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While Brexit dominates Parliamentary time and Politicians’ thinking, other departments continue to pour legislation and regulations through a porous Parliament obsessed with its own importance and little else. On Radio 4’s ‘Desert Island Discs’ (13thMay 2018) Sir Peter Lampl said that he’d paid for the handgun ban to be introduced following the Dunblane murders. Our first thought was “no he didn’t”, but that’s because we haven’t been paid for our guns yet. But thinking about it, you get what you pay for. He didn’t say who he paid – politicians, policemen and journalists are all possibilities – but if you can ban guns that way, unbanning them is simply the reverse: we’ll get what we pay for. Ω


The centenary of the Great War’s end was marked by the Home Office trying to prohibit firearms chambered for the centenarian .50”BMG cartridge developed by John Moses Browning during that conflict as an anti-aircraft option. Their ‘justification’ for wanting to ban it after a hundred years of legitimate use by civilians was that they’d discovered .50”BMG owners could outrange police snipers. And it took them how long to figure that out? They just get more pathetic each time they say something.

This got into the Offensive Weapons Bill – and out again when MPs smelt a rat. The Home Office ‘management’ of the shooting sports brings such discredit on Home Secretaries as they fail to get a robust grip on this issue.

The basic problem is that the Home Office have been using the system of firearms controls to blockade the private ownership of firearms since the 1970s. The system, introduced in 1920, was to restrict the possession of firearms to ‘friends of the government’ – which meant taxpayers. With the Great War recently over, every commissioned officer had a sidearm and many servicemen returning to the land fit for heroes brought souvenirs and trophies with them. On the home front, captured German rifles, machine guns and artillery had been given away with war bonds.

The Government’s security concerns were those eastern European dissidents behind the 1909 Tottenham Outrage and the 1910 Siege of Sydney Street. They’d also had the Easter Uprising in Ireland to deal with and had ridden out the war’s end in which four empires had collapsed – Russia, Germany, Austro- Hungarian and the Ottoman – and appointed Sir Ernley Blackwell (fresh from stitching up Sir Roger Casement) to find ways of preventing bankrupt European governments selling their war surplus to upcoming hotspots: Blackwell’s solution was firearm certificates for UK residents. That would have worked quite well, except they gave the task of issuing certificates to chief constables and they, being an unarmed service and ever resentful of other people having firearms, immediately sought to de- rail the process by finding ways of not doing the job.

Section 5 was created as a separate category for machine guns in 1936 so that the police had no discretion to refuse section 5 holders their certificates.

For fifty years there was a kind of standoff. The friends of the government formed rifle clubs, which attained charitable status for their defence of the realm objectives, became Home Guard units when called out as the militia in 1940 and went back to target practice in 1944 when the threat of invasion subsided.

The change came in 1972 with Sir John McKay’s report. Although not accepted by Parliament, the Home Office took over section 5 from the Defence Council and policing adopted the numerous proposals for reducing firearms in the hands of the public to an absolute minimum as their policies. The Home Office dismantled your common law defence of the realm obligations by banning military rifles, withdrawing charitable status from clubs and by twisting their guidance to police to grind down the remaining certificate holders.

No other sport, pastime or hobby faces such concerted attrition. If you still have a firearm certificate, look around you. There should be ten times more people like you. But instead, the live ammunition sports wither on the vine; poisoned by paranoia. Ω

MoD Police big gun case collapses

The trial started at Winchester Crown Court at the end of November and finished on the 10th January when the judge dismissed the jury, as they could not agree on verdicts in respect of three of the defendants.

Peter Laidler was acquitted of nine counts of theft and one of receiving stolen goods, leaving four counts of theft on which the jury were unable to agree.

Roger Smith was acquitted of five counts of handling stolen goods, leaving one count the jury could not agree on.

Two other defendants were cleared; Stuart Pemberton was acquitted of one count of handling stolen goods and the Judge earlier ruled that Adrian Bull had no case to answer in respect of the three counts he was charged with.

The case arose out of a Ministry of Defence Police enquiry centred on the Small Arms School Collection at Warminster, Wiltshire, from whence they believed SA80 rifle parts and other weapons had leaked out to person or persons unknown.

The allegation against former soldier Stuart Pemberton related to his acquisition of an allegedly stolen sniper rifle. Which the jury decided wasn’t. Roger Smith was an MoD policeman working at Warminster where published author Peter Laidler was armourer. Adrian Bull is a registered firearms dealer in the same county and got caught up in the MoD police sweep after rifles he imported from Canada in the 1990s were seized in 2016.

A further hearing is scheduled for the end of January at Salisbury Crown Court to determine whether there will be a re-trial on the outstanding charges.


Every so often someone thinks that military-spec kit or stuff made for the forces is always and exclusively Crown property. When Argentine forces invaded the Falkland Islands, the British task force put together to do something about it took all the ammunition they could find. They couldn’t find as much as they wanted because the reserve stores of were empty. Investigators believed that any small arms ammunition stamped RG on the head was Crown property. Even blanks. We defended people charged with possession of ‘stolen’ RG ammunition with the paper trail showing that Radway Green sold both live and blank ammunition to the civilian gun trade. It’s what you got from the National Rifle Association and the blanks were used in movies including ‘Full Metal Jacket’.

