TIME FOR A WAR CHEST
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?
IT’S ALL GOING ON
Our North Wales correspondent Stuart Daniels spotted these – loosely – firearms related articles in his local newspapers last year.
21st February – Daily Post Wales
The RSPCA put a cat down to prevent its further suffering after it was taken in to their facility in Rhyl with paralyzed back legs. X-rays showed an air gun pellet lodged in its spine and an older wound containing an air gun pellet just behind the right front leg. An RSPCA spokesman said the owner of the cat had not come forwards (we thought dogs have owners and cats have staff) and appealed for any information about this crime.
Most domestic pets and livestock count as property. Owners – and cat’s companions - have responsibility for the animal’s welfare. Causing any animal suffering, such as by wounding it, is an offence. The air gun pellets recovered from this animal might be matchable to a suspect air weapon, if enquiries turn up one to test. A private member’s bill (at the time of writing) trying to get Parliamentary time would increase the status of professional working animals – police dogs and horses in particular – in a bid to increase sentences for persons convicted of causing them harm. (Ed.)
6th March 2018 – tip of the iceberg
Ex-soldier Llifon Jones appeared at Caernarfon Crown Court via video- link charged with making and possessing a firearm, possession of an offensive weapon and two counts of threatening behaviour. He refused to recognise his name, refused to enter pleas and denied having been sectioned under the Mental Health Act. The judge adjourned the hearing.
He’ll need a lawyer. (Ed.)
Daily Post - 1st April
The Gun Control network pumped up the ‘issue’ of the health of certificate holders.
We wondered if the date was significant. Policing – or more accurately cockamamie Home Office guidance - has made a higher standard of health a requirement for certificate holders; who now have to be fitter than police officers, airline pilots and heavy goods vehicle drivers – to take part in a hobby! They also have to have a better social attitude than Members of Parliament and not be renting out residential property to cannabis horticulturalists. (Ed.)
28th May (Daily Mirror)
FARMERS £50 BADGER BAIT
New guidance extends the
government’s badger cull to most of England to halt the spread of bovine TB. Qualified shooters, licensed by Natural England, get up to £50 per corpse. Michael Gove said farmers would qualify for licenses (but didn’t say which licenses.)
It’s been about ten badger generations since hunting them down for sport was banned: so long enough for the badger community to have
forgotten the perils of humankind. We wondered if the rise in TB is because badgers have lost that memory and can be seen in farmyards – bringing the infection to the cattle?
31st May 2018 (Daily Post)
RURAL WALES BACKLASH OVER ‘FUR and FEATHER’ VENDETTA
Countryside Alliance claims Welsh government is giving too much credibility to anti hunt petitions on which only a minority of the signatories live in Wales.
These petitions include a ban on Larsen traps, another trying to persuade the Welsh Assembly to ban hunting on land it controls and a ban on game rearing pens. The Scottish Government ignored all petitions and comments about their air weapon legislation that originated from outside their domain. (Ed.)
21st June (Daily Post)
RSPCA FURY AS DUCK IS SHOT WITH CROSSBOW.
(More accurately, RSPCA fury after duck is shot by a crossbow – ducks are rarely armed with anything, Ed.)Found near Buckley Common in Flintshire and rescued, the charity is investigating this crime.
28th June (Daily Mirror – again)
1,600 supposed breaches of the 2004 Hunting Act in the last five years have resulted in 83 arrests and 30 people charged – a 5% clear-up rate.
Tony Blair (PM in 2004) said the Hunting Act was a mistake and should be repealed. Lots of his legislation was a mistake; having him as Prime Minister is seen by history as a mistake, yet the legislation he pioneered is still there – Firearms Act 1997, Anti-social Behaviour Act 2003, Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006, to name but a few in the rising tide of legislation that amounted to a new law every 31⁄4 hours for the ten years he was in office. (Ed.)
4th July (Daily Post)
Major Seizure of UK-bound handguns
79 handguns – 4mm and 6mm saloon pistols – were detected in specially adapted engine blocks at Coquelles, along with ammunition. A Czech and a Pole were arrested.
Saloon pistols are ‘off-ticket’ in some countries; France is not one of them. 6mm CB caps generate about 22 ft. lbs. at the muzzle. Ed.
4th July (Rhyl Journal)
Police and RSPCA are investigating after two herring gulls were found dead and a wounded third had to be put down – which is a euphemism for killed – in Prestatyn. In 2017 the RSPCA received 70 calls relating to air gun attacks in Wales.
All gull species are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. The article doesn’t say what species were involved in the ‘70 air gun attacks’ (we know one was a cat – above) but using an air weapon against appropriate pest species with access permission and a DEFRA licence is not illegal of itself.Ed.
6th July (Daily Mirror)
3 RHINO POACHERS ARE EATEN BY LIONS
A spokesman for the game reserve said that lions were their watchers and guardians and while loss of life is regrettable it “sends out a very clear message to any other poacher that you will not always be the winner.”
In the same paper – brown bears are to be reintroduced to the Wild Places Project in South Gloucestershire, with a treetop walkway so visitors can see them up close.
Scottish life member Ed Beck said that the reintroduction of wolves to Scotland – Scottish government plan to control the number of deer available to stalkers – would coincidentally solve the rambler problem. As to brown bears – they can climb trees – and how long will it be before they break out to join the out-of-control wild boar population in that county? (Ed.)
18th July (North Wales Pioneer)
The number of legally held firearms (excluding shotguns) has increased by 46% in North Wales in the past decade. (So plenty of people who could take part in the badger cull. Ed.) The article irrelevantly continues, “there were 31 fatal shootings in England and Wales....10,000 offences in which firearms were reported to have been used, of which 18 took place in North Wales.
