Keep politics out of shooting? No chance. James Marchington says we’ll get dragged into electioneering one way or another, so we’d better be ready for it
It would be nice to think we could keep politics out of shooting. Surely politicians have no business interfering in whether Scroggins the keeper can shoot a stoat in his rearing pen, and whether he does it with a .410 or a .375 H&H Magnum? Arguably, they don’t – after all, there are very few politicians who could tell a stoat from a weasel or a pre-charged pneumatic from an AK47. But ignorance is no obstacle to having an opinion, and politicians are famously able express a view on every subject under the sun.
With Scotland’s independence referendum and the general election looming ever closer, shooting will no doubt get caught up in the political debate. Indeed, it already has. UKIP leader Nigel Farage has raised the prospect of lifting the handgun ban. After his party’s success in the European elections, he spoke out on LBC Radio, calling the ban “ludicrous” and stating it was UKIP policy to license handguns as we do shotguns and rifles.
“Proper gun licensing is something we have done in this country responsibly and well,” he added. “I think the knee-jerk legislation Blair brought in that meant that the British Olympic pistol team have to go to France to practise is just crackers.”
Most shooters will raise a pint to that, but Farage went perhaps a step too far when he continued by paraphrasing the US gun rights argument: “If you criminalise handguns then only the criminals carry the guns.” Nice try Nigel, but we don’t want to carry pistols for self-defence here in the UK.
Predictably, everyone else that journalists spoke to said Farage’s idea was completely bonkers and would lead to more criminals with more guns. Keith Vaz, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, told the Telegraph: “The logical consequence of relaxing gun laws, as suggested by Mr Farage, is an increase in gun use which should be discouraged rather than encouraged.” I guess Vaz is not a big fan of National Shooting Week, then.
The campaign to license airguns in Scotland has been in the news too. It seems that democracy only applies when ‘the people’ provide the answer that politicians want; despite a consultation showing 87 per cent against airgun licensing, the Scottish government is pushing ahead anyway.
But if the politicians themselves don’t bring up the subject of guns and shooting, the antis will make sure it’s thrust upon them. A generation or two ago, any self-respecting green activists would chain themselves to a tree or sabotage a bulldozer. Nowadays, they can get the same smug self-satisfied glow from the comfort of their armchairs, just by signing an online petition or two. Their sheer numbers can then be waved in front of politicians to demonstrate a surge of public opinion against whatever it happens to be.
Rabble-rousers like former RSPB conservation director Mark Avery play the game well. It’s hard to escape the impression that they put the cart before the horse, looking at ways they can attack shooting through legislation, then dreaming up a valid-sounding argument to campaign for that legislation – lead shot would be a case in point.
At least George Monbiot, writing in the Guardian, is honest about his hatred of the rich, whom he equates with shooting of all types: “While the poor are being forced out of their homes through government cuts, it is raising the payments… that some owners use to burn and cut the land (helping to cause floods downstream), shoot or poison hen harriers and other predators, and scar the hills with roads and shooting butts,” he wrote. “While the rest of us can go to the devil, the interests of the very rich are ringfenced.”
Are voters really that stupid? Do they honestly see us as Elmer Fudd-type characters, stomping around the countryside, blowing every living thing to bits? Well, after watching Springwatch, the BBC’s advertisement for the RSPB, I’m worried. Programmes like this perpetuate the myth that nature lives in some harmonious balance, which is thrown out of kilter whenever some Tory-voting toff blasts a bird out of the sky “for fun”. More dangerously, they strengthen the idea that there are conservationists on one side versus blood sports fanatics on the other.
The very name of our largest shooting organisation, suggesting that Shooting and Conservation are the same thing, raises a hollow laugh from the average urban voter. This is not a battle we’re losing; it’s already lost, and goodness knows if we could ever win back that ground.
The sad fact is that to a great many left-leaning voters, “shooter” equates to “rich arrogant toff who needs a swift kick in the trousers”. Which is why, as the battle for voters’ hearts and minds plays out over the coming months, I expect to see several attacks on shooting coming from left of centre, claiming to be for the benefit of the environment or public safety, but actually playing on public prejudice against shooting stereotypes.
I was encouraged to see that BASC had created a website for the 2014 European election, so shooters could check their candidates’ views on the sport. That’s a massive step towards reminding politicians that there are a lot of shooters among the electorate, and shooting is one of their priorities in deciding their votes. I’m sure BASC will be doing the same for the 2015 general election, and I trust readers of this magazine will make full use of it.