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