‘Happy New Year to all! There are lots of good things to look forward to this year and, let’s face it, a fair share of things to dread as well. You might think the government has enough on its plate to deal (or not deal) with over the coming months. Will the gun trade escape lightly this year I wonder? I suspect not. At least not while counter-terrorism and security are still hot topics within the EU – a subject where our national input is still valued. Every scrap of EU political collateral will count this year.
Over recent years we have seen a steady and sustained programme of technical changes, restrictions and bans that have affected shooters and, more particularly, the gun trade itself. Our already strict gun laws have become tighter and tighter and it rather begs the question when and where the next set of proposals will come from and what they will seek to achieve – whether in the name of counter-terrorism, crime fighting or some other (apparent) public cause.
We’ve already seen what happened in Wales. Where will it head from there? The ‘sublime’ has been given all the appropriate attention it deserves and, it is fair to say, some changes arguably do make sense. That is despite the adverse consequences those changes may have had – but please don’t ask me to quote examples, I am merely trying to be balanced. So with the sublime dealt with, that just leaves… well, the ridiculous to address.
The desire to keep the momentum of change grinding ever onwards provides plenty of fertile territory for further gun-related reform to suit practically any persuasion or political agenda. Can it be stopped before the ridiculous truly starts to become the reality? Let’s pause for a moment and consider the truly ridiculous: the end game of where things could end up if no one actually makes a stand. I invite you to consider an alternative existence where common sense and ethical behaviour give way to a Pythonesque way of life where the only resistance to authority is an ineffective People’s Front,whereas those with political aspirations and power flirt with ideas on how to make things even more difficult for those who are scraping a modest living.
Imagine, if you will, a (fictional) meeting between members of an aspiring shooting organisation, lets call them the Shooting Front of Judea – not to be confused with the Judean Shooting Front – where the debate turns to the most recent proposals to change the gun laws:
Brian: “So what do we say about the government’s latest proposal to ban the manufacture, sale, possession, transfer and importation of all metal-based .22 and.177 pellets? The proposed new legal requirement is that all airgun ammunition must be made from a new 100 per cent bio-degradable and ethically sourced material called wood?”
Reg: “Hang on… Won’t that render all airguns completely useless?”
Loretta: “Well, it’s true that a number of our key stakeholders have called this new proposal an offence to common sense. In reality, however, there is no contemporary technical evidence in the public domain to suggest that air rifles themselves will be directly affected by the introduction of wooden pellets.
“We’d need to spend around 50 grand on a full report and then generate a major leaflet campaign to raise awareness of the issue for our members.”
Brian: “Didn’t the Chancellor just release an extra £60 million for tree planting? That’ll mean the government will be subsidising the new pellet material within the life of the next parliament when the new tree stock has grown.”
Loretta: “We will also have the most environmentally friendly airgun laws in the world.”
Reg: “What are we going to do? We’ve got to get up off our arses and stop talking about this!”
All: “Hear! hear!”
Brian: “I agree. It’s action that counts. We need action now!”
All: “Hear! Hear!”
Reg: “We could sit around here all day talking, passing resolutions and making speeches. It’s not going to stop airgun pellets being made from wood is it?”
Loretta: “New motion?”
Reg: “Yes! Mr Chairperson, I propose that we take immediate action… to commission an expensive report and… erm… embark on our most aggressive leaflet campaign ever.”
Brian: “Once the vote has been taken?”
Reg: “Well, obviously once the vote’s been taken. You can’t act on a motion until you’ve voted on it…”
Brian: “All those in favour?…”
I must, of course, point out that the above is fiction, no offence being intended and certainly no comparison is intended with any person – alive or, erm, dead.
Nonetheless, despite the frivolous nature of my example there is a serious point to be made. At what point, in legal terms, does the line become drawn? Where does the continual effort to restrict, manipulate or change our gun laws have to stop before the ridiculous becomes a reality. More to the point, how can it be stopped and by whom?
The “by whom” aspect is perhaps the easiest because it is you… all of you in fact. The “how” is the much more difficult nettle to grasp and that is where the process of judicial review comes into play.
Judicial review is the process by which the courts review the lawfulness of a decision or action taken by a public body. They are a challenge to the way in which a decision has been made, rather than the rights and wrongs of the conclusion reached. The court adopts a more supervisory role to ensure fair play. More commonly they are used in human rights cases but the range is pretty diverse and can include planning matters, decisions of regulatory bodies as well as arbitrary decisions taken by Ministers apparently “on the fly”.
In litigation terms, judicial review is a grossly under-used tool. In 2017 only around 4,200 applications were made for judicial review, which, compared with the millions of court proceedings issued and the multitude of decisions which emanate from our public bodies, is miniscule. However, JRs are useful where, as in the above example, the proper processes have not been followed, such as an arbitrary decision by a public body without adequate information or consultation of other parties (or “stakeholders” to use the current parlance).
Admittedly, judicial reviews are not for the faint-hearted because they require swift action to be taken within relatively strict timescales. However, a serious and properly reasoned threat of one can often be sufficient to force a U-turn on a decision or at least delay its implementation. In the context of shooting and the gun trade as a whole, invoking judicial review requires a co-ordinated and collegiate approach – not least because they cost money.
It should not, in my respectful view, be left to the auspices of one or two better resourced organisations to utilise their income to bring legal challenges off their own bat. The limits on resource create far too much need and pressure to pick or choose a fight based on matters that are more of national rather than regional (or even sector) significance.
The protection of our shooting heritage, diversity, trade and way of life requires support from everyone involved in all aspects of it and, as a consequence, a properly resourced, managed and independent force is the best way to see it through. It can be done. The alternative, I suppose, is to keep going in hard and fast with leaflet campaigns and petitions. How ridiculous and flaccid is that beginning to sound in this day and age? ‘