Gun control campaigners have blasted the UK government for being “complacent” about the risks posed by new weapons and a rise in US style shooting ranges.
Campaign group Gun Control Network met with Home Office officials last month to discuss the growing craze of practical shooting. It came after a Sunday Mail investigation uncovered a loophole in firearms laws that means some gun clubs don’t fall under the strict licensing requirements.
The Sunday Mail discovered that anyone with a licence for certain types of guns is able to set up so-called “practical shooting” clubs on private land without the need for police, government or local authority permission and licensing.
That is despite members - including those at a Lanarkshire club - using high-powered guns as they move their way around a combat assault course to take out human-shaped targets.
Gill Marshall-Andrews, chair of Gun Control Network, said: “We had a meeting with the Home Office about two major concerns we have.
“One is the emergence of new weapons that have been designed to exploit loopholes in the law that have allowed manufacturers to sell guns that are very dangerous but still legal.
“The other has to do with the use of some of those guns in activities known as practical shooting and practical shotgunning which have grown significantly in the last few years but which are not being monitored properly.
“Practical shooting is an American style combat activity often using moving humanoid targets that can be operated on private land without the need for licensing.
“No-one really knows how many of these private ranges exist – not the police, not the local authority and certainly not the government. The Home Office seems to us to be remarkably complacent and unwilling to take these matters seriously.”
Last month marked the 25th anniversary of the UK’s handgun ban after the Dunblane shootings where 16 primary school kids and their teacher were killed by a gunman in 1996. Last year licensed gun owner Jake Davison, 22, shot and killed five people in Plymouth before shooting himself.
Gill added: “After the terrible tragedy of Dunblane, when pistol shooting was said to be the fastest growing sport in the country, the government of the day took radical action to prevent the UK from embracing an American-style gun culture.
“The success of the handgun ban enacted in 1997 has been seen in the continued low level of gun violence in the UK compared to almost every country in the world. But now 25 years later we stand at another crossroads and we need to take radical action again.
“What we need is for existing gun laws to be tightened and for all loopholes in the current laws to be closed. The law needs to catch up with technology and stand up to the gun lobby’s determined promotion of new kinds of shooting that will take us down the American road unless we do something dramatic to steer ourselves away from it.
“If we do nothing we will end up where they are. We must act now before there is another tragedy rather than wait until afterwards. This is no time to be complacent.”
SNP MP Alyn Smith, whose constituency covers Dunblane, has written to Home Secretary Suella Braverman calling on her to introduce greater regulation and enforcement. He said: “These practical gun ‘clubs’ are entirely different to grouse shooting or other country sports where there are well understood and well enforced rules.
“I remain of the view that the laws governing the licensing and operations of these activities need to be looked at properly and await a response from the Home Secretary to my letter asking her for her view. She needs to get this issue higher up her to-do list.”
In Scotland a shooting club which uses three types of weapons - full-bore rifles, small-bore rifles and muzzle-loading pistols - must apply for approval from the Scottish Government. But practical shooting clubs which do not use these weapons fall outside the approval powers.
Recoil Scotland, based in Shotts, runs practical shotgun, mini rifle and long barrel pistol disciplines. After the Sunday Mail alerted North Lanarkshire Council to the shooting centre, planning officials launched an investigation into the site.
The council has now confirmed planning permission is not required to run the operation. A spokeswoman for North Lanarkshire Council said: “We have assessed the operation run by Recoil at Shotts and determined that the planning regulations allow for outdoor operations of this scale and nature to take place without the need for planning permission.”
Firearms UK, which campaigns for the protection of firearms ownership, did not respond to the Sunday Mail’s request for comment. However in a previous email to us, a spokesperson for the group said: “Firearms enthusiasts are not bad people, we are hard-working law-abiding individuals who are the easy target for politicians and groups trying to make a name for themselves.
“Owning firearms doesn’t make you any threat to public safety. We go through several checks and are subject to strict conditions that the general public are not.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The UK has some of the strictest gun controls in the world, but we keep them under constant review, to ensure those with legal access to firearms use them safely, and to ensure criminals do not gain access to firearms.
“That is why we brought in Statutory Guidance for firearms licensing in November 2021 which sets out how the police must carry out robust checks on public safety grounds and ensure that these are consistently applied by all police forces so that the people of Britain feel safe in their communities.”
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