The usual conflation of two unrelated subjects: one wonders if they got all that from the same press release. Tony Long comments in his book (reviewed in Journal 60) that North Wales Police spent the most of any police force in the UK on their firearms training facilities while having just 0.06% of the firearms crime. And that number isn’t the actual firearms crime rate, as policing boosts firearms crimes with the likes of the case below. The dead hand of policing controlling certificate numbers is such that the shooting sports have barely a tenth of the participants that would be taking part had the bureaucracy not intervened. No other sport has the irrational problem of Home Office paranoia to deal with. All they have to worry about is doped participants.(Ed.)
19th July (Daily Post)
SPARED (sic) JAIL FOR UNLICENSED SHOTGUN BEHIND HIS SOFA.
Judge Huw Rees said it was a serious oversight, keeping the bolt action repeating shotgun behind the sofa for several years without a certificate as he handed down a nine- month suspended sentence. Charges relating to possessing other shotguns without a certificate and a prohibited disguised weapon were not proceeded with and his certificates have been revoked.
One has to wonder what sequence these events took place in – did they revoke the certificates and then find the guns, or did they find the guns because he was late renewing (in which case there was no certificate to revoke) etc. Whatever; the bolt action repeating shotgun has been a section 1 firearm since 1988 and walking stick shotguns have been prohibited disguised weapons since 1993. This one wasn’t ‘disguised’ because it had a visible trigger and guard. The nine- month suspended gaol sentence makes him a prohibited person for five years from 48 hours after the sentence was handed down. Home Office guidance to police says that applications to have prohibition lifted should not be opposed unless the original crime involved firearms or violence, while the High Court says that firearms offences like in this case are not evidence of danger to public safety or the peace. Law or policy? Which is going to win?Ed.
Killer who shot official as BBC filmed it dies at 78. (Daily Mirror 19th September)
In 1991, Homeowner Albert Dryden produced a Mk6 Webley revolver to shoot Council Planning Officer Harry Collinson when the latter turned up with a demolition team, a police escort and a BBC film crew to demolish Dryden’s bungalow due to its lack of planning permission. He also wounded a policeman and a BBC journalist. Found guilty at Newcastle Crown Court when his diminished responsibility plea didn’t work, Dryden was freed (actually, transferred to a care home) in 2017 after several strokes, where he died aged 78.
Man spared (sic) jail for loaded BB gun in public. Daily Post 4th OctoberJames Joseph Greenwood (19)
pleaded guilty to having a loaded BB gun in a public place and was ordered to complete 100 hours of unpaid work.
Section 19 of the Firearms Act. It would be the same offence without it being loaded. Ed.
Hunter crushed by bear he shot. (Daily Mirror 8th October)
Chugash National Forest Alaska: William McCormick shot the 25-stone black bear, which tumbled down the slope and crushed him. McCormick was also struck by a rock dislodged in the incident; the two impacts between them causing him life-threatening injuries.
I knew I was trained not to shoot uphill for a reason, Ed.
Brit cyclist mistakenly shot dead by hunter (Daily Mirror 15th October)
A 22-year-old French hunter shot 34-year-old Marc Sutton (originally from Caerphilly) on a forest track near Montriond in the French Alps, mistaking his thrashing down a popular forest track on his bicycle while wearing a bright orange helmet for the passage of a ‘fast moving animal’.
Must be the hunting season then. Ed.
Man had replica gun in town pub. Tivyside Advertiser December 18th.Fraser Rees was convicted of possessing a replica firearm in a public place after an airsoft Walther PPK was found in his waistband during a scuffle. Rees produced the 1688 Bill of Rights as justification for his actions, but the judge said it did not apply to replica guns inside Cardigan pubs.
So if not then, when? Section 19 again: except airsoft are excluded from the Firearms Act by section 57A. Ed Ω
Firearms Legislation – the background
We’ve had firearms controls of one sort or another since the Gun Control Act 1870 introduced gun owners to a ten-shilling (50p) annual tax for the pleasure of owning a gun. Next came the game licence and then the Pistols Act 1903, which obligated pistol owners to buy a ten-shilling licence.
Firearm certificates were introduced in 1920 to prevent foreign powers flogging off Great War surplus to up and coming hotspots. They replaced the pistol licence but not the gun licence. You still had to have that or a game licence so every gun owner paid ten bob a year to the treasury.
A new Firearms Act, 1937 added a prohibited weapons category for which one obtained Defence Council authority. You still needed a firearm certificate and a gun licence. Harold Wilson’s Labour government abolished the gun licence in February 1966 and introduced shot gun certificates following the Shepherd’s Bush murder of three Metropolitan policemen in August that year.
The 600,000 people who applied for shot gun certificates in 1968, despite the poor publicity given to the requirement, so shocked the chief inspector of constabularies that he formed an ad hoc committee to ‘do something’ about the number of guns in private hands.
His 1972 McKay report was never published: a watered down version appeared as a green paper (Cmnd 5297) and that was rejected by Parliament. Despite that, the Home Office adopted many of his proposals by taking over administration of prohibited weapons controls from the Defence Council, and police chiefs adopted it as policy.
The Home Office departed from Defence Council practice by reclassifying – in their minds – prohibited weapons parts: then they launched a policy of attrition aimed at the gun trade in particular; but also at collectors and certificate holders. Prior to 1973, only four ‘firearms’ cases reached the Court of Appeal, but after it there were dozens and all the recorded ones relate to prosecutions of registered firearms dealers.
A 2015 review of firearms controls by Rudi Fortson QC for the Law Commission highlights the fact that all the controls, current and proposed, are directed at making life more difficult for law-abiding taxpayers who are trying to comply with the law. These controls, perceived by the McKay Report as ‘reducing the number of firearms in the hands of the public to an absolute minimum as a desirable end in itself’ have nothing to do with public safety.
The fact that in 1968 so many people had guns without that being a problem was what alarmed Sir John McKay so much that he wanted to eradicate ‘the problem’. That’s been Home Office policy ever since and that’s the mess Sajid Javid MP is sleepwalking into. ‘Sleepwalking’ because that’s the only way politicians survive at the Home Office.
While everyone is focussed on Brexit, the Home Office continue to attack the law-abiding taxpayers who use firearms for a hobby or sport. The Offensive Weapons Bill contained proposals to ban .50 and MARS rifles, home loading and fairground galleries.
