After choosing to go out stalking yesterday, rather than engage with writing this article, I feel better placed to set this coming year in context.
I often comment to outsiders about how diverse our businesses are. We have heritage crafts through to high-end tech; we have multinational companies and one-man bands. We support the rural economy and farmers by providing valuable leisure time for urban professionals. Our customers themselves can view beauty in so many ways – some in the shine of walnut matched with exquisite hand engraving – while others demand matt-black picatinny extrusions. Some have deep technical knowledge to support their interests; others just claim so.
But facing us all are the same threats and opportunities. It's my job to try and provide some strategic viewpoint on what’s important for the coming year. That’s where time in the field helps.
There are some areas of our industry that face little or no public criticism. Guns in the hands of professionals are seen as necessary. The Armed Forces and Law Enforcement obviously. The public still doesn’t like the idea of bobby being armed – but they do want an armed response vehicle close and available. Our trade should take credit for providing our front line armed with the best kit.
Behind the front line, we have the reserve – and that’s not just people in uniform. Society needs to support marksmanship. My experience is from the Army, and I can remember a series of pre-deployment training packages where the demands of operational shooting standards put a serious burden on the training teams and the soldiers themselves. Those who had the experience of shooting from their early years were natural’s. Whether it had been in cadet corps or even plinking with airguns, their skills had been developed in those rich early years and they were key instinctive shooters. There are few professional sharpshooters and snipers who did not have early exposure to shooting.
That’s where families, youth organisations, clubs and our national associations like the NRA and NSRA do so much good for society. It’s often forgotten but there is a reason for the provision of instruction and facilities for marksmanship.
‘Professional’ may then be extended to some other callings. Certainly, there is little current objection to the control of deer populations. Those professionals employed in controlling pests that influence the environment – and have a need to use guns – have public support.
My stalking is part of quite a challenging deer management operation. I do it as a volunteer. That should count as well. And so should those people who support estate management plans – even if they pay for the privilege.
In some areas, we need all the help we can get.
Let’s not forget shotgun shooting. The investment our customers make in live quarry shooting provides the underpinning model that has allowed our country to enjoy the rich biodiversity we have in the countryside. Land managed for shooting benefits hugely from the investments made in conserving habitats for our wildlife. We must champion the excellent work of GWCT. Their scientific evidence of how nature really benefits from game and wildlife management needs to be understood and publicised by all who shoot.
And so, to clay shooting. The pandemic lockdowns served well to remind society of the benefits of being outdoors and meeting with friends. There are approximately 600,000 shotgun certificate holders in the UK. If only half of these shooters shoot clays – that’s 300,000! We often hear that angling has high figures – but the stats show angling attracts a modest 100,000. Clay and target shooting is providing a self-disciplined, self-betterment, outdoor, competitive, and social activity to a significant section of society – this is something to celebrate.
Now is the time to embrace all that is good in shooting. While some of our big shooting organisations are fixed on dealing with specific threats, it's worth the Trade taking up the opportunity to look more broadly. We have the advantage of seeing shooting from every angle. We see parents introducing their children to new skills, pensioners defeating loneliness in airgun clubs, and experts developing their equipment to be better marksmen. It’s a broad church and one where we should celebrate shooting’s diversity. There really is something for everyone.
But I talked about threats – there are plenty of them. As I organise the GTA’s activities for the coming year, I have made a list of those topics that will take up our time.
The pandemic is not yet at an end and we are seeing a new wave of licensing departments referring to Omicron as another reason to slow the processing of grants and renewals. Some are better than others, but many are also finding it a challenge to review their processes to consider last November’s new Statutory Guidance. Neither are acceptable and I am working with the British Shooting Sports Council to demand a better service.
Global supply issues have not gone away. There are improvements in some areas but it could be another year before we see improvements in the delivery of some stock items. I am working with other gun trade associations around the globe with meetings at SHOT Show and IWA to understand the issues and then engage with the government to see what can be done to mitigate the problems.
It's almost a year since we submitted our response to the Government’s Firearms Safety consultation. The Home Office is still working on it but we should expect legislative activity around security for high muzzle energy firearms, airgun safety, 11(4) ranges and reloading in the coming months.
The Environment Agency and other government bodies continue to study the lead in ammunition topic. We are engaged and there will be plenty more on this in my communication with you in the coming months. Contrary to some uninformed opinions, there is no imminent ban. I will be re-engaging with the National Game Dealers Association to ensure we don’t score any own goals by them trying to precipitate one either.
Often the public perception of guns in society is influenced by the use of guns in crime. I am working with a number of law enforcement bodies, including the NCA, on how we might be able to help deal with this threat to society and will be coming to you with requests to help.
And we still await the report on the incident in Plymouth last year. That is bound to have repercussions. The shooting organisations are working closely together, through BSSC, to ensure the effects are proportionate and focussed.
We live in interesting times. We have lots to celebrate together with plenty of challenges. Our strengths will serve us well to be able to deal with the headwinds we face. Thank you for what you do in your meetings with customers to pass on the word.
Let’s all work together to publicise the great services that shooting provides across the country and ensure that we maintain our freedoms to operate safe and responsible businesses that provide a service to society.
All the best!