In the four years since I joined the GTA, it is sad to reflect that I know of four occasions when members of our gun trade family have taken their own lives. The effect on families, friends and colleagues is devastating. It is tragic to reflect that the thoughts of those that make such choices have not benefitted from the help that we would all wish to give – if only we had known. It is the internalisation of hopelessness that is so sad.
In our society it is becoming so much more acceptable to be able to talk about mental health; I am less sure that it is so easy in our sector. Possession of firearms is rightfully restricted for the purposes of public safety. Those of us that work with firearms or enjoy shooting know that there are judgements being made on our suitability. Protecting our ability to possess firearms and earn a wage will be a priority. Whether an RFD, a servant or a certificate holder, we have responsibilities that we recognise. In our daily lives, we conduct ourselves in a way that will not prejudice the privilege we enjoy. We take those responsibilities seriously and strive to ensure that our reputation is above reproach.
But what if life is not treating us well and the pressures build up? All sorts of factors can affect the way we feel. Past traumas, family difficulties, and financial challenges – can all create stress.
Stress is quite natural, part of everyday life. The difficulty comes when the stresses of life build up and prevent us from operating objectively. If we feel that we might lose the very licence we need to work, it is easy to hide the difficulties that we are facing.
Actually, the facts show that our licensing authorities are understanding and committed to helping. Just because we face challenges, doesn’t mean we are automatically going to lose our ability to work with guns. There are countless examples of those who have asked for help and are managing their anxieties and depression, who continue to shoot or work in the gun trade. The key is being open and having that conversation.
It is time we all need to look after ourselves and each other better. I am all too aware that talking about our challenges isn’t easy. We operate in a competitive, strong-willed environment, where there are enduring stigmas relating to talking about mental health. Perhaps we should be more generous to ourselves and talk more openly about challenges. Our trade has always faced headwinds – I am busier fighting these now than ever before. Add to that challenges at the personal level and sometimes it can be difficult to see a clear way forward. You will not be the only one under pressure and sharing those concerns can be very cathartic.
Not everybody works as part of a team but sharing our thoughts with others can help with managing difficulties. Sometimes help comes easily from those around us. Simply ‘A trouble shared is a trouble halved’. For those that work alone, it's more difficult, but there are always those willing to listen. During lockdown, I felt privileged to take calls from members who just needed somebody to chat to.
Do continue to use the team here – it’s important for us to know what you’re having to deal with. 01684 291868.
We often hear that talking to our GPs is the right way forward – but this will be a challenge in itself. There is a hugely useful little clip, published by Mind.org.uk about how to prepare for that move here.
Recently in Scotland, the shooting organisations, the GTA and the Police have issued a helpful guide on ‘Firearms and Mental Health – Awareness and Support’. It recognises that problems are more common than you think and promotes positive mental health through shooting. It talks about the role of the police in protecting public safety and the procedures they use. But most usefully it provides information on ‘Where can I turn for help’.
You can read it at sacs.org.uk It includes some useful numbers and we hope to provide further advice across the UK soon.
We must ensure that we protect shooting as a whole and reduce risk to ourselves and others. It is essential that members of the trade and the shooting community have a positive, open and frank relationship with their GPs and firearms licensing departments.
We know it’s difficult to talk about troubles but it’s very difficult not to answer a question. Get into the habit of checking up on others. We are all in this life together and need one another. Please don’t leave it too late to look after yourselves or your mates.