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