The business about SA80 parts is complicated. Royal Ordnance ‘manufactured’ the bullpup rifle at Enfield in the early 1980s. Or did they? Working prototypes sported barrels and bolts made by Sterling in Dagenham. As for the rest of it: steel castings and plastic mouldings, springs, screws, pins, optics and a magazine. Most people don’t bother making magazines and just buy them from Meggar in Italy and the Lea Valley is still stiff with engineering workshops that, back in the day, supplied Enfield – later Royal Ordnance. When one went to see them about a project, they produced SA80 parts they’d made as part of their portfolio. Royal Ordnance presumably invested in the machinery for folding the receivers, which is why the early models didn’t work: wasn’t rigid enough for full-auto fire. But we digress – so many people were involved in making the SA80 that the parts are to be found all over the place: and they didn’t belong to the Crown until delivered and paid for. Ω

Offensive Weapons Bill 2017-19

Trundling through the Lords at the time of writing, this bill started out addressing the perceived need to ‘control’ access to corrosive substances by people using it as a weapon.

The first thrust of the bill is directed at restricting the acquisition of corrosive substances to adults by making it a crime for any vendor to sell a corrosive product to a person under 18 – so much the same as the controls on selling intoxicating liquor. It’ll become illegal to deliver product to a residential address or a dead drop (click and collect is a dead drop) unless the sale was a face-to-face transaction. There’s a lot of complicated move and counter-move stuff aimed at making it difficult to sell and transport these corrosive substances, which are defined as capable of burning human skin by corrosion – such as diesel, urine, dry ice and some underarm deodorants, not to mention the more obvious bleach and paint stripper. There are variations for Scotland and Northern Ireland.

The second segment of the bill concerns bladed articles and restricts the sale of them to adults with a good reason for making the purchase – which includes historic re-enactment – so the restrictions read as much the same as for air soft and corrosive substances.

The bill says it refers to that which

(a) is or has a blade, and (b) is capable of causing serious injury to a person which involves cutting that person’s skin.

The bill doesn’t say what a ‘blade’ is; so we opened the dictionary and that offers two definitions – (1) the flat cutting edge of a knife, saw, or other tool or weapon. And (2) the flat, wide section of an implement or device such as an oar or a propeller.

Plenty of scope for mischief there then. The mail order ban could catch chainsaws (except the blade isn’t flat), chisels and aircraft propellers while nothing in the bill prevents under-18s borrowing a kitchen knife from mum’s (or their care home’s) kitchen drawer.

Next we have the prohibition on the possession of certain dangerous knives and other offensive weapons, provisions for their orderly surrender at police stations and a buy-in scheme. What exactly this catches is not on the face of the bill.

We get to clause 32 before the proposed ban on certain legally owned firearms is slipped in: MARS rifles, bump-stocks, some ammunition types – with the orderly surrender terminology lifted from (in translation) German legislation relating to the relocation of Jews from Paris in 1942 and, unlike the German original, a buy in scheme. The Germans only stretched to a reward scheme, which is how Anne Frank was eventually caught. At the time of writing, the .50cal ban is off, but the other arbitrary attacks on certificate holders remain.

This messy bill has enormously outgrown its start-point, which was the criminal practice of using corrosive substances like paint stripper as a disabling weapon in robberies. The pointlessness of it all is that attacking a person with a harmful substance is already a crime and in trying to create a ban on scrotes carting battery acid and bleach about the streets to use as weapons, the bill instead concentrates on creating all

sorts of pitfalls to catch legitimate traders and users in. Si instead of tackling the street crime that’s causing the problem, the police will focus on couriers’ vans and ‘click and collect’ sites in hope of generating criminal statistics.

The bill has become a vehicle for yet more pet hates by the Home Office through which to attack law-abiding taxpayers’ interests and at least in the case of trying to ban yet more firearms that are legally owned on firearm certificates, the Home Secretary should withdraw all those provisions and conduct a full review of the legislation and of the paranoids driving it to destruction. Ω


When actively engaged in politics – of necessity in the 1980s and 90s as our Chairman - Jan A Stevenson observed that public policy was driven by a very small number of people: not politicians so much as their advisers – some political and some civil service. Watching Theresa May make her way through BREXIT, it became apparent that it’s an adviser- driven policy conflict. ‘My deal, no deal, no Brexit’ – it reminds us of Hertfordshire Constabulary’s ‘my way or no way’ licensing manager.

Theresa May has a track record, as Home Secretary, of taking on the policies handed her by officials and advisers and putting them into legislation. A sleepwalker, in our view; because that’s the only way to stay so long in the position of Home Secretary, as Home Office officials

soon shrug off nuisance incumbents, such as Amber Rudd and Charles Clark.

Her time in the Home Office saw the Seriously Organized Crime Squad rebranded as the National Crime Agency – the bunch that were all over War & Peace last summer warning traders about the serious consequences of selling ‘defectively deactivated’ firearms, such as rusted sold relics from European battlefields. She championed the snoopers’ charter – which gave intelligence departments’ access to all our emails (reading SRA Scotland Rep Frank Berry’s emails is the only way Police Scotland could have made a link to life member Ed Beck – other than listening to his phone calls; so anti- terrorism legislation is being used by police engaged in renewing – or not – firearm certificates).

She extended ‘prohibition’ under section 21 of the Firearms Act to people whose sentence of imprisonment was suspended. Then, just to make sure of catching more people in firearms crime statistics, possession of antiques, for which one does not need a firearm certificate, became a crime for prohibited persons. That had been sculling around the Home Office bottom drawer for years – resisted by at least three of her predecessors.

It surfaced for the last time in the wake of Derrick Bird’s Whitehaven murders in 2010. He had received a suspended prison sentence many years before applying for his firearm certificate and this was picked up on by Keith Vaz MP in his capacity as chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Ever anxious to ‘do something’ about people owning firearms legally, his committee reviewed the legislation looking for legitimacies to trim off and revoking the certificates of people who caught suspended sentences was what he came up with.

