopted instead of 5.56mm.

Not a very good picture of some Swiss service pistols.  Note the sardine can of 9mm ammunition issued to Swiss Army officers.

Boxes of various types of 5.6 ammunition, including tracer and drill.  Note the ammo can for GP90 ammunition, rarely seen.  These are all pre-production samples.

Anti-tank munitions and shaped charges made by SM.  One of SM’s specialties is making shaped charges, they hold several patents on the method of production.

Another main product for SM are hand grenades, the British Army having entered into a large contract to buy them.

Shots of various Swiss Ordnance Lugers, the Swiss were the first to adopt the Luger in 1900.  I think this is a pretty good selection of them, the Swiss using three or four distinct types up until the adoption of the SIG P210 in 1949.  Here’s another shot.

More serious ordnance, anti-tank missiles.

Plates showing penetration of the GP90 round (I think, not sure).  The top one is obviously a bit harder steel but it’s pretty serious thickness.  Note the sardine can of GP90 ammunition on the right, this is found in many Swiss homes!  The box below with the red “B” is blank ammunition.

A prototype Stgw 90, you can just about make out the different method of holding the stock closed as compared with the production model.  On the prototype the stock was locked in the closed position by clipping onto the end of the front receiver pivot pin.  If you look at the boxes of ammunition in the case, you will see the one at the front right has a diagonal stripe on it, this is tracer ammunition.

A picture of some pretty rare SMGs, including some prototypes.  The Swiss were never too keen on SMGs because it runs contrary to their philosophy of the individual marksman.  I think they were relieved when the Nazis invented the assault rifle!  Unfortunately I took a picture of an extremely rare FN FAL made in 7.5x55mm Swiss with an odd curved magazine but it didn’t come out.

My great thanks to M. Frutiger and the staff of SM for their hospitality during the visit!


Coming to their senses, a bit too late

The Minister for Defence has recently been quoted in the press as saying that the SA80 will be replaced in 2006, “two years earlier” than the planned replacement date of 2008 – in fact according to the MoD, it was due to be replaced in 2020.

This change of heart has come about due to faults reported with the new A2 version in Afghanistan, mainly that it doesn’t work properly at high altitude or in dusty environments.  In reality I suspect the torrent of abuse hurled at the MoD by the press about the latest defects in the weapon has finally kept the bureaucrats up one night too often, and they want their headaches to cease.

2006 is the planned date for the end of the upgrade programme currently underway; what this means in essence is that shortly after arriving back from Germany our upgraded SA80s will be chopped up and sold off as scrap!  What an incredible waste of taxpayer money, and it could all have been avoided if they had instead decided on replacing the SA80 last year, instead of this year.

The problems will also be compounded by what seems an almost inevitable conflict with Iraq in the near future; once again, British soldiers will be fighting in the Iraqi desert armed with substandard small arms.  The only bright spot on the horizon is that the issue of the Diemaco C8 Special Forces Weapon (the L119A1) is underway to the special forces, equipped also with the Heckler and Koch AG36 (L17A1) grenade launcher.

Heckler & Koch must be laughing themselves silly as they are the prime contenders to supply the replacement weapon in 2006 (the G36), although FN with the F2000 and Diemaco also have a chance of being chosen.  (Diemaco especially, if more of their guns have to be acquired for use in a war with Iraq).

(Postscript: after I wrote this, the MoD announced they would be keeping the SA80 after all, despite the fact the Minister of Defence apparently doesn’t like it, click here.)


Shooters in France were extremely lucky; the planned legislation that would have banned a great many guns failed to win consent due to a procedural matter that could not be resolved before Prime Minister Jospin had to leave office.  The decree had to be considered by the Sports Committee, who would have certainly rubber-stamped it, but because they could not meet on a Sunday, the decree could not be signed by the next day, the day the Government was dissolved.

The new right of centre Government in France is taking a different approach.  Instead of calling for guns to be banned they have instead indicated that they plan to completely overhaul the licensing system for firearms, bringing many types of firearm that are currently not licensed within a new licensing system, to replace the archaic one that has existed since 1939.  They have been given motivation by the attempted assassination of President Chirac, by a man armed with a .22 target rifle of a type that is not licensed currently (although the purchaser must have taken a competence test first).

Shooters in Germany were also lucky, after the shootings in Erfurt things looked very grim, however a new gun law that had already passed the lower House the same day of the shootings was amended to increase the age limit for the grant of a license for a handgun to 21; to introduce a requirement that an applicant for a license provide information from their doctor that they are not mentally ill; and also a ban on shotguns with pistol grips was included.  This last one sounds worse than it is, as many German states already interpreted the current law as banning them.  The main problem for shooters in Germany are the restrictive provisions in the new gun law that existed prior to the shootings at Erfurt.

Northern Ireland

Finally, after years of waiting, the Northern Ireland Office have released a draft of the new Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order, which you should read in conjunction with the explanatory document.

Essentially the Order incorporates some of the changes in the licensing procedure introduced by the 1997 Act in Great Britain (but handguns and expanding ammunition are still legal); exempts airsoft guns and deactivated firearm from licensing (with some wrinkles that need addressing); moves appeals to county courts (previously heard by the Secretary of State) and contains some fairly weird provisions that need to be removed, such as the redefinition of a firearm component to include “any magazine” and also the extension of ballistic testing to air guns and shotguns.

The explanatory document doesn’t even mention the change in the definition of a firearm component, even though in my opinion it’s the biggest change in the law.  Many collectors of magazines will run afoul of this requirement, it will require the variation of at least 10,000 firearm certificates and it also completely defeats the idea of removing deactivated firearms from licensing control, because anyone will be able to buy a magazine by buying a deactivated firearm!

Other major changes include the idea of a competence test performed by a dealer, which contains so many problems it’s difficult to tackle here, the main ones being that many dealers simply aren’t competent to give safety testing, don’t have the time to do it and do not have a suitable firearm to give the test on!

Another problem is the new visitor permit requirements that are copied from the law in Great Britain but won’t work properly in Northern Ireland because of the large numbers of visiting shooters from Ireland.

Many shooting organisations have already pointed out that the age limits in the draft Order are extremely restrictive, it will be completely illegal for anyone under the age of 16 to even touch a firearm, other than a deactivated firearm or an airsoft gun!

If you live in Northern Ireland I suggest you make a submission – the contact details are in the explanatory document.

Armed Pilots

Legislation in the United States that will allow a test programme whereby up to 1,400 commercial pilots can be trained and then carry handguns in the cockpit of their aircraft seems certain to become law in the near future.  It has cleared both Houses of Congress with substantial majorities, and is supported by the Administration.

What is still unclear, as I posed last October, is how this will work when a US pilot flies into foreign airspace, and more importantly from the American perspective, how this will dissuade hijackers of an Air France or British Airways aircraft, whose pilots will still be unarmed, and whose planes can still be crashed into a US skyscraper.

The Home Office have provided me with one answer – they will grant authority for airlines to have firearms in the cockpit, however this raises more questions than it answers, because pilots themselves cannot get that authority and it appears to me as though the pilots will be armed with their own personal firearms, not firearms owned by the airlines.

I’ll be interested to see how they figure this one out!

The March

Don’t forget the Countryside Alliance march on the 22nd!

“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.” – Walter Winans, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p.219, 1901

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.

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!