Another General Election is upon us, and frankly I have yet to recover from the last one. Shooters lost a great deal in terms of our freedoms prior to the last election.
Unfortunately, there is very little chance of a change of Government, and even if there were, the likely replacements, the Conservatives, are what got us in this mess to begin with, with laws like the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1988 and 1997.
Labour has undertaken to bring forth a consolidating Firearms Act sometime in the next Parliament, that in itself is welcome, however, it is a sure bet that the Bill will contain various other provisions not currently in law, such as tighter controls on shotguns.
So how do shooters decide who to vote for, given that in many areas, both main candidates are anti-gun or at best don’t care about the issue?
The first thing to realise is that your vote does count. The recent fiasco in the United States illustrated that clearly. If shooters vote en bloc they can facilitate change, but once again, who do we vote for?
The dynamics of this election are a lot more complex than the general media appears to realise. There is a real battle going on here, but it’s not between Labour and the tories, it’s between Labour and “New Labour” as Blair likes to term the party nowadays. New Labour forms an identifiable chunk of the Labour party, and in most cases, the MPs who represent that chunk are in far more marginal seats than most of the rest of the party. This is because many of them have been elected in seats that were formerly under the control of the tories. It is these seats that Tony Blair is keen to keep in Labour hands, and it is these seats that are the most vulnerable. If these seats were to be lost, the Labour Government would survive, but there is a real chance it would veer off to the left.
This would make Labour less popular, but it would also make them more anti-gun, probably. It’s a bit of a conundrum to know what to do.
My personal view remains the same now as it did in 1997. Forget about who leads what party, forget in fact what party your candidates represent. Talk to the candidates from the main parties in your area, and figure out which one is the most pro-gun. If none of them are, attempt to convince them. Then vote for the best one.
Unlike in the US, there is no party where pro-shooting philosophies can be clearly identified. The UK Independence Party sometimes makes such noises, but sometimes it makes anti-gun noises, and in any event they stand little chance of gaining real power.
Also, unlike in the US, the power to make gun laws rests almost entirely in Parliament. Local politicians can do very little about it, the worst they can do is to prevent planning permission being given to shooting ranges or gun shops.
You have to vote carefully, to make a long story short. Many shooters seem to think that voting tory is the only real option, it’s not, and it is a serious error to think this in my opinion. The tories have never had a minister as pro-shooting as the current Minister for Sport, Kate Hoey MP, for example.
Certainly a narrowing of the massive Labour majority in the Commons will benefit shooters though, because the smaller their majority the harder it will be for them to get anything extreme through. Unfortunately, until we can convince the tories of the error of their ways, gridlock is the best option in the “big” picture as it’s called. Achieving that though I think is difficult.
So remember to vote, but be careful who you vote for, and be sure you talk to the candidates in your constituency before you vote. It is easy to do, they will soon be assailing you with hotlines you can call, knocking on your door etc., take the time and make the effort.
The future of target shooting
I have been inspired to write on this subject by a recent article in Target Sports magazine by Richard Munday, who is a well-known and respected member of the shooting community, in addition to being President of the British Alpine Rifles.
Richard in his article bemoans the lack of attendance of the events at the Imperial Meeting at Bisley in the short-range (gallery rifle etc.) events, and suggests alterations to them and new events to encourage attendance.
I think Richard has the right idea, but as I have mentioned to him before, I think we are barking up the wrong tree. The events at Bisley and a lot of other places are in essence the old course of pistol fire adapted to gallery rifles (for those of you who don’t know, these are .22 rimfire or pistol calibre rifles such as the Winchester M1894 or Ruger 10/22). I personally think it is a serious error to even attempt to adapt these courses of fire for gallery rifles. It makes some sense for muzzle-loading pistols that are still legal and air pistols, but not for rifles.