‘Prohibition’ under section 21 of the Firearms Act is for five years from the date of release if the sentence was more than three months and permanent (with a mechanism for applying for relief) if the sentence is more than three years. (The sentence, not the time served). The High Court decided in 1969 (R. v. Fordham) that suspended sentences didn’t count towards prohibition, and that’s what Theresa May reversed in the Anti- Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014; one of five tweaks to firearms legislation that year.

Back in 1987, Douglas Hogg told us that the police were out of control and that he’d do something about it after the next election. Which he didn’t; he eventually left Parliament in 2010 with a clean moat and was ennobled in 2015 in an honours list rewarding services to the 2010 administration: to which his sole contribution was not standing for election to it. Anyway, when he was the Home Office mouthpiece, he flagged up his department’s concerns about policing and while he did nothing, Home Office officials did address some policing issues through Theresa May. The Association of Chief Police Officers was wound up and replaced with a supposedly more transparent (and less affluent) body – the National Police Chiefs Council – and her speech to the police federation in 2014 highlighted concerns about police misconduct being more than a few bad apples, while stopping short of suggesting it was systemic corruption: a point we will return to below.

Behind the scenes, the Home Office has long been trying wrestle ‘control’ of policing from the ‘independence’ of chief constables. So far as firearms controls go these were given to chief constables as a duty in 1920 and by 1922 it was apparent that the system wasn’t working. Some chief constables didn’t regard target shooting as a good reason for owning a firearm, for example.

The system of domestic firearm certificates for individuals, registration of dealers and restrictions on exports to persons both authorised to deal in firearms and separately authorised to export them works well, but only for firearms in, or passing through, the United Kingdom in the first place.

To what extent the gun trade had much to do with supplying foreign governments and insurgent groups then (or now) is not clear. Mexico bought surplus Brown Bess muskets from the British Government after Waterloo (1815) – in time to use them for the internal repression of an insurgency centred on San Antonio, Texas in 1836. In the interests of fairness, the British government sold P53 rifle muskets to various states in the Americas on both sides of the Mason Dixon line. The Protestant paramilitaries in the North of Ireland bought Mauser rifles from Germany in the 1900s. The Palestine Liberation Organisation abandoned British ordnance marked G3 rifles and ammunition when they evacuated the Lebanon for Tunisia in the 1980s.

More recently, a contract to supply AR15 platform rifles to a South American government was secured by a British manufacturer (only to be thwarted by the Metropolitan Police) after British embassy diplomats negotiated it. Throughout history, government officials set these deals up and the trade packs into wooden boxes with rope handles what’s been negotiated.

Home Office attempts to get chief constables onto the same page of firearms administration came in the form of a restricted memorandum of guidance to police in 1969. Whether that was a new trick or just an update of an earlier restricted document, we don’t know. What we do know is that disputes relating to the administration of firearms controls were rare birds in the courts of record until the Home Office took over administering section 5 authorities from the Defence Council in 1973. Since then they’ve become quite common; a combination of the Home Office moving the section 5 goalposts and progressively reducing the number on issue and policing seeking to enforce the policies of the 1972 McKay report after Parliament had rejected it. The Home Office eventually had to revamp and then publish their guidance to police – it came out in 1989 – and in both the final version and earlier drafts they favoured policies over the law as clarified by the courts. And that has continued through to the latest version in 2016.

Policy is not law, of course; and you can have any policy you like as long as it’s lawful. The problem is where policy comes in to conflict with the law and it was on that ragged edge that the Shooters’ Rights Association was founded in 1984: the inconsistencies from one police force to another. And if you’re not living right on the edge, you’re taking up too much room, or so they tell us.

Here’s one example: the 1969 (restricted) guidance suggested that a target shooter might require possession of 1500 rounds of ammunition and authority to acquire 1200 at a time. London’s Metropolitan Police interpreted this as ‘per calibre’ so a firearm certificate holder with 16 different firearms for target shooting might have 24,000 rounds of ammunition. Not initially, of course: all these numbers had to be worked up to gradually through the tri-annual renewals. West Midlands police, on the other hand, interpreted the numbers as ‘per certificate’, dividing 1500 by the number of different calibres possessed and were up for spending tax revenues on enforcing their interpretation in the courts.

The word ‘calibre’ sets all sorts of hares running. It means the nominal diameter of the bullet, so in Kent your .22” variation opened the door to any .22” rifle, from 22” short rimfire to .220” Swift. But in London, our founder-treasurer was told that he had to apply to change his 7.62mm rifle variation in order to buy a .308 rifle. They are different brand names for the same cartridge. He was also threatened with prosecution for possessing 7.65mm ammunition on a .32ACP variation. He solved that one by turning the 7.65mm box over for the visiting policeman to show it was .32ACP on the other side.

Cartridge designations are really brand names. To seek some logic in them leads to despair and madness, so we counsel against that approach. In the old days of loose ammunition arms, small arms were designated by the diameter of the number of spherical balls that could be cast to fit itoutofapoundoflead:soa12bore ball would weigh an ounce and a quarter. Colt’s ‘navy’ revolver was 100 bore. In guns with wheels, a similar designation was used except that the ball was iron, so a 25-pounder field gun has a nominal bore diameter of 3.45 inches and an iron ball of that diameter weighs 25 pounds. It’s nominal because rifled barrels have two bore diameters – land and groove.

The bore size system fell apart with the invention of Minie balls – bullet shaped projectiles – as they weigh more than the round version. Self- contained small arms ammunition developed in parallel around the world using local carpentry measurements. Georg Luger designated his cartridge, which is of .357” calibre, 9mm parabellum. He was German and ‘parabellum’ was the abbreviated telegraphic address of the DWM Company making his pistols. Americans call it 9mm Luger, Brits tended to call it 9mm and NATO refer to it as 9x19mm – the larger number being the case length. That became handy when the Italians created a 9x21mm ‘civilian’ cartridge: Smith & Wesson’s briefly interesting .356TS&W was a 9x22.5mm.

