GTA’s Simon West on lockdown and Brexit

Simon West, head of the Gun Trade Association, argues that we must use any time afforded us by lockdown to get our ducks in a row, or else we risk losing any progress made by a successful Brexit.

Our own Mat Manning is just one of an estimated four million owners of air rifles in the UK, yet where are their voices when legislation change is planned?

It’s easy with the Covid-19 challenge to forget that we face other challenges too. Lockdown does nobody any favours but we must exploit the time available to defend shooting. We only have a month to engage with the Government consultation on Firearms Safety. 

Traditionally we have missed the opportunity to represent ourselves properly. As I mentioned last month, on the last consultation the shooting community submitted 1,600 emails to defend airguns from licensing.

At the same time a Cats Protection campaign generated 52,000 emails requesting licensing and a petition with 200,000 signatures followed. With over four million households reported to own airguns, I feel we need to better represent ourselves.

To that end, along with other shooting organisations at the British Shooting Sports Council, we have pulled together the lines we want to take in responding to the Government’s questions. Using those lines, the GTA has produced an easy way for the trade­—and our customers—to respond.

You can complete the full questionnaire at www.gov.uk/government/consultations/firearms-safety or simply download the community response document from www.gtaltd.co.uk and email it directly to the Home Office—then tell your staff and customers to do the same. We need numbers!

Brexit

Well, after all the uncertainty, we got a trade agreement. Before Christmas we were looking at the potential of trading challenges with tariffs on imported goods; now that’s disappeared but it’s still a new trading environment for both importing and exporting goods. 

The European playing field is still level but in new ways. VAT for exports is no longer charged for goods going to the EU—but your customers there will still pay the equivalent as part of their import duty. Likewise for imports, where your customs declarations will generate VAT bills.

There will also be a potential advantage for sales to European customers who can now benefit from VAT-free purchases under the ‘duty-free’ system. The old ‘VAT Retail Export Scheme’ has finished, where the customer submitted forms at the airport.

Now, they can buy from you without VAT being paid and have their purchases delivered to their home address–as long as it’s for personal use. Details are also available from the GTA.

Now that we have escaped controls from Brussels, we can at least celebrate the benefit of not being caught up in the recent ban of lead shot over wetlands that had been a threat to lots of quite normal shooting in the UK. It will come into force in Europe but not here.

I still have concerns about the potential future European bans on lead under REACH. We now have UK REACH, which starts in alignment with all the EU controls and is essential for a lot of the trade between the UK and the continent. 

If Europe decides lead is a controlled substance as a ‘substance of very high concern’, we may face challenges of justifying divergence. But we shall wait to see how that plays out! 

Pandemic

And so, back to Covid. We face huge, short-term challenges with shooting seasons curtailed and non-essential retail having to close its doors. That said, we are lucky this time to be able to continue the ‘click and collect’ services.

We are also lucky that we have a committed customer base for whom shooting is an important part of their lives. Few will wander in just a few months. They have invested in guns, cabinets, clothing, 4x4s and will be desperate to get back to what they love. 

All our marketing and communications should concentrate on keeping in touch and reinforcing the desire for new kit and to be back out there, shooting better than ever. 

The vaccines give us the light at the end of the tunnel. Hopefully, restrictions will have relaxed in time for us to meet our customers face-to-face at the shooting shows and game fairs coming in the late spring and summer. 

As families dream of when things return to normal, let’s ensure that visits to The Game Fair at Ragley 23-25 July as well as all the smaller shooting events are part of those ambitions. We as a trade need to be ready to support all those events—national and local—as soon as the opportunities appear. 

GTA 130

Finally, another date for your diaries. On Tuesday 28 September we have provisionally booked a 130th birthday celebration for the GTA at Bisley. The day will feature a trade conference in the morning, an afternoon on the ranges and then a thoroughly deserved BBQ in the evening.

It’s time we all had a chance to get together in a trade-only environment to talk, learn and enjoy each other’s company. I hope to see you there! 


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