The problem I perceive is that the old pistol courses of fire where in decline long before the handgun ban anyway. ISSF disciplines have grown ever more esoteric and the events ever more poorly attended. Even when I go to events that are supposedly to ISSF rules now, most of the equipment used is not to ISSF rules or if it is, totally outside the bounds of anything remotely competitive in ISSF competitions.
For example, at the Imperial Meeting, most of the 300m events can be shot with Target Rifles, which are not to ISSF rules. Pistol competitions I go to in mainland Europe feature mainly customised 9mm pistols, similar to the SIG-Sauer P226 Sport reviewed on this site, rather than the high-end .22 pistols you see at the Olympics and ISSF championships (you do see them, but only about 20% of shooters have them).
10m air pistol for example is an ISSF event, one would expect with the handgun ban that it would have become massively more popular, but no, most people seem to have gravitated to rifle sports or they have adapted the ISSF 25m courses of fire for use with multi-shot air pistols!
Frankly, the courses of fire are simply ultra-dull, they weren’t too exciting with centrefire pistols, even less exciting with .22 pistols, and coma inducing with gallery rifles.
This is not to say they cannot be challenging, but the reality is that with a rifle at 25m the margin of victory is usually only a few points (especially with the ISSF pistol targets). For a typical club shooter to be able to put up nearly a perfect score without too much practice underlines how dull it is. Richard even makes the point himself in his article, with a picture of himself with a perfect score on a duelling course of fire. Could he have done that with a pistol, I wonder?
Certainly some of the new shooters at my local club do find it interesting, but most GR shooters were originally pistol shooters, and while ISSF disciplines adapted to rifles can be made artificially more difficult with smaller bullseyes, tighter time limits and so on, I think it a rather pointless exercise. There is little point in adapting declining disciplines to try to appeal to equipment that makes them relatively unchallenging when compared to the pistol equivalent.
A different approach
My personal view is that clubs like Wrexham R&PC have got a better idea.
Wrexham have adapted the Sportsman’s Team Challenge from the US for gallery rifle competition. The Team Challenge has three stages in which steel plates on racks must be knocked down. .22 rifles are used in two of the stages, and it is this that Wrexham have picked up on. Several other clubs are also taking a similar approach.
This to my mind is vastly more interesting, for various reasons. It’s challenging, and perhaps more importantly, it carries more prestige to win it. Knowing that people around the world shoot the discipline make it seem more worthwhile, which is not the case with pseudo-ISSF style disciplines adapted to pistol-calibre rifles, which are only shot in this country by a relatively small number of people.
Another alternative are the Bianchi Cup-style events, also more interesting than the events put on at the Imperial, but these are few and far between.
Yet another alternative came to my attention recently, and that is IPSC rifle. Many people will be familiar with practical shotgun and pistol events, IPSC rifle is basically practical pistol with a rifle, at longer ranges. The Practical Rifle League in this country has for many years dominated practical rifle, but PRL events are similar to service rifle, IPSC is a different kettle of fish.
Much to my surprise I discovered that IPSC rifle actually requires in Standard Division the use of manually-operated rifles. I suspect most people like myself assumed everyone used centrefire semi-auto rifles. They are banned in the UK, so obviously international competitions would have been out of the question if everyone used semi-autos – but they don’t.
The main problem with IPSC rifle is finding a suitable range to do it on, but you can use gallery rifles within the terms of the rules (or the more powerful ones at least), so this is an interesting option for the former pistol shooter I feel, something worth looking into at any rate.
Doubtless there are other options, but ISSF duelling and precision with pistol-calibre rifles is like trying to flog a dead horse in my opinion, and in talking to other shooters it is a widely held view. Sorry, Richard. If it had anything going for it the current ISSF .22 rifle disciplines would have been taken up in greater numbers, but this has not happened, as my local club with its 50m range set up for ISSF .22 disciplines that no-one wants to shoot can attest to!
Time to innovate.
“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.” – Walter Winans, “The Art of Revolver Shooting”, p. 125, published 1901.