Letter from a British Member of Parliment appealling for sanity with gun laws.
Dear Home Secretary,
I know you have much on your mind at the moment dealing with crises such as bulging prisons and escaped drug traffickers. It may seem strange then that I am writing to you about a sporting issue – one which you alone have the power to help with, that is if your officials can find the papers which are probably buried under a pile of other pressing matters.
Like me you will remember vividly the horror we all felt back in 1996 when 16 children and a teacher were shot dead at a school in Dunblane by a deranged man with a gun. Politicians reacted in haste to the call for 'something to be done'. A partial ban on hand guns was implemented immediately, followed by a total ban as one of the first measures taken by the new Labour Government in 1997.
As I am sure your officials will tell you, there was absolutely no evidence to suggest that by banning legally-licensed cartridge pistols and closing legally-operating shooting clubs, we would all sleep safer in our beds. Yet today there are more hand guns on our streets than 10 years ago.
What the ban did do was to make perfectly decent, dedicated law-abiding citizens of England, Wales and Scotland (Northern Ireland was excluded from the legislation) give up their sport. At a stroke our competitive pistol shooters were forced to go abroad to train for Olympic and world competitions. Overnight thousands of men and women had to hand in their pistols, with no thanks for the role they had played, over several decades, in helping the police with the licensing system.
You will recall that we hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2002 in Manchester and that the ban was lifted partially for overseas competitors and UK nationals to import their pistols temporarily, in the UK case from Switzerland. The Games finished and the ban was re-introduced.
When London won the bid for the 2012 Olympics, the British Olympic Association and the governing bodies of shooting put forward a case to your department for legislative exemptions which would allow our pistol shooters and a large squad of sporting hopefuls to be granted dispensation under Section Five of the Act so that they could retain their sporting pistols at home without ammunition in order to do their daily 'dry training'. Registered regional shooting clubs would also be designated as a place for weapons to be used.
It looked like a way forward could be agreed. The sports minister, Richard Caborn, assured the BOA that he had written to the Home Office giving his support for exemptions. An Early Day Motion in the Commons attracted significant support from all sides of the house and the public have, I believe, realised that target pistol shooters were victims of rough justice in the 1997 legislation. An e-petition on the No 10 website for the restoration of target pistol shooting under suitable controls is gaining signatures every day.
However, somewhere in your department the paper trail has stopped and the silence is deafening. Time is running out.
We now have some of the best talent in recent years, particularly in the women's events where Julia Lydall and Georgina Geikie have done so well with air pistols. But they are at a serious disadvantage when it comes to the Olympic discipline of cartridge pistols.
Would you like to meet them? They are both former modern pentathletes, level headed, hugely talented and excellent role models for young people. They could tell you of how disadvantaged they are competing against athletes from other countries who can train every day (unlike the three days a month they do, and then only in Switzerland). Surely, Home Secretary, you must see that implying that these young people are a risk to the public is ludicrous?
Time is also running out to train the range officials, adjudicators and administrators needed for 2012.
Presumably you know that shooting is an important Olympic discipline, second only to athletics in terms of numbers of countries affiliated to the International Shooting Sport Federation and we will have to provide at least 40 highly trained officials to administer the event. Many of those involved in 2002 will have retired by 2012.
The solution is simple. Everyone in sport is signed up to the suggested solution of using Section Five dispensations. Please, could you forget prisons and sex offenders for an hour or so this week and make a Commons-sense decision to help our target shooters? There would be no loss of control over the ownership of pistols, no danger to public safety and no need for primary legislation.
Target shooters are reliable, trustworthy and an asset to their communities – the kind of people your department want to support. Don't you feel ashamed that most democracies have more faith in their citizens to participate in one of the oldest Olympic sports than we do?
Over to you Home Secretary – we need a decision urgently.
Yours sincerely, Kate Hoey
Labour MP for Vauxhall