.50 rifles are owned by firearm certificate holders and used for long range target shooting. Rifles of any type rarely (less than 1%) ever feature in crime and no .50 ever has. Part of the problem with statistics is that a certificate holder failing to sign a certificate on receipt, or failing to notify acquisition of a shotgun to the police chief within seven days is recorded as ‘gun crime’ along with possession of a firearm or shotgun without a certificate (a conviction that both Douglas Hurd and the Earl of Caithness have) when renewing late. The firearms figures are deliberately manipulated to make it look as though there’s a problem: administrative failures are ‘gun crime’. This is just another example of Home Office officials constantly chipping away at the shooting sports and including attacks on law-abiding citizens’ activities in an offensive weapons bill is an insult.
MARS – Manually Actuated Release System rifles are a design consequence of the unconstitutional self-loading rifle ban in 1988. They are only owned by firearm certificate holders and used for target shooting at Home Office approved clubs.
While Parliament was in recess, officials slipped more proposed bans into the Offensive Weapons Bill to ban home cartridge loading, fairground gallery ranges and the tuition of minors in the use of air weapons on private land. By the time word leaked out it was too late for ‘submissions’ from the public to be considered. These proposals seem to have been dreamed up by NABIS and fed to opposition MPs – a tactic used by the discredited and now defunct Forensic Science Service – to chip away at what law-abiding people do.
Banning something so that nobody can have it as a way of stopping a minority abusing it is a complete failure as a public policy yet is still clung to by officials in respect of firearms ownership. The policy creates more ‘crime’ by way of unintended consequences than it can ever possibly prevent. The Home Office resisted these amendments, but be aware of them as they are doubtless on someone’s agenda.
Home cartridge loading is already restricted to firearm certificate holders by way of controls put in place in the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006. Only firearm certificate holders and registered firearms dealers can acquire the active ingredients for making ammunition – the powder and primers. There are rogues in every occupation, so the fact that Paul Edmunds sold obsolete ammunition to bad people; Harold Shipman murdered patients and some Disc Jockeys assault teenage girls demonstrates no more than that. Treating all certificate holders and dealers as target criminals – as is current policy – makes it much harder to detect actual crime.
Fairground gallery, rifle club and cadet corps .22” miniature rifles have been exempted from the firearm certificate control system since it was introduced in the Firearms Act 1920. The proposal didn’t distinguish between the three types of groups using the exemption without
providing any clue as to what the problem might be – or any word about compensation. There never having been a problem relating to any of the hundreds of groups that use the exemption.
Current Home Office Guidance to Police defends the exemption (section 11.4 of the Firearms Act 1968) by the numerous small rifle clubs that would not be able to meet Home Office criteria for approval. The fee for Home Office approval of rifle clubs was recently increased from £84 to £1050. The Home Office said, in their proposal document “Charging in this way ensures the real economic cost of safeguarding high risk activities is understood by licence holders.”
High Risk? Shooting is a safe sport when compared to any other. More people die playing football, or even watching it; riding horses and falling off mountains produce more casualties than rifle clubs or clay shoots: but the comment is a clear insight into the attitude of Home Office officials since they took over control of the shooting sports after the McKay Report of 1972.
The real and actual ‘high risk’ is to firearm certificate holders’ safety – such as when armed police arrived at a South Wales resident’s home during the hours of darkness to seize his firearms without any lawful authority for doing so – is that of being criminalised for trying to comply with the law. The same thing happened in Essex, except the raiding party included the army, as police are not
competent to seize black powder. Both raids were pursuant to an unlawful policy within Home Office Guidance to Police encouraging them to seize firearms from certificate holders if their names come up in any context. In the Essex case, his daughter complained about him as a parting shot when moving out to live with her boyfriend and a year later Essex police have done nothing other than unlawfully interrupt his sport.
Other high risks include being prosecuted. The main risks here are businesses closing, marriages failing and homes being repossessed as defendants wait on bail, sometimes for years, to answer charges relating to paperwork minutiae or firearms classification. Sterling Northolt Ltd lost a $45 million contract to supply rifles to a South American government because the Metropolitan Police simply refused to carry out the security check of the premises due to ‘outstanding matters’ which they neither explained nor investigated for over a year until pressured to do so by a judicial review in the High Court. The ‘outstanding matters’ turned out to be that one of the directors hadn’t sent a notice to the police when he transferred shotguns from his registered firearms dealership to his personal shotgun certificate.
In Essex, a registered firearms dealer and prohibited weapons authority holder) was having breakfast with his wife and eight young children when more than thirty police vehicles came up his drive after burning the electronic locks off his gates; more than a hundred policemen exited the vehicles and searched his home before arresting him for possession of two antique revolvers. He lost his £3 million home while waiting more than two years on bail before his acquittal last year. He was luckier than London resident Mick Shepherd, who was kept in custody for nearly a year while awaiting his trial for possessing antiques and following his acquittal the police kept his valuable collection for several years thereafter.
The Home Office stuck a clause in the Crime and Policing Act 2017 giving them the power to make regulations about antiques. The antiques ‘problem’ is that Home Office Guidance to Police has never recognised the definitive definition of antiques (as a fact and degree test) provided by the Court of Appeal in Richards v Curwen, 1977 and qualified by R v Brown in 1994. Antique firearms have been exempted from the controls since 1920, subject to being possessed solely as curiosities or ornaments. Antiques collectors (and those who possess old guns as heirlooms) do not have access to ammunition without obtaining a firearm certificate. The Court of Appeal decision was that not having ammunition would satisfy the court that a firearm was possessed solely as a curiosity or ornament and then its age and obsolescence would determine its status as an antique or not as a matter of fact and degree. The Court rejected the Crown’s attempt to classify firearms as ‘antique’ versus ‘modern’ by way of their ammunition: that way of doing things was in the old Memorandum of Guidance for police 1969, which was a restricted, unpublished Home Office policy handbook.