So enough about ammunition and police inconsistencies; most police problems turned out to be the ignorance of individual plods and clerks in search of something to nick the certificate holder for; they didn’t seem to mind exposing their ignorance to judicial scrutiny.

Policy conflicting with law proved more of a problem and the most obvious area of example is that of antique status. The Firearms Act 1920 excluded from controls any antique firearm possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament. These two words were coined in adverts for ‘Exchange and Mart’ magazine (founded in 1878), which they used to advertise their periodical in other publications, so by 1920 everyone knew what they meant. Or did they? The Martini Henry rifle was declared obsolete in British army service in 1920: at a time when the target shooting rifle market was saturated with breech-loading repeaters. Out in the sticks, muzzle- loading shotguns outnumbered breech-loaders in farming communities, although flintlock mechanisms had given way to percussion. Smallarms gradually went out of use – and thus became curiosities or ornaments – as the ammunition supply dried up, or when a newer model became viable. And that’s a progression; by 1920, the ammunition for superseded ignition systems wasn’t being produced – needle fire and some of the capping breech-loaders – but pinfire shotguns and revolvers continued to be made until WW2. Eley discontinued making 12 bore pinfire ammunition in 1968.

Many black powder cartridges made the transition to nitro - .45” Long Colt, .38” Smith and Wesson Special, .455”, .22” rimfire etc. while a few, such as .320” didn’t.

The 1969 Home Office guidance recognised obsolete systems as antiques, but with a 1939 cut-off date: so cap and ball revolvers made on Colt’s tooling in Mexico in the 1920s are antiques, but those reverse- engineered by Uberti in Italy aren’t – nor ever will be in Home Office thinking. Britain is the only country in Europe to adopt that position.

The break point between ‘antique’ and ‘modern’ is thus a question of fact and degree and depends on the defendant as much as the firearm. Georg Luger’s famed pistol was obsolete in German military service after 1945, but was still in Portuguese military service in Angola in the 1970s. Examples souvenired from German prisoners in the Great War might still be out there in private hands, possessed since 1918 as curiosities, ornaments or trophies of war, while in the wrong hands they turn up as murder weapons, such as in 1966 when three Metropolitan Policemen were shot dead in Shepherd’s Bush.

The Crown took the Home Office definition of antique to court as their bible in Richards v Curwen in 1977. The Court of Appeal rejected the ‘availability of ammunition’ argument in this case that involved two 1890s model service revolvers, and set out the ‘fact and degree’ test as the way of dealing with the question. Put simply, the first test is one of possession as a curiosity or ornament. Any hint of intended use, such as loading it and taking it to a crime scene, immediately cuts the defendant off from claiming antique status. Home Office guidance suggests the presence of ammunition might be a clue that it’s not just a curiosity: which has caused some legitimate collectors problems if they have an ‘on-ticket’ arm of the same calibre. If the defendant’s possession passes that test, the question of its age, supported by its obsolescence or having been superseded comes into play. And that’s very tricky when one considers the longevity of some designs. Winchester’s 1897 12-bore pump action shotgun, for example, continued in production until 1957. So an early 1900s example with a 20 inch barrel and marked up to the Royal Irish Constabulary is either an antique or a prohibited section 5 firearm: a question of fact and degree for a jury.

Theresa May wasn’t finished with us after the 2014. She started off the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which included nine provisions relating to firearms: a real dog’s breakfast of what was left at the bottom of the Home Office drawer, handed to a sleepwalker who’d stick anything through. And just when you thought the Home Office was running out of ideas for attacks on those tax paying citizens who like to own firearms, the constant, repeated drip-drip of attacks on the peaceful possession of one’s firearms collection is still accelerating: the Offensive Weapons Bill includes provisions to prohibit certain firearms – all of which are currently held lawfully and in good faith on firearm certificates.

High time, we think, for somebody such as a Home Secretary to have a really good look at this whole fiasco and the players driving it; the history behind it and what the point (if any) of all of it. Otherwise Home Office officials will continue to drive their agenda through policy into law, politicians will ignore them in favour of gabbing on about Brexit and the police will keep on attacking the law- abiding in search of statistics to benefit their claim that control of firearms is core business.

Which brings us back to corruption: the notion that there is some in policing is nothing new and when identified is more often than not the occasional ‘bad apple’ doing something for personal gain or covering up a crime of his own, or an associate; as in every walk of life. However, that which causes real public concern is the other kind: white or honourable corruption – the crusading cop fitting the evidence to the suspect he ‘knows’ is guilty but can’t prove it without massaging the evidence. Actually a rare beast: in high profile cases such as the Guildford four, the officers were acquitted of perverting the course of justice after the four’s convictions were quashed.

In the James Hanratty case, it’s hard to put much weight on how the police might have influenced the jury. That case was largely driven by the victim’s evidence and the conviction was eventually upheld on DNA findings. We think the risk of misleading a jury is more likely to originate with the bar; the barristers hired by the Crown to present the prosecution case. They aren’t on oath and what they say before a jury must have some influence: which won’t be detected in appeals, where the evidence is considered and not the barristers’ theatricals.

