Select Committee on Home Affairs Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by the National Small-bore Rifle Association



  1.1  The National Small-bore Rifle Association (NSRA) is recognised by the Department of Media Culture and Sports, and the various Sports Councils, as one of the UK national governing bodies for target shooting. It is responsible for airguns and firearms chambered for .22 rimfire cartridges whilst the National Rifle Association (NRA) deals with rifles and pistols of larger calibres, and the Muzzle Loaders Association of Great Britain (MLAGB) with muzzle loaded rifles, pistols, and shotguns powered by black powder.

  1.2  Through the Great Britain Target Shooting Federation the NSRA has links to International Federations and to the British Olympic and Commonwealth Games Federations. It has affiliated clubs and associations throughout the United Kingdom and abroad, some of which therefore operate in regions outside the jurisdiction of the Firearms Acts. The NSRA operates ranges and provides competition up to national level. It supports a number of national squads through which shooters represent Great Britain at Olympic, World and European events; for example, the current Junior World 50 metre rifle champion is a member of the British national squad.

  1.3  However, for the purposes of this submission discussion is confined to England, Scotland and Wales and to those principal questions in which the Home Affairs Committee have declared a special interest and for which the NSRA has particular responsibilities. Evidence will be submitted separately by the British Shooting Sports Council (BSSC) and others which will provide statements on the benefits of target shooting across all disciplines and it is not proposed to take up the time of the Committee by repeating that material here.


2.1  The Legitimate use of airguns

  2.1.1  Airguns are used for a variety of legitimate uses. A separate paper by another constituent member of BSSC will set out the use of airguns in the farming community. This paper is restricted to their use in target shooting.

  2.1.2  Air rifle and Air Pistol events are included in all international competitions including Commonwealth and Olympic Games. In the 1998 Commonwealth Games in Malaysia English shooters won four Gold and two Bronze medals out of the eight Airgun events. This type of success is only possible through dedicated training and coaching starting at an early age. Thus the ability of young people to use airguns is an essential element of maintaining this country's sporting prowess.

  2.1.3  Apart from elite sporting use, airguns are used for recreation and sports by many youth organisations. Every Army Cadet Force detachment has two air rifles to encourage proficiency in marksmanship. In the wider field of youth activities outside the cadet movement, the NSRA plays an important role with all the major youth organisations. The Scout Association has recently reconfirmed its commitment to providing airgun and small-bore shooting as one of its activities. This followed wide consultation with Scouts, their leaders and parents. However, as part of the review, the Scout Association has declared that all instructors are to achieve NSRA qualifications. The NSRA is providing Instructor courses for up to 5,000 Scout leaders to assist in the achievement of this laudable aim; in the last two years approximately 2,500 have already been awarded.

  2.1.4  The National Association of Boys Clubs (NABC) also recognises the proficiency and coaching schemes of the NSRA and the Association sponsors and runs the annual NABC championships at our National Indoor Shooting Centre in the Midlands. The letter, at Annex A, from the National director of the NABC is a good illustration of the significant benefits that comes from supervised instruction in the use of airguns. Additionally the NSRA Youth Proficiency Scheme, sponsored by Sport England is now run by 677 schools and clubs and is an excellent entry level for young people to develop marksmanship skills. A copy of the instructor manual for that course is enclosed from which it can be seen that safety is of paramount importance to all legitimate shooters.

2.2  The Misuse of Airguns

  2.2.1  A useful summary, which puts the misuse of airguns into perspective, can be found in the report of the Adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 23 June 1999. The Home Office Minister was able to report to the House:

    "From 1987 to 1997 ... the incidence of injury caused by airgun misuse has shown a steady year-on-year decline. In 1997 there was a significant reduction in the number of injuries from airgun misuse in comparison with those recorded in 1987 - from 1,782 to 1,194 in 1997. In addition only 125 of the incidents in 1997 - less than 11 per cent in total - consisted of an injury more serious than superficial bruising."[49]

  2.2.2  Whilst this trend is welcome, it should not lead anyone to be complacent. There is, however, no evidence to suggest that more restrictive controls would, of themselves, reduce further the misuse of airguns. The current airgun controls have very severe penalties but have failed to deter those cases of airgun misuse, which probably make up the majority, and which can be seen to fall into the following two categories:

        Accidents—all too often caused by unsupervised use of airguns by the very young. Understandably the sensitivity of such cases makes it difficult for the police to bring prosecutions.

        Hooliganism—the deliberate flouting of the law often in circumstances where it is very difficult for the police to apprehend the miscreants and/or by the young against whom there is very little sanction because of their age.

  2.2.3  It follows, therefore, that more restrictive measures are unlikely to enjoy any greater success. In simple terms—why replace one unenforceable law with another which is equally ineffective. In such a case, the only people who will suffer are the legitimate shooters who are obeying the law in the first place. This would do nothing to increase public safety but would bring the law into disrepute.

