The first two sections effectively cut off the feeders to our sport by seeking to prohibit anyone under 18 taking part in shooting except as a member of a club.
- Abolition of the exception under Section 23(3) which permits possession of air weapons by persons of 14 or over on private land with the consent of the occupier.
This provides a major threat not just to the association but to all shooting sport. Many thousands of young people shoot on private ground either taking part in vermin control or informal target shooting. It is done quite safely and with no danger to themselves or the public. They have often learnt safety and marksmanship from their parents.
Many of these are members of clubs but the field shooting is outside of the club activity and so prohibited. Field shooting provides an extension of their other activity enabling them to engage in the sport more regularly, carrying with them the safe practices learned elsewhere.
- Abolition of the exception under Section 23(1) for persons under the age of 18 when under the supervision of a person who is at least aged 21.
This will shut down the majority of external feeders to shooting sport. Specifically it will prevent access to shooting via Scouts, Schools and Activity Holiday Centres.
Moreover, these are all points where young people access shooting in a safe and supervised manner. They learn safe handling of airguns via these routes which mean they have a degree of training even if they don’t go on to participate in a club. It teaches respect and safety which they will carry into any environment where they come across an airgun or other firearm. It also precludes safety instruction and informal target shooting for under-18s in a family environment on private property, the first step into the sport for many British shooters.
It could be argued that these types of organisation could be considered to operate in situations where an 11(4) Miniature Rifle Range is being used and so might be unaffected by the legislation. What benefit to public safety will be achieved by forcing these organisations to implement the necessary changes to become a miniature rifle range? There is also some ambiguity in what constitutes a miniature rifle range and how this status is achieved.
If under-18s can still shoot airguns as part of a club, what represents a club in this context? Is it the ones that are HO approved? If so then almost all of the Field Target and Hunter Field Target Clubs, 10m and Bell Target Clubs would not be considered suitable. It must also be considered that young people would no longer be able to take part in open Field Target, Hunter Field Target and Target Sprint events as these often don’t use club premises and are unlikely to be considered a range as they are not fixed.
Will this club be like an airgun club in Scotland where they are required to be ratified? If so, then the extra burden on the Police Force to certificate these clubs would be onerous. If Home Office Approval is being contemplated, the impact on Home Office resources would be substantial.
- The amendment of the Firearms Act to clarify and strengthen the offence under of failing to take “reasonable precautions” to the effect that whenever under 18s are on the premises, “reasonable precautions” must include locking the weapon out of sight when not in use and storing the ammunition separately. (The gun would not need to be locked in a gun safe).
There is no need for further legislation as “to take reasonable precautions” covers what is required and allows flexibility for individuals to secure their airguns in a manner that suits their circumstances. For instance, does a person with a three month old baby need to lock up their air rifle to prevent access? Does a household with toddlers need the expense of securing airguns in the same way as one with teenagers? Is a system suitable for able bodied people the same as one for those with a disability? The current legislation allows people to take reasonable precautions to prevent unauthorised access to their airguns and this can be achieved in a manner that fits their situation and environment.
As a National Governing Body these changes will make it very difficult to effectively develop the sport. Sport England has established that developing a “sporting habit for life” starts during these early years. These measures will restrict young people in their ability to access shooting, even via some clubs and uniformed groups. In so doing it will prevent them developing this all important sporting habit. Some may say that there are many other sports available, but shooting is unique in that it is not affected by gender, ability/disability or age. Also, the fact cannot be ignored that some people don’t like dynamic or team sports and shooting allows them to develop a sporting habit that is still beneficial. Furthermore, shooting is a sport that will continue way beyond the age that other sports can provide for.
The changes in legislation can have effects not only on individuals, clubs and other organisations but on Scouts, holiday centres, outdoor activity companies and corporate organisations. They, and the services that support them, will undoubtedly lose revenue. This will also be reflected long term in the shooting industry. The result of choking the access points is to have fewer people entering the sport, fewer guns sold and bringing about a decline in the industry. Prices will increase and cause a downward spiral for involvement in shooting overall.
What is needed?
More accessible, well publicised facilities available for those who wish to access the sport and want to “join in”. For those who don’t wish to join a club, provide more information on law and safety at key access points (gun shops etc.). Also, a national campaign of gun safety awareness in schools and though media with an emphasis on sport shooting.
If you really wanted to make a difference provide a three month airgun shooting course for Year 9 students in school. This could comprise one session per week of airgun shooting (like the NSRA Youth Proficiency Scheme course) and include safety, law and shooting technique. As a result the students would know how to handle themselves around guns and some may take it up as a sport.
In conclusion, further legislation will only restrict legitimate sports people and have no effect on public safety. A properly resourced and coordinated scheme of education and awareness would give a significant benefit to the general public and to shooting sports as a whole.