Where systemic police corruption is most apparent, at least to us, is the pursuit of policies that are unsupported by the law. We’ve had a crime-wave of the arbitrary seizures of firearm and shot gun certificate holders’ property. It’s the first thing the police do if any mention of a certificate holder gets to their ears. Like the case of the retired doctor whose new GP reported his bi-polar condition to the police. He’s had the condition, managed by medication, for two decades and the police have been aware of it throughout, but mention of it from a new GP ignorant of everything except the firearms flag on his computer was enough to trigger a gun grab. A similar thing happened to a shot gunner after a neighbour told someone he’d said he’d shoot the dog of his that attacked her chickens. Elsewhere, a woman told a co-worker that she’d had a row with her husband whom she was thinking of leaving and that brought the heavy mob to a retired policeman’s door to secure his guns ‘in case’.

And that’s the consequences on the ground of just one policy in Home Office guidance to police. The policy is to seize the guns, then wait six months and then review the person’s suitability. It’s unsupported in law and violates the certificate holders’ rights under the Human Rights Act and the European Convention of Human Rights. That Mrs May didn’t recognise this or indeed any of her Home Office policies as corrupt means it still goes on and it’ll take an exceptional politician to straighten matters out. And they don’t come along very often.Ω


AROUND THE SUMMER SHOWS War and Peace Revival 2018

The annual gathering of 20thcentury re-enactors and particularly their vehicles landed on the Hop Farm in Kent again in July. It’s an event of three parts – the static displays of vehicles and camps, the trade stands and live entertainment at several venues around the site: the arena, the Spitfire stage, the authors’ pavilion and Trentham home front village, to name but four.

Starting on Tuesday 24th, when the trade felt abandoned and deserted; it wasn’t crowded and heaving like a game fair, but visitors to the show were there to spend: so best of both worlds – lots of space to browse in and plenty to choose from. Living history has been hard hit by paranoid legislation in the past year, so only a few stands had deactivated firearms on sale. The problem is that the Policing and Crime Act 2017 retrospectively declared all firearms deactivated before it came into force as ‘defectively deactivated’ unless upgraded to new specs: which can change at any time by regulation without notice. The latest change came on 28th June, but wasn’t published either then or in time for the de-ac trade to upgrade stock for the show: hence so little on sale. This legislation makes it an offence to sell a defectively deactivated firearm within the EU, hence droves of National Crime Agency enforcers ‘checking’ what stands were selling. Good job we’re leaving the EU in good time for 2019’s shows. The traders can bring Europe’s surplus of defectively deactivated kit to Britain for sale.

One tiny benefit from the new regs – being Europe wide – is that it busted the Home Office blockade on the sale of Bren gun number two barrels. Hitherto, they couldn’t be sold separately; as to be sold at all they had to be welded to a receiver. The new European spec has made loose barrels for all those WW2 weapons that came with a spare available: useful if you have the relevant webbing or space in a transit chest to fill. Win some, lose some: a noticeable absentee this year was battlefield relics – now regarded as defectively deactivated. We saw

helmets and magazines, entrenching tools, wire cutters and other metallic kit that soldiers carried until they lost them, but no rifles.

In 2017 Kent police were hopping round one stand displaying Mosin Nagant relics wondering if they were still loaded. You can tell from the striker position and given the corrosion of the weapon itself – the magazines don’t last and what’s left is empty – a round left in the breech will be inert and in there for the rest of eternity: but nowadays not in Kent. Battlefield practices are such that loaded weapons are a rare find: like the hand grenade an army cadet found in Mammett Wood in August 2018.

The Royal British Legion mounted a large visit to key WW1 battlefields in August to coincide with the centenary of the Battle of Amiens and because it’s the summer holidays and more people could go: except the veterans, all since recalled by their maker: hence army cadets making themselves useful. He got the lecture: nothing is taken off the range – everything issued is handed in and on the battlefield, touch nothing left for you in case its booby-trapped. In the case of the hand grenade, throw it back and if it doesn’t go off it’ll be there for some other half-wit to pick up, as it has been for the past century.

But we digress; late July was the peak of the drought and W&P took place on some of the hottest days of the year – which didn’t phase people dressed in woollen uniforms, but did do wonders for the ‘potty about tea’ stand’s queue: likewise the NAAFI and the beer tents. The dry ground meant the tanks barely left a mark on the surface, unlike 2017 when we spent more time inside our stand than manning it. The SRA didn’t exhibit this year, preferring to mingle and meet our members that way.

Wandering through the enormous selection of military vehicles on Monktons, we had to wonder; the cast of ‘A Bridge too Far’ were (in 1977) the 17th largest army in the world and this was bigger. Not to mention that the 4th largest army in 1977 was Iraq, also represented in Kent by re- enactors. We also met one Japanese re-enactor and spotted someone we couldn’t catch up with in North Vietnam Army black pyjamas: good choice with the weather we had.

The temporary demise of the de-ac market has left a gap for other products: we saw several stands selling Spanish Denix replicas and half a dozen selling airsoft products. If you’re old enough to remember the Japanese pot-metal replicas of the 1970s, you’ll recall that they were good enough to serve as theatrical props as long as you didn’t need them to go bang. Some early models were re-arranged internally so that pulling the double action trigger also pulled the slide back thus ejecting a dummy shell. Done snappily it was good enough for TV shows like ‘The Persuaders’ and ‘The Professionals’ and the trend for using non-firearms firearms on set has continued with airsofts in starring roles.

We saw an MG42 airsoft that would stand close-up photography, at least while pristine. The problem with replicas is the way the finish wears, as shown in the War & Peace magazine’s review of the SIG M1911 ‘We the People’. It looks all right until compared with the real deal. Our interest in these products is the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 limitations on selling them to just anybody. To buy one you have to show the seller that he won’t be committing an offence by selling it to you. That’s achieved by establishing your credentials as a bona fide re- enactor/living history displayer.