2.3  Prevention of Abuse

  2.3.1  Accidents can, very largely, be overcome by proper education and training. The former should be aimed at parents and other adults who supervise, or should be supervising, the use of airguns either for target shooting or for vermin control, whilst the latter should be aimed at the shooters. There is general ignorance of what the law says about the use of airguns. Voluntary initiatives, such as that taken by the Gun Trade to promulgate Home Office produced leaflets on the law as it affects airgun shooting and the dangers of abuse should be encouraged by an adequate free supply of the documents to all retailers who deal in airguns or pellets. It should not be forgotten that it is not only Gun Trade members or Firearms Dealers who sell airguns and pellets.

  2.3.2  The NSRA and BASC both run a programme of training through formal courses, as already indicated. The NSRA also has mobile display ranges, which feature at local shows and events so that individuals, and particularly the young, can experience airgun shooting under supervision and can be introduced to the safe use of airguns.

  2.3.3  If it is accepted that reactive enforcement of existing law poses particular difficulties for the police it follows that all organisations concerned with shooting, and this includes the police, need to adopt a proactive stance. It is suggested that lessons can be drawn from the way in which other unsociable and illegal activities are targeted by the police and the relevant authorities. The general trend appears to be to look at the supply chain rather than usage. For example, the sale of tobacco, alcohol and drugs to young people are all subject to scrutiny and action yet the immediate and direct effect of their misuse tends to be directed to the young person involved rather than a third party. The misuse of airguns is different, because in many cases it is a third party who suffers injury or damage to property, and yet no checks or controls are applied on the supply of airguns or, more importantly, ammunition.

  2.3.4  Signs in shops and off-licences are constant reminders of the law in relation to sales to young people of tobacco and alcohol, either below 16 or 18 as the case may be, and checks by trading standards officers and the police are commonplace. They also serve as reminders to sales staff of their responsibilities. There is little or no evidence to show that the same is true of retail outlets that deal in airguns and air pellets which is surprising given the alleged height of public concern. These outlets range from gun dealers to sports and hardware shops and, given the complexity and general ignorance of airgun regulations and legislation, it appears likely that many such outlets are unwittingly in danger of breaking the law. There is clearly scope to prevent the potential danger to third parties and to prevent young people breaking the law through genuine ignorance by simple low cost measures such as signage and packaging. This would draw attention to the law, even if it is not possible in the short term to simplify it, and would also make it easy for the authorities to monitor compliance. It is a positive step forward which would probably find favour with all parties.

  2.3.5  Given the uncertainty of the numbers of airguns in circulation and the fact that there has never been, nor needs to be, a requirement to register such firearms, there appears little scope for control of the airguns themselves. This is a view which is supported by ACPO and ACPO(S). Indeed if controls such as those outlined above are implemented, which would not need legislation, there would be no need since a firearm without ammunition is effectively a blunt instrument and presents no more danger to the public than many common or garden items.

2.4  Conclusions

  2.4.1  In the short term increased awareness of the law can be achieved by low cost measures aimed at the supply of airguns in general and ammunition in particular. This will serve not only to educate supervising adults as well as shooters but will restrict access to airguns by those who are bent on flouting the law.

  2.4.2  No further restrictions are necessary nor would they prove to be any more effective than those currently in place.

3.  OTHER FIREARMS3.1  The Effectiveness of the Firearms (Amendment) Acts 1997

  3.1.1  Within Great Britain, the 1997 prohibition on pistols was totally effective in removing those pistols held legally for target shooting. Although statistics for crimes with firearms in 1998 are not yet available, it would appear that the prohibition did nothing to reduce the widespread use in crime of illegally held pistols. This continues to be a matter of great concern to the target shooting community but is a matter for the Home Office and the police.

  3.1.2  The Home Secretary has the discretion to allow prohibited pistols to be used in competition in Great Britain. During the passage of the Firearms (Amendment) Bills through Parliament in 1996 and 1997 assurances were given that this discretion would be invoked, for example to allow the Commonwealth Games to be held in England in 2002.

3.2  Other Firearms Requiring a Firearms Certificate

  3.2.1  For some time it would appear that the favoured weapons of criminals have been pistols or automatic machine pistols or sub-machine guns. These are all now in the prohibited category. In the course of our working relationships with the police service and the Forensic Science Service we have not been made aware of abuse of target shooting firearms. Those firearms used in target shooting are predominantly single shot and incapable of holding, or being adapted to hold, more than one round at a time. Being designed specifically to meet international standards for target shooting they pose no threat to public safety and furthermore hold no attraction to the criminal fraternity. There is, therefore, no evidence to suggest that the existing licensing system for these firearms needs to be made more restrictive.

J D Hoare


12 October 1999

  Annex A: NABC Policy Statement (30 Apr 97)[50]

  Enclosure 1: NSRA Youth Proficiency Scheme Tutors Manual49

49   Air Guns (Safety) (HC Debate 23.6.99). Back

50   Not printed. Back

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