The Court said, in 1977, that they could not envisage 20th Century firearms as being antiques. There was a handy cut-off date in 1904 when proof marks changed from black powder to nitro. Most firearms do not have a date-made marked on them, but proof marks change from time to time and thus indicate the time frame in which the firearm was submitted to proof.
For many years following the 1977 case, police continued to prosecute using the 1969 Memorandum guidelines, while defendants relied on the Court of Appeal judgment to get acquitted. Where courts convicted people of benign possession without a certificate, penalties ranged from an absolute discharge to £150 fine. The theoretical maximum of three years in prison was increased to five years by the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 and made little difference to sentencing policy but the mandatory five years in prison for possession of a prohibited small firearm introduced in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 (irrespective of past good character) had the unintended consequence of juries cutting defendants more slack; preferring to acquit them rather than commit them to prison for five years for possessing old guns without ammunition. That’s the background to Rudi Fortson QC’s paranoid rant following the acquittal of defendants in possession of World War 2 vintage firearms.
Home Office guidance to police was re-written when Damien Green was at the Home Office. It never has been actual guidance to police, but more of a policy document: with Damien Green as the sleepwalker, it turned into a wish list that now advocates criminality by police to get certificate holders and registered dealers out of the system. As an example, the 1968 Firearms Act provides chief officers of police with the means to revoke certificates. Since they are the people who grant certificates in the first place, this is illegal under European law McGonnell v UK) and doesn’t happen with, for example marriage certificates or driving licenses.
The law relating to certificate holders was modified in 1988, but not that for dealers, who, provided they enter a notice of appeal, may continue trading until 21 days after the appeal is abandoned or dismissed. The 1969 memorandum says that chief officers should await the outcome of the appeal before doing anything, but the 2016 re-write says that dealers may not trade while an appeal is pending. Police generally prevent dealers trading by seizing their stock, as in several recent cases.
Unlawful restraint of trade is a criminal offence at common law, yet is advocated by the Home Office policy. Sussex and the Met were relying on false information about Sterling Northolt that originated when Dyfed Powys police conflated several unconnected events as grounds for stopping his trade in their area in the 1990s. So his claim for unlawful restraint of trade goes back more than twenty years and tops £50 million, as Home Office policy towards people who try to act lawfully unravels in the courts.
And just to make matters worse, section 133 of the Crime and Policing Act 2017 states the chief constable must ‘have regard’ to the guidance. This may allow any police officer prosecuted by a dealer to try the Nuremburg defence and shift responsibility to the Home Secretary. There are also human rights loss-of- amenity considerations for personal certificate holders bubbling up too.
We would urge Sajid Javid to take a good look at the direction of travel taken by generations of Home Office officials. Failing to do so risks owning this seditious philosophy when the judicial system reasserts the rule of law over the rule of policy. Ω
My Life on the Plains, or Personal
Experiences with Indians
By George Armstrong Custer
Originally published in 1874 – so during his lifetime – the Kindle edition we read must have been derived from a post-mortem reprint, having an introduction by Libby Custer writing from her New York address.
She quotes her husband’s general order to the Michigan cavalry dated at Appomattox Court House, April 9, 1865, in which he said: "During the past six months, though in most instances confronted by superior numbers, you have captured from the enemy in open battle 111 pieces of field artillery, sixty-five battle-flags and upward of ten thousand prisoners of war, including seven general officers. Within the past ten days, and included in the above, you have captured forty- six field-pieces of artillery and thirty- seven battle-flags. You have never lost a gun, never lost a color, and never been defeated; and, notwithstanding the numerous engagements in which you have borne a prominent part, including those memorable battles of the Shenandoah, you have captured every piece of artillery which the enemy has dared to open upon you."
Elizabeth B. Custer, 55 West Tenth Street, NYC
That sets the scene for the dashing officer who went west for what became known as the Indian wars and this book deals with the campaigns of 1867-8. The plains of the mid-west were home to the Indian nations – numerous tribes who lived a Stone Age hunter-gatherer and farming lifestyle in the open country around which millions of buffalo moved north through spring and summer, south in autumn and winter in a great elliptical cycle. The plains tribes did likewise, but to a lesser extent, drifting north on the periphery of the migration until they rubbed up against unfriendly neighbours, then south and east to harvest buffalo on their way back to their winter pastures in Texas. So each tribe had a loosely defined homeland or hunting ground, alliances with some neighbours and border wars with others. Historians identify these tribes as including the Apache, Arapaho, Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Crow, Kiowa and Lakota. A second group of Plains Indians were less mobile; they had more a village and crop growing lifestyle, traded with other tribes and made forays into buffalo country to hunt. That caused some friction, as they’d be trespassing on other tribal hunting grounds to get at the buffalo: and the buffalo migration, like the jet stream, wasn’t a fixed route. That could mean real hardship for many tribes if the migration didn’t pass close enough to them for their harvest. Tribes identified in this lifestyle include the Dakotas, Iowa, Omaha and Pawnee. All of them were familiar with white men encroaching on their hunting grounds: to trap beaver, to trade, to live free, meet women or just pass through. Custer meets many of these tribal groups on his adventures. European inroads into the Indian nations started a couple of hundred years earlier by boat – and horse. The Spanish claim to be the first American invaders, starting a settlement in Florida in 1565. They got to San Antonio, Texas in 1718, the same year that the French settled New Orleans and it’s through these Spanish adventurers and missionaries moving up the rivers from the Gulf of Mexico that the Indian nations encountered horses and then became horsemen. The Spanish also went around the Horn to settle the Pacific coast, claiming California for Spain in 1542 (a generation before Sir Francis Drake) and planting a settlement at San Francisco in 1776. The British and Dutch colonists on the eastern
seaboard became Americans in 1781 and reached west, making the Louisiana Purchase in 1803 and taking Texas, Arizona, New Mexico and California off Spanish Mexico in 1848. By the time the civil war ended in 1865, America had the Plains Indians surrounded.
