The Charity Commission has ruled that target shooting is not a health-enhancing sport after rejecting a county rifle association’s bid for charitable status.
Cambridgeshire Target Shooting Association (CTSA), which serves the county’s smallbore rifle clubs, had its application rejected after the commission decided not to grant it charitable status.
In a brief document summarising why it rejected the CTSA’s bid, the Charity Commission (CC) claimed:
… that CTSA is not established for exclusively charitable purposes for the public benefit and cannot be entered on the register of charities.
Its decision hinged around how the common law definition of “healthy recreation”, necessary to establish a sporting charity’s bona fides, could be applied to smallbore target shooting. While the CTSA provides leagues for its members to take part in and has a dedicated section for disabled shooters, which is recognised by the Disabled Shooting Project, this wasn’t good enough for the CC.
Regular readers will be aware that smallbore target shooting takes place with .22 target rifles, typically fired from the prone position, at distances between 25yds and 200yds. Unlike other shooting disciplines such as civilian service rifle, there is no movement involved in smallbore target rifle practices.
Discussing the application, the CC said that charitable status can only be granted to clubs where “the sport in question can be shown to promote physical health and fitness”. While CTSA provided evidence that top-level shooters need to be physically fit to shoot at their best, the CC said this did not show a strong enough link between physical fitness and shooting.
The commission also considered whether the peaceful sport of target shooting contributed to gun violence:
There is a potential concern that recognition of gun clubs as charities may have a potential detriment or harm arising from unlawful civil shootings and increase potential access to firearms.
Happily it immediately discounted this, recognising that such issues are well outside its competence to decide and are properly left to the Home Office.
Its full reasoning in the CTSA case can be read here.
The Charity Commission has previous form for messing target shooting clubs around. In the early 1990s it removed a number of rifle and pistol clubs from its list of charitable organisations, having unilaterally decided that it no longer needed to obey case law set by the courts firmly establishing that such clubs were eligible for charitable status – Re Stephens (1892) 8 TLR 792.
Bizarrely, as author Robert Meakin recounts in his book The Law of Charitable Status: Maintenance and Removal, the commission also took it upon itself to decree that “modern warfare no longer depended on the expert shooting skills of soldiers”.
There is no indication that the British Army will abandon marksmanship or skill-at-arms training. Neither is there any indication that the Charity Commission has been seconded to advise the Joint Chiefs of Staff.