You can do this with your SRA membership card and certificate, as that shows you have public liability insurance for all those activities – and more. On the airsoft skirmish side, we have hooked up with UKASA – the United Kingdom Airsoft Site Association – so with our backing all their members also have the relevant PLI. Interestingly, the 2007 regulations pertaining to the sale of airsoft products don’t mention ‘skirmish’; only historic re-enactment. The new game in town is Peaky Blinders – which is another version of living history in the sense that Country and Western gatherings are living history events – and not just because at first sight they appear to be for old people.

Take another look: the people engaged in living history are those that can afford it: the twenty- somethings can do the running about in airsoft skirmish.

A Spitfire kept way overhead – a reminder of regulatory changes for air displays following the Shoreham air show tragedy and reference to the War and Peace brochure reveals that it was a twin cockpit model carrying fare-paying passengers: overall, an excellent show.


Three hours away and a few weeks later we stopped by Spetchley Park Gardens for a multi-period living history event – the M5 Living History Show. It looked way smaller than W&P due to so many periods represented not involving vehicles, but WW1 and WW2 were there, along with a good showing from the American Civil War, America’s earlier war to redefine Mexico as being south of the Rio Grande: Vikings, Medieval, and rumours of cavemen.

There are always some ‘anti’ objections to the rest of us having a good time. The Sun ran their annual anti historic re-enactment diatribe on 22nd August with the headline ‘Don’t Mansion the War’ leading an article that claimed an unnamed woman visitor to a living history display at

Lacock Abbey was reduced to tears by the sight of Germans in Nazi uniforms. What did she expect at a WW2 living history event? My uncle would have quite liked WW2 without the Germans – then he might still be alive instead of representing the family at D Day events from his grave in Normandy. The Lacock Abbey display included WW2 exhibits, such as a yellow six pointed star and swastika flags. Er, both are peculiar to WW2 and tend to feature in living history displays.

They never run this story in relation to a big event like War & Peace or Military Odyssey; it’s always at a smaller venue to make the re- enactment look more a minority oddity and it’s not exclusive to the Sun – a quick internet search will show up various events that got cancelled by advance media publicity in case German uniforms turned up.

Those recreating German units from the war are careful in their choice of units to represent and there is considerable investment in accuracy; not to mention the cost of replica kit and since a lot of living history is about the vehicles, most re- enactors represent campaign forces and don’t wear the political uniforms that have swastikas on them. The Nazis aren’t the only nasty people in history, nor the worst: the Cheyenne nation want Washita downgraded from a battle to a massacre, so eventually portraying the Seventh Cavalry may get you onto the Sun’s naughty list. And don’t forget what the Vikings did to Paris or the Romans did to the Iceni.


The first re-enactment I saw was at Molash in 1977. Back then; one could buy the British WW2 kit from army surplus stores. The American uniforms tended to be post-war: (the Yanks used similar kit through Korea and into Vietnam), while German uniforms were mainly film props. Nowadays, most of it has to be replica, or ‘later production’ as one vendor would have it. That has been going on quietly for years with a lot of ‘British’ replica kit having been made in India. We had problems with some of their earlier products, but an Indian exhibitor at IWA had British helmets near perfect and not much else left to show, ‘cos people kept buying exhibits off him. At the next IWA, we’re going to look for him first. Now it’s all so good that movies are starting to look more authentic; although muzzle flashes and blank ammunition deserve a separate article.

Living history is big all over Europe and the US with every period covered, so why not Germany in WW2? It doesn’t hurt to remember the losers: it’s traditional, such as in Ireland where the leprechauns are still the duty of balance that radio and TV reporting has, but at what point can one bar German re-enactors from a WW2 re-enactment event without violating their human rights?

It’s OK to ban leprechauns, of course, as they aren’t human. Not that it would do any good. Maybe the Sun should try that one and see if picking on a vertically challenged minority gets them three wishes. Ω


The SRA’s Public Liability Insurance – Explained!

We’re a membership organisation, not an insurance company; so your membership fee acquires you various benefits – including this journal and public liability insurance, the help line, expert advice for all your firearms related legal problems, the get out of jail free card; which also works for buying air soft guns etc. The cover extends to anywhere in Europe for UK residents. We have a separate arrangement with the insurers for residents of the Irish Republic, which costs people in Eire more.

Third Party, or Public Liability Insurance is the same principle as third party car insurance: you’re insuring the other guy against any loss he might have as a result of your negligence. That might be the feeble end of your sword flying off in a melee, your pheasant folding nicely and nose-diving through a barn roof or your horse bolting through the mess tent. If your activities are with live ammunition, or your weapons- related other activities, such as air soft, battle re-enactment and living history, target archery and such cause someone else a loss and they intend to sue you, that’s when you call us.

Members are presumed to have taken or intend to undertake appropriate training for the activities they take part in or will take part in starting with the training. There are complications on the live ammunition side of things as, for example, there are some classes of firearms for which the Home Office require you to belong to a club before acquiring them, but which are outwith Home Office approval – long barrelled revolvers and section 1 shotguns, for examples – so you can’t use a club gun because none such exist and once you get yours, nobody else in the club can use it – which limits the tuition they can provide. But that’s OK; in the UK training is best practice and not compulsory.

On the re-enactment/living history side, non-members may not use weapons. That’s not the same as feeling the weight of someone’s sword or trying the bolt on a demo rifle – the things visitors might do – but on the field with weapons, members only; at which point you’re expected to have trained to your group’s expectations. Negligence and ignorance are different ways to cause problems for innocent bystanders.


Age limits: do children need to be insured?