Without quite articulating it, Custer neatly puts his finger on what the ‘problem’ was that caused the Indian wars and thus his presence on the Plains in 1867. The US Government was in the process of bridging the Plains to join their east and west seaboards (without fagging round Cape Horn) by way of the Pony Express, railways, overland stage routes and staging posts, river boats, canals and military strongpoints.
They did not recognise the Indians’ territorial ownership of their hunting grounds and came to a series of Treaties with them to justify offensive engagements. The 1865 and 1867 documents are in unintelligible legalese and expect the Indians to accept the status quo of settlements,
forts, farms, railway routes, staging posts and to leave them alone by keeping themselves to the areas their camps happened to be pitched in at the time.
The Indians didn’t ‘get’ treaties; to them, anything on their territory was fair game, be that buffalo or wagon trains, but in the couple of generations before the 1860s, the Indian nations had been severely weakened – decimated – by European diseases to
which they had no immunity. Numerically much diminished, they were not occupying, using or maintaining a presence in anything
like the whole of the area that each tribe regarded as its homeland. It was that void which the US Government sought to exploit and which settlers, gold prospectors and buffalo hunters were moving into.
According to Libby, her husband
“attributed a great deal of the success he had attained to the lesson of self- control he had learned in teaching school, and said that the duties of a teacher were an admirable training for a man who afterward commanded troops.”
Custer devotes the early pages of his book to speculating about the origins of the Indian nations – including the possibility that they are a lost tribe of Israel – while also summarising what academia thought at the time. Having encountered individual Indians, such as ‘Pawnee Killer’ up close, he stereotypes them thus: “he cannot be himself and be civilized; he fades away and dies. Cultivation such as the white man would give him deprives him of his identity. Education, strange as it may appear, seems to weaken rather than strengthen his intellect.”
He variously refers to them as copper-coloured, savages, Indians and Red Men. Given the sensitivities of computer editing (John Buchan managed three pejorative ‘N’ words on one page in Prester John) one has to wonder how he referred to them in his original manuscript.
He doesn’t seem to regard Indian territory as enemy country; at one point he’s got raw cavalry recruits hunting buffalo to hone their riding skills and on another occasion he’s abandoned his command to chase a buffalo by himself; “I placed the muzzle of the revolver close to the body of the buffalo, when, as if divining my intention, and feeling his inability to escape by flight, he suddenly determined to fight, and at once wheeled, as only a buffalo can, to gore my horse. So sudden was this movement, and so sudden was the corresponding veering of my horse to avoid the attack, that to retain my control over him I hastily brought up my pistol hand to the assistance of the other. Unfortunately as I did so my finger, in the excitement of the occasion, pressed the trigger, (a cocked single action revolver) discharged the pistol, and sent the fatal ball into the very brain of the noble animal I rode. Running at full speed he fell dead in the course of his leap. Quick as thought I disengaged myself from the stirrups and found myself whirling through the air over and beyond the head of my horse. My only thought, as I was describing this trajectory, and my first thought on reaching terra firma, was, "What will the buffalo do with me?" Although at first inclined to rush upon me, my strange procedure seemed to astonish him. Either that, or pity for the utter helplessness of my condition, inclined him to alter his course and leave me alone to my own bitter reflections.”
That’s his style: long passages in the book are self-serving statements. He diverts from his narrative to explain his brilliant choice of campsite for his wife and escort’s tents, where she spent that night knee-deep in a flash flood and tied to a Gatling gun to avoid being swept away. Six troopers were lost, while the rest of the camp – parked on ground Custer didn’t choose – had a quiet night. He forces his command’s pace, proudly covering huge distances between the various staging posts and forts; he splits his command sending small units hither and thither and writes another long passage to explain that a mass desertion by forty troopers wasn’t his fault.
Many of the places he names on the Plains still exist in some form. Fort Wallace is now a museum, and the rivers are still there: so you can track Custer’s movements around the quiet, ordered farmland that used to be the Plains on Google Earth, which is a strange experience in itself.
He spends the hours of darkness creeping up on an Indian Tepee village. All is quiet, so he slips into one tent and feels his way around: “I had almost made the circuit when my hand came in contact with a human foot; at the same time a voice unmistakably Indian, and which evidently came from the owner of the foot, convinced me that I was not alone. My first impression was that in their hasty flight the Indians had gone off leaving this one asleep. My next, very naturally, related to myself. I would have gladly placed myself on the outside of the
lodge, and there matured plans for interviewing its occupant; but unfortunately to reach the entrance of the lodge I must either pass over or around the owner of the before- mentioned foot and voice.” This turned out to be a child captive of the tribe, left behind. The Indians had fled the village, leaving their lodges with some panels cut out for comfort elsewhere. General Hancock eventually had the village burned, for a treaty violation. Elsewhere in the narrative, Hancock makes an appointment for the Indians to meet him at 9am on Thursday. Unlikely, as it was that Indians used the same days of the week as Hancock or had watches.
Custer describes his road being blocked by the Indian warriors: the Indians where arrayed in full war costume, their heads adorned by the brilliantly colored war bonnets, their faces, arms, and bodies painted in various colors, rendering their naturally repulsive appearance even more hideous”. The word ‘where’ appears, as in this quote, where we would use ‘were’; we don’t know if that’s his style, how he was taught at school, a clue as to pronunciation or the computer scanner adding its signature to the work. At one point the tracker/guide ‘Comstock’ (killed on the campaign) is rendered ‘Coldsoup’, such is the fun one has reading unedited Kindle books.
Custer’s language is rich and flowery. He has the time to write (suspended for eight months for abandoning his post to see Libby) and an audience to thrill, which makes his style so unlike many of his contemporaries. Here’s another quote from a passage where the night picket raises the alarm and Custer from his bed: “I must confess to having sufficient regard for the customs and courtesies of life to endeavor to appear in society suitably and appropriately dressed. But when the alarm of "Indians" was given, and in such a startling manner as to show they were almost in our midst, the question was not "What shall I wear.'' but "What shall I do?" (The Indians, having stirred the camp, beetled off:) “This was mystifying in the extreme, but a couple of young cavalry officers leaped into their saddles and taking a few mounted troopers with them dashed after our late enemies, determined to learn more about them than they seemed willing we should.”
