James Reynolds is someone worth keeping an eye on. He was the orchestrator of an online campaign to lobby WH Smith into overturning its policy of refusing the sale of certain shooting magazines to under-14s. His efforts, which saw 12,000 people sign his e-petition, became the focal point for the campaign and bore fruit when WH Smith quietly removed the policy. BASC recognised James’s efforts and awarded him the Ian Richardson trophy for his work.
More than this, though, he’s a personable, well-spoken and responsible member of the shooting community – who, at the age of 18, can be seen as something of a poster boy for the shooting world. He embodies attributes that the shooting world could be accused of lacking. As a young, modern, media-savvy, politically active shooter who came into the sport from a non-shooting background, James Reynolds is the very face of shooting that we need to present to the mainstream.
James’ route into shooting may seem atypical – his interest was piqued after he gave up vegetarianism and wanted to provide his own meat for the table – but he followed a welltrodden path of beating at a local shoot, plinking in his garden with a family air pistol and earning his first ‘proper’ air rifle by engaging with shooters in his area. At 15 he applied for his shotgun certificate, too, allowing him on guest days at the shoot he beats for.
It was this background that meant when he saw WH Smith blocking the sale of shooting magazines to under-14s, he felt compelled to act. “When I saw it affected those under 14, I saw myself as a 12-year-old trying to get into shooting,” said James. “As I came from a nonshooting family, magazines played a big part in helping me learn gun safety and by giving me technical advice. There is one surefire way to see an end to shooting in the UK, and that’s to stop people getting involved. In my view, part of being a responsible firearms user has to be protecting the sport for the future.”
This barrier to entry to the shooting world had spurred James into action, yet he was the first to take to the internet for his campaign. I asked him if he was surprised that there wasn’t a co-ordinated response before his campaign. “A little, but then again it’s a policy that outraged many but affected relatively few. It didn’t directly affect adults, which is why I suppose many were outraged but didn’t move to work against it. It would have taken an extremely confident 12- or 14-year-old to stand up against the policy as a child in the corporate world of WH Smith and gain the support of the shooting community.”
James’ stance put him at the forefront of movement against WH Smith and he saw many sides to the shooting community at work: “I learned that there are a lot of young people, in similar positions to me, trying to find a way to get into shooting. These young people often had huge zeal and enthusiasm to support and defend a sport they couldn’t even take part in owing to various situations.”
But the reaction from certain sectors wasn’t always as enthusiastic. “There were plenty of older people who showed willing to genuinely do things for the campaign,” said James, “but unfortunately there were those who I call ‘obstructionalists’, in that no matter what the debate is, their forlorn attitudes served to diminish enthusiasm within the community. I am glad through the WHSmith’s campaign we have been able to show the influence we can have when we stand together.”
The result of the community standing together was a 12,000-strong petition – and it was enough to get the policy over turned following some lobbying from other sectors – but it wasn’t enough for James. “12,000 signatures was good, but when we consider that this is only one tenth of the BASC membership and probably only 1 per cent of the shooting community on the whole, it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s still not great. When only 1 per cent of shooters will sign an online petition, and even fewer write a letter or an email, you can see the levels of apathy in the community that we have.”
It’s apathy that’s James’s main concern, and he’s looking to build on the momentum he’s been able to gain through this first taste of social activism. “I have been involved in creating a website called ‘Firearms UK’, which has been set up to represent the shooting community with a focus on campaigns. Through this website we aim to make it as easy as possible for people to make direct action in support of campaigns, such as through releasing resources such as stock letters that people can send to their gun shops and MPs. This is something I strongly believe in as I feel it has the capacity to promote greater pro-activity within the shooting community, which is something I would like to see within my lifetime.”
This has been James’ first experience of the macro-shooting world. The vast network of organisations, traders, distributors and customers that we are all a part of and who – some of at least – took part in James’ campaign. What are his impressions of the whole thing? “I have a very positive impression. From my experience the shooting community shows you the best in people.”