Once they are old enough to be a liability, they can be negligent and someone might claim against them, so if you’re using them as props in your display, they should be card-carrying members. That said, public liabilities caused by your children may also be covered by your home contents insurance, so it’s a balancing act: if children are solely under parental control, the home contents insurance may suffice, as losers will sue the parent – but if they are a functional part of the group it might be the group that gets sued with consequential problems if the group includes some uninsured persons.

Is there a reduced rate for children?

No. There’s no lower (or upper) age limit on the policy and we pay the same rate to our broker for everyone of any age, any membership category and any kind of participant activity: so you only need to join once, no matter how many of the activities listed on the card you take part in.

What about a special rate for pensioners?

We considered a higher rate for O.A.P.s, as they’re more trouble, but our chairman (80 this year) said no, as he can’t afford it. We have always made discretionary membership fee concessions to longstanding members, as we recognize that old people need more bullets to hit the target and the money has to come from somewhere: so if you’re approaching your best before date and keeping with us is a financial problem, talk to us about it. Members who retire from shooting but would still like the journal are voted in as life members.

We have 32 members but there are never more than 10 of them turn up at any one event. How many memberships should we buy?

Thirty-two. We supply group leaders with a card for each member they pay for and the members get the cards; which they can use for certain utilities beyond the group, such as buying an air soft gun or going off deer stalking in Sweden, boar hunting in Corsica or strolling round War & Peace in costume.

Why do you ask re-enactment groups for Risk Assessments?

We want to be sure you have them. On the live ammunition side, the people who taught the people who are training you learned to avoid pitfalls that others have spotted and marked. Do you unload your gun to climb a gate? Should you have a loaded gun and a dog on a lead at the same time? What role does the sky play in determining a safe shot at a deer? Ask your trainer/mentor if you don’t know, thus to achieve best safe practice. Re-enactment likewise has rules to steer everyone into safe practice. Why should you keep your shield upright? How do you use it to fend off a mace and chain attack? Why don’t (some) muzzle-loaders carry their ramrods on the field? Why can’t you use Pyrodex in cannon?

We learned most of living history’s best practices by camping with the Scouts; roped off areas and such to separate the display from the visitors: safe handling of weapons (Scouts and Guides have knife and axe throwing in their curriculum); how to run a tidy camp and display. The information is all readily available.

I’m moving to New Zealand: can I still be a member?

Yes; but you’ll be a corresponding member, as the PLI only works for UK residents. Corresponding members get the SRA Journal and any other circulars, but the insurance is only effective while you have a UK address; which does include on a visitor’s permit if you come to the UK from your retirement place in the sun for an event. That doesn’t happen often, as most of our overseas members are overseas to enjoy the continued peaceful possession of firearms they own, but which got onto the naughty lists here. And you can’t bring them back on a visitor’s permit.

Can French re-enactors join a UK group for insurance purposes?

It doesn’t work like that. They will get and have similar insurance through one of their parent organisations in their home country, which is where they’ll be sued if they screw up here. Overseas visitors who have a UK address on their visitor’s permit count as residents.

How does SRA membership work for buying Realistic Imitation Firearms (R.I.F.s)?

The Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 requires a potential buyer to satisfy the seller that he won’t be committing an offence by making the sale. It’s only legal to sell RIFs to people who have a good (and legitimate) reason for possessing them and the 2007 regulations suggest that public liability insurance for historic re-enactment is suitable evidence. RIFs are acquired for a variety of activities; aside from re- enactment and living history we have collectors buying them and target shooting clubs using them. They are handy as film props: NCIS Los Angeles, Hawaii Five 0 and Silent Witness use them, as have many – more recent - movies. They serve in living history displays and as part of costume, as in Wild West and Peaky Blinders parties.

What’s the difference between SRA, UKASA and UKARA for airsoft purchases?

UKARA – United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers’ Association – is a database of airsoft skirmish players who have been added to the database by their home site after playing there three times in three months. Retailers can access the database to check a buyer is registered. UKASA – United Kingdom Airsoft Site Association – is a membership association for airsoft players and is affiliated as a group to the SRA. Members have a photo ID card and SRA certificate for making RIF purchases and their membership can be verified on line. Their first year was traumatic to start with: there’s a lot of back-biting animosity in the airsoft community that surfaced with UKARA’s inception and included a troll attack on both UKASA and the SRA and a damp-squib ‘investigation’ by the Financial Conduct Authority, who have no locus in such matters. Now it’s all settled down, UKASA membership is developing and unlike UKARA registration has to be renewed every year – so retailers can be sure that its members are currently active players. SRA members have their membership card for making purchases and a certificate on request, but our privacy policy is such that anyone wanting to verify your membership status has to telephone or email us. Ω

Jack Fido – last man standing under a small sky

If you came on any of the SRA courses or competitions at the Pembrokeshire site in the 1990s, you’d have met Jack at the Fox and Hounds pub in Cwm Cych. If you didn’t, however, we’ll explain the background – the better to help you share in mourning our community’s loss.

Back in the 1980s, SRA Secretary Arch Wylie and founder member Richard Law started joint house hunting in Wales. The plan was to develop a suitable property as home for both families, a bed & breakfast and a shooting centre with somewhere to process the SRA paperwork to boot. Arch died suddenly of a heart attack in 1985; aged 50. Richard Law (aged 33) was appointed secretary in his stead (at Arch’s funeral) and the plan was trimmed down to exclude the B&B element; he acquired a redundant farm – Llanerchymeidwy – in 1986.

A traumatic year; that autumn, while staring at goats, SRA Chairman Jan A Stevenson was run over and seriously injured in a road accident. While still in hospital he received notice that his lease on the Shotley Gate ranges in Suffolk would end in April 1987. In Pembrokeshire, planning permission had been obtained for the pistol range and clubroom development and the work started, so courses started to use the venue before it was built; first up were Peter Eliot’s ladies’ combat course in 1986 and a synagogue security course early in 1987.