Here’s another wordy reminiscence after he has again abandoned his command and is up river amusing himself when interrupted: “to my great surprise I beheld instead of a beaver an immense wildcat. It was difficult to say which of us was most surprised. Without delaying long to think, I took a hasty aim and fired. The next moment I heard a splash which relieved my mind as to which of us should retain the right of way on shore, the path being too narrow to admit of our passing each other. I had either wounded or killed the wildcat, and its body in the darkness had been carried down with the current, as the dogs which where soon attracted from the camp by my shot were unable to find the trail on either bank”.
The gun buffs among us are naturally interested in mentions of the antiques we see at arms fairs actually being used. In this respect, Custer is inconsistent. He has a Spencer - which he calls a rifle - shortly after hearing a carbine shot. In an impromptu meeting with war-painted Indian chiefs he says; “each of us took our revolvers from their leather cases and stuck them loosely in our belts”.‘Leather case’, rather than holster; but the act he describes has purpose. His revolver had pearl stocks: Comstock’s had ivory stocks, so displaying that in his belt is both a ‘ready to use it’ move and a means of identifying himself as special to the men in front of him. Comstock was later murdered for his ivory gripped revolver.
Holding onto the thought of Custer’s guns - in an earlier quote he was about to shoot a buffalo with a revolver when the buffalo changed his mind for him and he shot his horse instead. Custer had two pearl-handled Smith & Wesson No2 revolvers from which the .32” rimfire cartridge would project the 90-grain bullet at a bit over 230 ft. lbs. That might sound weak for shooting a buffalo, but on Custer’s account was up to killing his horse.
Numerous American gun-writers have visited Custer’s choice of arms: concentrating on his death at the Little Big Horn in 1876 the consensus is he had a Remington rolling block rifle and a Webley RIC revolver in .442: with a 200-grain bullet, this develops a similar foot poundage to the .32” rimfire. But as we all remember from skittle shoots, the 375 ft.lb. .45”ACP cartridge would propel the skittle backwards three feet off the table; whereas the 367 ft.lb. 9mm cartridge could only knock them off the shelf if they were positioned nine inches from the back. There’s more to ballistics than just the numbers and while American writers speculate that Custer could have better armed himself with a more powerful (than the .442 bulldog) American revolver, such as the army-issued .45” Colt SAA that delivered twice the foot poundage, that’s 20th century thinking. Back in the wild west, Custer was confident enough of his .32” rimfire to tackle a buffalo with it, had empirical evidence that it killed his horse and the bulldog had bigger bullets that would certainly take down an Indian.
A pencil sketch in the book shows a battle in progress and you’ve seen it in the movies; the Indians circling the wagons hanging off the offside of their ponies to shoot over the horses neck. The difference in Custer’s illustration is that the wagons were arranged in column of twos with the fourth trooper of each line holding the horses between the wagons and the dismounted cavalrymen are outside the wagon columns in skirmish lines. The whole lot kept moving during the first attack which was intended to stampede the horses and scatter the wagons thus to pick them off individually. When that didn’t work they went to circling which gave the troopers the much harder ‘running boar’ style crossing targets. What comes out of these accounts is the small number of casualties compared to what you see in a movie.
Eventually, one of his detached commands gets surrounded on a small river island. Their horses are dead and every Indian in the area wants a piece of them: “young Indian boys from fifteen to eighteen years of age crawled up and shot about fifty arrows into the circle in which the scouts lay. One of these arrows struck one of the men, Frank Herrington, full in the forehead. Not being able to pull it out, one of his companions, lying in the same hole with him, cut off the arrow with his knife, leaving the iron arrowhead sticking in his frontal bone; in a moment a bullet struck him in the side of the head, glanced across his forehead, impinged upon the arrowhead, and the two fastened together fell to the ground----a queer but successful piece of amateur surgery. Herrington wrapped a cloth around his head, which bled profusely, and continued fighting as if nothing had happened.”
You might have noticed Custer is writing this review of his own work; which he should. He was much too arrogant to tolerate a lesser mortal reviewing his masterpiece and hopefully there’s enough in our quotes to whet your appetite for more; of which there’s plenty, but not by him. Our download is four books in one: ‘My Life On The Plains’ from which all the above quotes are cribbed: the same download includes ‘Tenting On The Plains’, ‘Following the Guidon’ and ‘Boots and Saddles’, all of which were Elizabeth Custer’s work after her husband’s death. She also co-operated with Frederick Whittaker who wrote ‘A Complete Life of General George A Custer’ soon after the Little Big Horn battle – a book that led to Major Reno’s court martial in which nothing to support Whittaker’s assumptions came out: all fascinating stuff to revisit and so available as to merit a little of your time, even if it’s not your period. Ω
BBC’s Paranoid Drama
AKA Panorama - aired by BBC 1 on Monday 20th August and available on the iplayer until July; 'legal weapon'
pursued the Law Commission’s 2015 rant about it being illegal to sell scrap metal for cash but not valuable
antiques. The fulcrum for the show was RFD Paul Edmunds getting a 30-year prison sentence in November 2017 for
buying obsolete calibre revolvers in the US and selling them with homemade ammunition to the UK
scrote community. They, in turn, shoot young black men with them. The thrust of the presentation reminded us of Custer’s comments about Indian agents. In his case the Indians wouldn’t be attacking wagon trains, settlements, buffalo hunters or cavalry patrols but for those nasty
white Indian agents providing the native Americans with repeating rifles. In Panorama’s show, the nasty white man supplied the shooting irons, so it’s his fault that bad people used them.
