Simon West on protecting shooting

There’s something about our industry that seems to attract government consultations, writes Simon West, head of The Gun Trade Association in the first of his new monthly columns for GTN.

Under 18s could lose their right to shoot without adult supervision, under new proposals 

This new one is titled ‘Firearms Safety’, something we can all agree on. But what’s inside it and what are the Government’s motivations? And most importantly what do YOU need to do. 

High muzzle energy rifles

HME rifles, or those producing in excess of 13,600 joules at the muzzle, were identified by law enforcement agencies as having the potential for serious misuse if they fell into the wrong hands.

A clumsy attempt to ban them outright in the Offensive Weapons bill was defeated last year, recognising that actually none had ever been used criminally and that the measure was disproportionate.

Instead, the Government agreed that, rather than a punitive ban, there would be a review of security arrangements for the storage of such guns. The consultation asks for comment on what measures should be considered appropriate for the storage of such rifles and ammunition.

Air weapons

Air weapons––or airguns as we would prefer to call them—have attracted attention through their use in crime and their misuse leading to tragic accidents.

The consultation on airguns was originally conducted in 2017 and in this current consultation there are some items of good news that show the Government is listening to shooting organisations, trade bodies and the police in how we can improve public safety. They state ‘we have decided not to introduce a licensing regime for air weapons in England and Wales…’ 

Rather, they are proposing:

  • The removal of the exemption allowing 14-17 year olds to use airguns unsupervised on private premises
  • Where under 18s are on the premises, airguns must be locked out of sight and pellets kept separately
  • Working with industry to improve safe keeping by supplying security devices with all new airguns and ensuring dealers explain the importance of safe handling and secure storage, particularly in relation to access by under-18s.

In rural areas, the exemption for youngsters to assist in pest control is important and we should be fighting to keep this. Good security and avoiding unauthorised access is central to all gun ownership but whether the law needs changing is not clear. On helping improve behaviour, we must see what we can do to help.

Miniature Rifle Ranges

Back in the early 20th Century, when there was an identified need to improve the marksmanship skills across the public, miniature calibre rifle (usually .22 rimfire) ranges were established.

The Firearms Act of 1968 continued to recognise this need to introduce newcomers to shooting and Section 11(4) provided the facility for such ranges, with rifles and ammunition to be run at a local level.

The fact that this includes range operators being able to buy rifles and ammunition without a licence or police suitability check presents credible risk and is no longer in anybody’s interest. As criminals and terrorists could easily exploit such opportunities, I would agree this need to be addressed. 

The Government recognises the importance of such ranges when well run to introduce young people to the sport and to provide proper safe firearms training.

They therefore propose to retain the benefits while improving the controls so that police checks and approval are required for a person operating a miniature rifle range. The operator will require a firearm certificate and have proper security arrangements in place for the storage of the .22 rimfire only rifles and ammunition. 

We must keep the provisions of 11(4) that provide for newcomers to shooting to be able to get training and experience on well organised ranges without the need for their own firearms licence but making sure the right people are running them will avoid risk.

Ammunition

Law Enforcement bodies have raised concerns that component parts of ammunition are too easy to obtain and are being used by criminals to unlawfully manufacture complete rounds of ammunition.

As a result, the Government is proposing that a new offence is created; to be in ‘possession of component parts of ammunition with intent to manufacture unauthorised quantities of complete rounds of ammunition’. 

Already, the primers and propellants for ammunition making are controlled. Certificate holders are able to acquire all the parts they need and manufacture their own rounds to the holding levels authorised on their certificates.

This would have no impact on those activities. However, this measure would allow police to act if they believed a person had obtained parts with the intent to manufacture illegally.

Deterring illegal activity that threatens lawful ownership should be a good thing but, as it’s already illegal to be in possession of ammunition without a licence, does this measure really help?

A Call to Engage

Often we see legislative activity as being ‘another nail in the coffin’ or ‘the thin edge of the wedge’ and I agree that there have been far too many heavy-handed and clumsy attempts to undermine shooting and our trade. 

The defeat of the proposed ban on HME rifles last year was a great example of where the shooting community came together as a whole to object to a disproportionate measure driven by a theoretical threat.

I like to think that this has served to make lawmakers and officials more collegiate in the way they approach new controls. We, the law abiding firearms owning public, can help to resolve threats to public safety by working closely alongside the police and home office to protect our rights and to counter threats.

Actually, the airgun section of the consultation is a great example of where the Airgun Manufacturers and Trade Association, through its excellent work in anti-tamper evidencing and provision of security devices with airguns, has been seen as industry best practice and has contributed directly to deflect the punitive heavy-handed requests for licensing.

We must do more to help educate and promote good practice. All that said, we only have influence by working together as a community and being ready to have our voices heard.

In the consultation it states that, following the appalling shooting of a family of swans, 200,000 people signed a petition requesting licensing of airguns.

Cats Protection reports also provoked 52,000 emails to the Home Office. And while I actually agree with their demand for better behaviour from airgun owners but I am appalled by the fact that only 1,600 people wrote to the Home Office to oppose airgun licencing. 

Later this week, the British Shooting Sports Council will meet to discuss the community response to the consultation. Around the table will be the Countryside Alliance, BASC, NRA, NSRA, CPSA, UKPSA, the GTA and others, with collective membership approaching half a million.

Beyond that there are another half a million certificate holders and a conservatively estimated 4 million households owning airguns. This is a community that needs to better represent itself and get its voice heard. 

As the UK gun trade, we must help in stimulating customers’ political interest and make it easy for them to engage in the debate. Even in this consultation there will be things we need to say. In the next edition we will give you the tools to help influence our future.


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