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.