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“I cannot recall a time when shooting has faced so many legislative challenges”

The shooting community is often threatened with new legislation, but how potent such threats turn out to be may well depend on timing, says Alasdair Mitchell

Houses of Parliament

Bad things tend to come in flurries. I cannot recall a time when shooting has faced so many legislative challenges. Whether it is moves to restrict game releasing, proposed revisions of the quarry list, the childish antics of devolved administrations or the prospect of a further tightening of the rachet on shotgun ownership, the challenges are coming at us from all directions.

At the same time, it is important to put things into historical perspective. When I was at university, I was lucky enough to be invited to a day’s driven pheasant shooting by a friend. His father, who was also shooting that day, was an active member of the House of Lords. He told me: “Enjoy it while you can. This sort of shooting won’t survive the next Labour government.” Well, more than four decades later, driven shooting is still going strong. And it is still being targeted.

Spiteful legislation

One of the key factors dictating the potency of any proposed new legislation is its timing. Newly elected governments, bristling with confidence, tend to get contentious laws enacted and out of the way early. Sometimes, the best one can hope for in such situations is that shooting is so far down the list of priorities that it is overtaken by more worthwhile causes with wider relevance. But timing is key. Beware a political party looking for pre-election goodies to throw to its slavering activists. The 18 months leading up to a general election provide the ideal incubation conditions for spiteful legislation.

Look at the bill to ban the importation of hunting trophies, which is currently working its way through the bowels of the House of Lords. Because it is a private member’s bill, rather than Government legislation, there is a chance that it might be talked out before it becomes law. Some are hoping this will be the case. However, given the current stage of the electoral cycle, it is highly likely that Labour would then pick it up for its general election manifesto, seeking to outdo the Tories. A wise move, perhaps, might be to allow the current bill to pass but only after being amended to allow trophies where they are sourced from certified sustainable resources. That might defang the act, while at the same time removing the issue from overflowing pre-election shopping baskets.

The impending revamp of firearms licensing could see shotguns treated with the same licensing rigour as rifles. This could be highly damaging for the shooting community, without any commensurate benefit for public safety. Much depends on exactly what is proposed. Unfortunately, we can expect the Labour Party to attempt to leapfrog the Conservatives, just as they did in the wake of the post-Dunblane reforms.

You may recall that Lord Cullen’s 1996 enquiry decided that there was, on balance, no justification for a ban on handguns. Despite this, the Conservative government felt pressured into banning handguns of greater than .22 calibre. Then an incoming Labour government, under Tony Blair, went further with a total ban. Are we facing a similar political situation today?