Though founded as the Gunmakers? Association, in 1912, at a time when gunmakers in Britain still proliferated, the Gun Trade Association Ltd (GTA) is able to trace its lineage back to the latter part of the 19th century ? to 1896, in fact, when the Armourers? Association was formed to protect the interests of manufacturers of small arms and, particularly, sporting firearms.
By the early 1960s, while the number of practising gunmakers had greatly diminished, other areas of trade and manufacture associated with sporting shooting were expanding to meet a rapidly growing public demand. Clay pigeon shooting was on a roll and new grounds were opening; sporting shooting was going from strength to strength and the increasing demand for shotguns at affordable prices underpinned the expansion in retail and import companies dealing largely with the flow of sporting arms from Spain, Italy and Japan. To meet the changing situation, the Gunmakers? Association received a radical makeover, emerging as the GTA, its brief to supervise the interests of gun and cartridge manufacturers, shooting grounds, retail shops, wholesalers and importers, but excluding any association with military or police-type firearms.
Today, the GTA has 580 members, comprising the bulk of the gun trade industry, including 200 retail outlets, a further 100 larger enterprises, numerous shooting grounds and somewhere in the region of 100 outworkers, including actioners, barrel makers and stockers, though this once-vital workforce is now greatly in decline. John Batley, well known as a former professional pigeon shooter, has been the director of the GTA for nearly seven years.
What, I asked him, is the structure of the GTA and how much influence does it have at a political and sporting association level? From his office in Tewkesbury, Gloucestershire, John explained that the GTA exists today primarily to defend the interests of the gun trade by working closely with all official bodies that could influence or damage the industry, and, by definition, in the interests of all those who shoot in this country.
?We work with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO), the Home Office, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), HM Customs and Revenue, and the Practitioners Group ? a representative body drawn from the Home Office, the Forensic Science Services, ACPO Licensing Managers and Council members of the British Shooting Sports Council ? on firearms licensing matters and to negotiate issues on behalf of GTA members. In addition, we deal on a daily basis with local firearms licensing managers wherever members may have a problem.
?At a legislative level, the GTA co-operates with the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC) and the Countryside Alliance (CA). We are council members of the British Shooting Sports Council and, as such, work closely with Bill Harriman, head of firearms at BASC, and with Rob Gray, campaigns director at the CA. I am also on one of the Game Conservancy Trust advisory committees. As far as the Government is concerned, we have a number of friends in the House of Commons and, through our president Lord Shrewsbury, have considerable influence in the House of Lords. The GTA may not have the same political lobbying power as some of our colleagues, but we are still in a position to protect the interests of our members.?
In recent years, the GTA has attended a number of shooting/hunting trade exhibitions worldwide, but what value, I wanted to know, is this to the UK gun trade? ?It is of enormous value because it promotes the exports of the UK gun trade,? replied John. ?The DTI has a group called UK Trade and Investment (UKTI), which provides grants for manufacturers that wish to export, and some years ago we set up a secondary company, GTA (Exhibitions) Ltd, to assist members who want to go along this route.
?We run the British Pavilion at IWA, Nuremburg, the largest trade exhibition of its kind in Europe. We also go to Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates; to Moscow, for the Arms and Hunting Exhibition, and to the SHOT Show, in the US. All these exhibitions draw a large audience and our presence is vital. I must also emphasise that the GTA has no connections with the arms trade other than that we have a small number of members who supply police forces. The Defence Manufacturers? Association deals with arms manufacturers.?
The GTA has 580 members, but, I wondered, are there outlets and dealers who are not members? If so, why not? ?When I took over the GTA, in 2000, from my very competent predecessor Brian Carter, who had suffered a stroke, there were 400 or so members. There are, I suppose, more than 1,000 outlets throughout the country and, yes, of course they should all be members, because not only do we defend them politically, but also in circumstances where their local licensing departments are not quite as generous as they might be. The problem is that so much work is done behind the scenes.
?We have carefully to negotiate with the Home Office and the police, and much of our work cannot be publicised. Not unnaturally, some people ask what we do, but we tread a very fine line: if we negotiate informally with official bodies and then broadcast what we?ve done, we lose their confidence and trust.
?Those outlets and businesses that are not members of the Gun Trade Association should understand that, apart from fighting for their interests, we have increased our membership services, including a fruitful alliance with the Royal Sun Alliance insurance company. For many years we?ve been working with a London broker, Sporting Insurance Services (SIS), which provides special trade policies for our retailers and is specifically geared to the gun trade. Four years ago, due to the vagaries of the insurance world, a large company with which SIS was dealing ceased its cover. A new partner was sought and found in Royal Sun Alliance. All this is of enormous value to the trade, whether or not they are members.? In his view, what are the principal threats to shooting today? ?In very simple terms, those opposed to shooting have ready access to the media and, as a result, shooting is all
too often damaged.
The Gun Control Network, for example, gets a great deal of press coverage and is picked up by many MPs. If you?re looking at the shooting industry overall, however, one of the major issues that could affect us dramatically is the United Nations Firearms Protocol, which is attempting to stop the proliferation of all small arms and light weapons, but within that definition no distinction is made between military and sporting arms, so, in a global sense, stopping the expansion of small arms at the United Nations could affect all of us who shoot.
?Another problem today is that the transportation of sporting firearms, both by road and air, is becoming increasingly difficult and, though under normal circumstances most airlines will allow you to declare your firearms and carry them, a number of airlines are refusing. There are certainly problems with taking firearms to Africa. On the question of road transport, we are fortunate to have a longstanding contract with TNT, an issue we dealt with thoroughly in the latest edition of the GTA newsletter.?