In America, smallarms made before 1898 count as antiques, so sales are unrestricted. In Britain, they are only accepted as antiques if the cartridge they are chambered for is on the obsolete calibres list. The cartridge cases for many obsolete calibres are available, as in America there is no restriction on firing antique firearms. In the UK, the obsolete firearm has to be put onto a firearm certificate before it can be used and one needs to take that step in order to acquire primed cases to load up for it. Un- primed cases can be bought without a firearm certificate, but the certificate is a necessity to acquire the primers and the propellant; except where the obsolete cartridge is a black powder type, whereupon an explosives license is necessary for the gunpowder. So it takes a bent insider to put all this together; a rogue dealer. The Beeb sat on this programme for months waiting for another case to hit the courts - and that case ended the week before its screening with the dealer acquitted. Edmunds was a one- off rogue dealer, judging by the number of his 'associates' to have been rolled over by the police and come up clean. And it’s still going on. The Metropolitan Police rocked up to a firearm certificate holder’s home demanding to see and check his firearms. Then they demanded to know what he’d done with 100 .44” Russian un-primed cases he’d bought from Henry Krank 14 months earlier. He wanted them to load up as inerts to display with his valuable collection of .44”Russian revolvers and hadn’t done it yet, so after a couple of hours of threats to bring in a 20-strong search team and such, unlawful search of his safes etc., the officers said OK, make sure you oil the primers when assembling the inert munitions. Henry Krank refused to comment on how details of this purchaser reached the MPD without a violation of the Data Protection Act, but the likely route is via an official inspection of their records. Un-primed cases
wouldn’t show up in the register, but as ‘stock’ HMRC (looking at VAT) could have turned it up.
The Law Commission have recommended that antique firearms should not change hands for cash - a restriction that has applied to the scrap metal trade for sometime to prevent church roofs changing hands without trace - and the Policing and Crime Act 2017 empowered the Home Office to introduce regulations to define an antique: which they haven’t yet. That's at the heart of this: the first Firearms Act in 1920 exempted antiques from controls, subject to being possessed solely as curiosities or ornaments. And that has been a moveable feast ever since. In 1920, muzzle-loaded percussion shotguns were in common use in the countryside. Cap and ball revolvers were still in production: pinfire shotguns and revolvers were still being made. The Martini Henry rifle was declared obsolete in British military service that year, but the
ammunition continued to be made for export, as it was a popular big game cartridge in Africa for which Cape Rifles were chambered until 1939.
So what counted as an antique in 1920? Percussion had superseded flintlocks and duelling pistol sets had been rendered obsolete when duelling was replaced with lawyers. Some capping breechloaders and transitional ignition systems had fallen out of use and the cannons of
Nelson’s navy were being recycled as traffic bollards.
The dichotomy of firearms controls is this: on the one side ‘they’ want the guns in a controlled system – certificates or licenses, but on the other it has been an official policy to keep the number of certificates down. You can’t have it both ways: the certificate system proved very effective at keeping firearms – and more particularly ammunition – away from bad people, but the urge to keep certificate numbers down is what led to the antique lists and deactivation. Once firearms are outside the system of controls there is, by definition, no control over who has them: then we had all the problems of ‘reactivated de-acs’ and the Panorama issue of reactivating antiques by making the
bullets for them. Part of the obsession with keeping certificate numbers down has been a progressive re-drawing of the boundaries as to who is ‘suitable’ to have a certificate. Current Home Office guidelines are such that behaving like the Speaker of the House of Commons will get you revoked. Any hint of a relevant medical issue likewise, although you can still pilot commercial aircraft and while you can carry on being a policeman after a domestic tiff, you could lose your firearm certificate. The system is so unfit for purpose that no matter what new proposed restrictions ‘they’ think up, they will make matters still worse.
In 1992, pressured by the passage of time, the Home Office came up with the obsolete calibre list. That caused some prosecutions: one of our members had a collection of Martini Henry rifles on the wall and one on his firearm certificate for target shooting. So when the police rolled him, he was prosecuted for all the antiques because he had ammunition. They dropped that at the court door.
Most of the prosecutions we dealt with (as expert witnesses) were people who kept old guns as curiosities or ornaments and the prosecution challenge was that the stuff couldn’t be antique because it took ‘modern ammunition’. Acquittals included a pre-1893 .410” shotgun, a 12 bore 1910 Greener GP, loads of black powder proofed hammer shotguns and a few really old revolvers: all predating 1900, so the acquittals were in line with Richards v Curwen and the anomaly was the prosecutions – driven by guidance to the CPS that didn’t tell them how to decide whether to prosecute or not. Home Office caution was followed by the trade, which kept prices down; collecting was not recognised as a good reason for buying firearms following the McKay report and shooters didn’t like cluttering their certificates with guns for which the
ammunition was not available.
In 1994 R v Brown, the Court of Appeal acquitted him – he had a .22” War Office pattern rifle – and said that time had moved on and so must the definition. Bill Harriman was the defence expert in that one. Prosecutors continued to apply guidance that did not take account of case law. We had a case in which magistrates convicted a dude of all his collection – a Luger pistol, a 19thcentury blank firing single shot pistol and two flare pistols. These flare guns came to him as frames only: he made the stocks, trigger and locking latch and ‘barrelled’ them with copper tube. They looked quite smart, but the obsessive prosecution ‘expert’ insisted that they were lethal barrelled weapons. We didn’t appeal, as the magistrates gave him a conditional discharge and instructed police to give us the exhibits for deactivation so that the defendant could have them back.
In another case, the exhibit was a Colt New Service revolver that had been changing hands round a shooting club for the previous 20 years or so. Police traced it back to when Army and Navy stores sold it new in 1915. The officer buyer from back then gave it to his son for WW2 and he in turn gave it to his daughter’s boyfriend in the 1970s – as he belonged to the shooting club. The club secretary was convicted and fined £150, being of previous good character. That was typical in such circumstances and remained so until the 2003 Anti-social Behaviour Act brought in a mandatory five-year sentence for possession of a prohibited small firearm. Handguns were banned in the UK in 1997 and air cartridge revolvers became prohibited small firearms in 2004.
