Ministers say they’re ‘listening’ on key issues, from fifty-cals to Commonwealth Games – but will it make a difference?
Shooting stands a chance of scoring two major political victories on both the Commonwealth Games 2022 and the Offensive Weapons Bill, if politicians’ words are to be believed.
The government has pledged its support for restoring shooting to the line-up of the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham, and to listen to shooters’ pleas on the prohibition of .50 rifles, as tabled in the Offensive Weapons Bill.
But both statements of support came with qualifications, and it’s unclear whether they will translate to action and concrete results.
Pro-shooting MPs secured a Westminster debate on the possibility of adding shooting to the 2022 Commonwealth Games, with Bisley the likely venue. At this debate, the opinions expressed were overwhelmingly in favour of including shooting in the programme.
Alister Jack MP said: “The organisers of Birmingham 2022 have opted to include table tennis, for which England has only ever won 15 medals. That pales in comparison with the 168 medals won for shooting. They have also opted
for 3×3 basketball, which is a novelty in the Commonwealth games. I think shooting is a more important sport.
“I concede that Bisley is not in tip-top condition, but the venue remains fully operational and would require only light modernisation to bring it up to scratch. With 95 per cent of the competition venues already in place, minor refurbishment of the Bisley shooting ground would not add an unfeasible workload to the games organisers.”
And Mark Garnier added: “The notion that Bisley is too far away is simply nonsensical. It was upgraded for the Commonwealth games a number of years ago and is a perfect, ready- made and ready-prepared venue for these events. In addition to the fact that we have lots of medal opportunities in shooting, it is a totally egalitarian sport. People with disabilities, and people of different genders and abilities can compete on the same basis; there is no better sport to demonstrate that.”
Tracey Crouch, the Under-Secretary for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport, expressed agreement but warned the final decision was out of her hands: “This is clearly a matter that invokes much passion… I am happy to confirm right at the outset that both the Secretary of State and I support the request for the Birmingham games to include shooting.
“Hosting the games is a significant undertaking that, despite presenting enormous opportunities for Birmingham and the UK, must be done within the requirements of the Commonwealth Games Federation and in a pragmatic way. As custodians of public funds, we must recognise that any changes to the sport programme agreed by games partners will have a financial implication.
“There are logistical and cost challenges. They are not necessarily ones that we cannot overcome, and both Members are right to place their points on the record, to ensure that anyone reading this debate, particularly from the Commonwealth Games Federation, understands that there is a real desire to support everybody in overcoming the challenges.
“The decision is beyond our remit, and we have an enormous challenge in that Birmingham was awarded the games with just four and a half years to deliver, rather than the usual seven years.”
Numerous shooting organisations, including British Shooting, the NRA and the Countryside Alliance, quickly went on record to express their support for plans to add shooting to the Commonwealth line-up. However, so far the only response from Birmingham 2022 – whose full delivery team is not yet in place – said: “Any changes to the agreed sports programme, such as the addition of shooting or indeed any other optional sport or discipline as defined in the CGF constitution, would need to be scoped, costed and agreed by the Games Partners, before being recommended for approval to the CGF.”
.50 cal furore
On the same day as the Commonwealth debate, the new Offensive Weapons Bill received its second reading in Parliament, just a week after its first. Though some of the most damaging proposals relating to the online sale of knives had been removed, a controversial proposal to move all weapons that have a muzzle energy greater than 13,600 joules to Section 5 – effectively banning all .50 calibre rifles – remains.
The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, introduced the debate by saying: “The Bill does make some changes in relation to high-energy rifles and other such weapons. We based those measures on evidence that we received from intelligence sources, police and other security experts. That said, I know that my… colleagues have expertise, and evidence that they too wish to provide… I am ready to listen to them, and to set their evidence against the evidence that we have received.”
Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, the Chair of the all- party parliamentary group on shooting, said: “Instances of such weapons being likely to fall into the wrong hands are incredibly rare. Even if they did, they are most unlikely ever to be used by a criminal, as I shall try to persuade the House. They are as long as the span of my arms and incredibly heavy and bulky. They demand a great deal of effort between shots. They are simply not the criminal’s weapon of choice.
“The proposals in the Bill are disproportionate. They are unworkable, because they are very easy to get around. They target some of the most law- abiding people in the country and they will not make this country any safer.”
Victoria Atkins, representing the Home Office, said she would not commit to any changes to the Bill at the time, but said “we are in listening mode” and would fully consult all stakeholders before proceeding.
The Bill now goes to a public bill committee for scrutiny. The committee is expected to report back by 13 September.