The range received its MoD safety certificate in 1988 and by the handgun ban in 1997 had hosted over 200 pistol, rifle and shotgun events. Various courses, competitions and club meets took place, as well as photo and film shoots for a variety of projects. It also saw use as a test range for firearms and ammunition developments.

Local accommodation for instructors, students and visitors suited all tastes and ranged from using the clubroom, to B&Bs in the parish to nearby hotels in Newcastle Emlyn, Tegryn and Llechryd. The nearest pub was the Fox and Hounds: in 1986 a traditional local where men gathered after a day’s work for a pint before supper. The one bar boasted a skittles table and that attracted a small crowd every Thursday. Anthony James (plant hire contractor) was technically in charge, as he had an alarm clock to time the rounds. He used to lead these men on pigeon shoots – until the pigeons ran out (or flew off): Yanto the Hit (slaughterman), Gomer, ‘Dat’ (farmer – it means Granddad): not to mention Eifion Cwm Morgan, the Pantlecci gnomes, the ‘other German’ Horst and Jack’s best friend Mike ‘the Plumber’ Jones.

A builder by trade and a widower by then, Jack was in the skittles team and ever willing to teach visitors the art on other nights. On his arrival on Thursday evenings, his first task was to check out the skittles table. This complicated ritual involved ensuring that the ball would pass over certain parts of the board plus or minus 25 thou, which being highly practised, he accomplished by eye.

Adjustments were often made during the holiday season after Grockles (visitors) had been at the table during the preceding week. One lot even moved the skittles table to make room for their bar meals! The shooting club were favoured visitors, as they had been trained earlier and had passed on their skills to new shooters and managed to progress beyond Grockle status quite quickly.

Eventually, Jack decided to retire from serious competition and the mantle fell upon Gomer, whose teaching style was unique but incredibly effective. He achieved this largely by saying little or nothing, steadily thrashing you as the game progressed but often muttering words of encouragement as you screwed up: “Good start, bad finish”. Nevertheless, by the time of Gomer’s passing, most of the local valleys’ revellers were passable in the noble art of Table Skittles and as a bi-product, the Saes (English) wannabe players learned to count in Welsh if they wanted to have a hope of keeping up with the scoring.

And that’s how you’d have met Jack: by eyeing up the skittles table, he’d be on hand to play you. Other regulars, such as Jim Grynga and One- Eyed Sam, weren’t players. They claimed to be retired and welcomed visitors by switching their conversation from Welsh to English, believing it rude to speak Welsh in front of people who didn’t understand it: but Jack would play you, being a mere 65 or so in the 1980s. He played Megan the first summer the Law family lived in the parish. She, as an infant school pupil got her scores on the wall with the others. There’s no generation gap in this neck of the woods.

Life bowled along gently, as it does; Megan grew up and didn’t have time for skittles, but students and teachers from the courses had a go, and that’s how they met Jack.

Nothing stays the same forever. The current leaders of Turkey, China and Russia intend to stay in power forever in an attempt to defy history like Saddam Hussein, Robert Mugabe, and Julius Caesar etc. But in Cwm Cych, life gradually moves on.

The pub went through several hands. The famous German landlord ‘Joseph’ took a hotel in Swansea, leaving his daughter and her boyfriend Dave running it with Jack still in the corner. He didn’t have far to commute to sit by the pub fire, as he


When we heard Sir Peter Lampl tell his Desert Island Discs audience that he paid for the handgun ban, our first thought was that he hadn’t, as so many claims are still outstanding. Next thought was, well, let’s buy it back: but the 1997 legislation went through a Parliament mired in sleaze, so he could afford it and we can’t. Not to mention prices have gone up since then. Nevertheless, we’ll start a war chest, and see what we can do. Ω


All donations gratefully received: at a time when the ‘for and against’ Brexit tribes can boast of donations in the Hundreds of thousands of pounds, it seems that nothing happens without money.

The SRA’s past efforts at fund- raising have been the old-fashioned sort – raffle tickets, promotional goods, adverts in the journal and direct donations solicited by a line on renewal letters inviting members to round up their total.

Aside from direct donations, each of the other ways of doing things comes at a cost. The key cost is time and in an organisation without full time staff, spending a week on the phone selling adverts or blagging raffle prizes takes us away from dealing with members’ day-to-day problems as they present.

A soon-to-be-heard shot gun certificate appeal took some eighty hours of case preparation, for example and we do that better than we blag raffle prizes.

Since the handgun ban in the 1990s, Parliament, or more accurately ministers and their officials have looked for ways of protecting themselves from being got at.

It falls into two distinct camps: a lot of the supposed ‘problem’ was party donors ‘buying’ influence, which made the Labour Party sulk because the Conservatives had bigger donors. Then there were the professional lobbyists. They know the ropes and have the contacts, but officials are terrified of lobbyists getting people like us past them and straight to the politicians, so they sought to make that financially difficult.

The ‘mass’ approach where a newspaper or a social grouping urge people to write to their MPs, or the ministry get ignored, certainly at the Home Office. They have a policy of disregarding leaflet campaigns.

After the Hungerford murders, SRA member Ian Sinclair hand-wrote hundreds of letters: harder to ignore, each being customized. That’s easier these days with word processing, but still takes time. Graham Sheard adopted the direct approach and telephoned Home Office officials – at home if they were too busy to take his calls at work, so now they don’t take telephone calls at all.

There’s still a few ways in, and work to be done around the offensive weapons bill, which is why we’re asking you to help. A fiver now and a donation over your renewal would help a lot. Ω

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