This week's note from Douglas Batchelor, Chief Executive.
Take a step back and ask yourself these two questions: Why do we allow people to hold firearms at home and why do we allow them to use them to shoot and kill animals for sport?
There are an estimated seven million airguns in the hands of an estimated four million owners. There were at least 1.4m licensed shotguns and 435,000 certificated firearms licenses granted in the last ten years to over half a million people.
By any measure there are a heck of a lot of guns in the hands of the general public and it is equally clear that the vast majority of those guns are not held as a working day requirement of the gun holders’ job. The rational question to ask, is do the public really need the guns that they hold?
Gun laws have a long history and to understand some of where we have ended up with guns, it is important to remember that the right to bear arms was fought over between king and citizens as far back as the eighteenth century. The citizens’ rights to form militias and bear arms were even written into the American onstitution as a consequence of those early arguments about who had the right to bear arms.
Aside from the armed services, there are very few professions in today’s society where the professional needs to bear arms. Sections of the police may need to do so to deal with gun carrying criminals and people like slaughtermen may need captive bolt guns in their work. Gamekeepers and people looking after stock also often claim the need to have guns at home in order to deal with so called ‘pests’. That said, such claims should be treated with some considerable caution.
It is very clear that the vast majority of the guns and firearms held by members of the public are held to be used for sport and recreation. At least some of the guns and firearms are used for static target shooting, while others are held for shooting at moving but inanimate targets such as clay pigeons. The majority of the guns held are held for the specific purpose of shooting wild mammals and birds, mostly for sport and recreational purposes.
The Home Affairs Select Committee are looking into the firearms control lessons to be learnt from the recent sad events in Cumbria. Responses to the Committee must be with them by the end of next week.
The obvious question to ask, is should the person who shot so many people have had a licensed firearm or shotgun? The second question to ask is what if anything in terms of gun control could have prevented the tragedy that happened?
The bloodsports lobby will argue that law should not be made on the basis of one bad case and that the majority of gun owners are not a problem. While on the face of it that is true, it completely avoids the big questions that should be asked and answered.
The biggest question of all that needs to be asked is whether or not we as a society accept that people use live animals as targets for sport. On the occasions that the League has asked that question over the years, the answer has always been a resounding no.
The second question must then be how we deal with the cases where the claim is made that the killing is necessary and that it can be done humanely with a gun. All the available evidence suggests that even the best shots with shotguns miss their targets on occasion and frequently wound rather than kill their targets. Typically on a pheasant shoot only 50% of the birds shot at are brought down. By any reasonable measure that is not humane killing with a gun – just have a look at the film we published on the ‘glorious’ twelfth.
The third question that needs to be addressed is the competence of the person to whom the shotgun license or firearm certificate is being granted. A gun, just like a car, can be a lethal weapon. It seems eminently sensible to require that all license and certificate holders should pass both a written and an (inanimate target) firing test of competence before being licensed or certificated.
The tests could include the shooters ability to judge distance, to withhold fire when the target is either out of effective clean kill range or a non target species and would require a one hundred percent clean kill rate to achieve a pass. The reason for that being that if the shooting cannot be done humanely, unnecessary animal suffering is inevitable and the person concerned should not be allowed to use a gun on a live animal.
There is something deeply worrying about children being taught to kill animals for sport. In my opinion children should not be allowed access to or ownership of guns of any sort, including airguns, below the age at which they could take a car driving test. In my view children should be taught to care and not to kill for sport.
The next question that needs to be addressed is the character and mental health of the licensed shooter. In much the same way as a driving licence can be withdrawn on doctors advice, it seems entirely reasonable to withdraw a shotgun license or firearms certificate on medical grounds. Such licenses and certificates should also be immediately and permanently withdrawn if the holder is convicted of a relevant criminal offence, such as one of violence.
To enable the authorities, both medical and legal to do their work with regard to withholding or withdrawing licenses, it should be a condition of the license being held or granted, that the GP is advised and that the GP informs the relevant authorities if the patients’ condition merits such action. Quite apart from the obvious cases of depression and dementia, action should also be taken in cases where the patient has a condition which would affect their ability to shoot such as cataracts, arthritis or Parkinsons disease, on the grounds that they could no longer reliably kill humanely.
The short best short answer to the consultation is, that guns are lethal weapons and that anyone to be allowed one must pass the appropriate tests first and that they should have their licence withdrawn if they break the law or become medically unfit. If you want to respond to the Consultation, please visit the Committee’s website.