This all had the effect of making a defence of ‘antique’ a bigger deal, because instead of £150 fines, five years inside would be a life changing experience. Attitudes hardened after the 1997 handgun ban – we think that the Home Office needed convictions for old tat to make gun crime look as though it were on the up. Juries didn’t want to convict collectors of obsolete stuff with a five-year gaol term in the offing: significant acquittals included a 1942 Lanchester submachine gun and a 1946 Inglis Browning GP35. That got the Law Commission into paranoid overdrive and that led to clauses in the Policing and Crime Act 2017. Meanwhile, Paul Edmunds was buying old revolvers in the US, making the cartridges and selling into the black market.
Separating firearms licensing from the police and Home Office to a competent agency with guidelines that reflect the law accurately is long overdue in the UK.
Even Weirder was BBC2’s Gun number 6 in December. This programme related to a CZ75 pistol that appears to be in the possession of Birmingham’s Johnson Crew and which has been used eleven separate times, including ‘shots fired’ incidents at which only casings were found; but also woundings and three murders. The last of these was over ten years ago when Anselm Ribera shot Craig Hodson-Walker in a Post Office robbery. Ribera was sentenced to life with a minimum to serve of 34 years and the pistol has made no appearance since. He might have deep-sixed it, or secreted as part of his pension fund or passed it on to someone who hasn’t had occasion to use it yet.
It’s not that unusual for gang- owned firearms to surface from time to time in unconnected incidents: and that is a reflection of how few guns are being misused by criminals. We recall an AR15 belonging to one of the Irish Republican groups that featured in 22 murders. The really bizarre part of this programme was the use of convicted violent criminals to re-enact the incidents. Apart from most of the incidents not having a narrative – just the casings – what was the point of letting prohibited persons handle a firearm?
The deservedly abolished Forensic Science Service used to get up to this type of mischief when trying to justify whatever new prohibition they were proposing. The Panorama programme was in step with the National Ballistics Intelligence Service (NABIS) desire to encourage public paranoia about firearms, so they felt obligated to mention the Dunblane murders. The fact that gun number 6 first came to the attention of the authorities (six years after the handgun ban and it hasn’t appeared at all for ten years) made no difference to the producers. That the pistol has never been found means nobody can trace it via the serial number to whichever police force lost it. Of course, it may have been smuggled in from abroad. Firearms used by the dark side of humanity for criminal purposes come from a variety of sources. Nearly all firearms start out as legally manufactured and legally possessed by their first owner: legal owners might use their guns for purposes other than their original intended use, but most crime guns aren’t legally owned and have nothing in commonwith those held by the law abiding.
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
lived next door. Next landlord was Jim and his wife Sally: they took over the Three Horseshoes in Cenarth from Sally’s Mum when she retired. Next was Lance with his Sunderland accent – and Welsh-speaking mother. Like everyone else who tried, he couldn’t make a living solely from the pub. Dave was a carpenter and Lance a heavy goods driver.
The pub lost a lot when the police stopped the courses in 1996, as did the whole community. The SRA downsized and erstwhile newsletter editor Chris Chuter was the next to try his hand at being the landlord. He had form, as they say, having managed the Cheshire Cheese in the Peak District in the 1980s. Sadly, his plans to widen the Fox’s footprint by having it double with an Internet café didn’t draw the crowds. Despite his having another sideline as a vehicle mechanic he eventually had to hang up his licence.
By then, Jack was the last man standing. Anthony James, Jim Grynga and One-Eyed Sam and Mike Jones had died, and Gomer and Yanto were too frail to make the trip to Cwm Cych. Others, such as Geoff the hippy (and famous Atari games writer), had moved away, so the pub had its last open night without them. After that, Jack sat outside in nice weather, under the small sky.
The Cych valley, made famous by reference to it in the epic poem Mabinogion, is narrow with steep sides. When the trees are in full leaf, it’s a tucked away place, more like the seven dwarfs’ cottage than
Pembrokeshire’s usual views and a big sky.
Following One-Eyed Sam’s death, his place – two doors and a quarter of a mile upstream from the pub - was redeveloped. A youngster from the new family there lost control of his car and near as dammit knocked the whole corner off Jack’s cottage. Jack wouldn’t move out for the repairs and when asked if he’d lived there all is life, he said “not yet.”
Prophetic words: the Fox became a private house and what was the one bar is now very well appointed holiday accommodation (01239698351 to book it). Jack had wonderful neighbours in Norma and Barry, as he couldn’t drive by then; so Norma was doing all the home help tasks that our overstretched local authority would have provided if they could or had been asked. Sitting outside the ex-Fox with Norma, he attracted no shortage of visitors: the community’s great men of slightly lesser age than he all stopped for a chat. Farmer and straw broker ‘Pic’ Thomas, farmer and agricultural machinery magnate Roy Rees, plant hire contractor Alan Thomas, to drop but a few names. As a visitor attraction, he reminded us of the late Major John Howard sitting outside the café Grondrée at one end of Pegasus Bridge. It was his company’s first aid station on the night. Except, he only perched there for June each year; 1999 was the first year he didn’t.
The missing component was Jack’s family. A widower, as we said, he had other relatives nearby whom he never saw. His quiet demise, aged 92 was an exit strategy, by his own hand and after he’d settled his affairs, changed his will and made his peace with God. Norma took charge and ordered a £400 floral tribute to ride on his coffin to the crematorium. She made this known in the community and invited contributions from all those who knew and loved Jack, while being clear that it was her tribute at a cost she would meet: in the end it cost her £5.
The absentee family took the flowers from the crematorium to another grave, so what lies beneath we’ll never know. What we miss is the life we shared: the pub, the skittles, the courses, the companionship of the community that welcomed us all - our course students and instructors and all our visitors. Jack wasn’t much of a shooter, but was involved with the club. He it was who did all the exterior plumbing and some of the covered firing point work. Nobody asked him to; it’s like the grass cutting in our churchyards, a community effort. So in missing him, we also miss all that too.Ω
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