LET’S START THIS column with an exercise in audience participation. I want you (yes, you) to come up with all the phrases you can think of that sum up public perception and treatment of shooting. Go on – I’ll give you 30 seconds. Come back when you’re finished and read the next paragraph.
I’m guessing you came up with something like: “Misunderstood”, “treated unfairly by the media”, “confusing legal landscape”, “utter lack of common sense” – or perhaps a less printable version of those thoughts. Either way, it’s hardly anything new. Shooters’ perceived unfair treatment at the hands of officious legislators and lefty-liberal media sources is an old saw for us all, one that’s so common it can even become tedious.
Perhaps it’s all about to change. I wouldn’t start cracking open the Beretta-branded champagne yet, but a number of recent events should attract at least an approving nod from the industry – and, used as we are to bemoaning mistreatment, we should be ready to recognise when things do go our way.
First off, the results of Danny Nightingale’s retrial. After his original conviction was overturned amid mass media coverage, and he was once again found guilty by a military court, the final sentence was due. Despite the mainstream press’s interest in Nightingale, it didn’t look like much of a story for the gun trade – one legal expert told me he wouldn’t be surprised if Nightingale got a stretch.
The eventual sentence was two years suspended for 12 months. To me, this looks surprisingly like common sense prevailing. A two-year sentence rightly demonstrates that no one, no matter who they are or what you might think of them, can trifle with the laws regarding firearm possession (which are typically associated with an absolute offence that carries a penalty of five years’ imprisonment). But the suspension is a sensible move that recognises the delicacy of Nightingale’s situation and the alleged pressure placed on him to plead guilty in the first instance. Nightingale is currently appealing against the conviction; I should also stress that his case, being so exceptional, is not likely to set a precedent for other, similar cases.
Next was the publication of new guidance to police on firearms licensing – mainly focusing on domestic violence. In the past, new guidance to police has often been met with cynicism from shooters, but this set of guidance, which detailed ways in which the police could prevent those with violent histories having access to firearms, can hardly have been met with much dissent. In fact, they resulted in the unusual spectacle of a BASC spokesperson going on BBC radio to discuss the subject, and agreeing with the representative of the Gun Control Network who had also been invited on to the programme. (Presumably this was to the eternal disappointment of the BBC, which tends to look for guests with diametrically opposed views so they can have a good old argument on air.)
Though technically this was a tightening of firearms policing, it coincided with a small relaxing of legislation, in which a new application form was released to apply to both shotgun and firearm certificates, also allowing for applications for FAC variation at the time of renewal. On top of this, restrictions have been relaxed regarding referees for firearms licences – they now just need to be people of good character who have known you for at least two years, and only need to sign and date a photograph. Finally, those applying for shotgun and firearm certifi cates at the same time need provide only four photographs.
Admittedly, none of this could be categorised as a ‘key issue’ for shooting – it’s the sideshow rather than the main act. But if we continue to see successes on an incrementally increasing scale, it may well result in a sea change in attitudes towards shooting that renders obsolete the “misunderstood” descriptions I came up with earlier. New BASC chief executive Richard Ali talks often about trying to promote shooting instead of merely defending it – this may be the sort of thing he’s on about. We should mark our successes, however small, and remember them in future when we are fighting the bigger issues.
One such issue that’s still on the rise is airgun licensing, which the Scottish government still appears keen to press ahead with. But these smaller issues demonstrate that we shouldn’t assume the worst, and there is a chance, however small, that common sense may prevail. The 20,000-strong petition against licensing, soon to be discussed by Holyrood’s public petitions committee, may be the reminder the Scottish government needs that it has stuck to common sense before, and it can stick to common sense again.