A number of Conservative and UKIP parliamentary candidates firmly support private firearms ownership while left-wing nationalist candidates generally want more restrictions, a General Election survey has revealed.
Firearms UK, a campaign organisation which says it represents grassroots firearms owners and shooters, conducted an email survey of 3,969 candidates standing in this month’s General Election. While just 245 candidates replied – a response rate of just six per cent – those who did gave some insight into their respective parties’ attitudes towards Britain’s firearms laws.
Political heavyweights from the Conservatives who responded to the survey included: Dr Liam Fox, the former defence secretary; Dominic Grieve, the former Attorney General; and Mark Garnier, a member of the Treasury select committee who once spoke against proposed restrictions on shotgun ownership.
Notable Labour respondents included Will Straw, son of disgraced former foreign secretary Jack Straw, and Chris Williamson, the Derby candidate whose previous Parliamentary term was marked by his repeated anti-shooting stance.
Firearms UK’s methodology was to send each candidate a list of seven questions. Candidates’ answers were then characterised as: “supportive; positive towards; will oppose further restrictions”; “undecided, vague”; or “not supportive, Negative towards, wants further restrictions.”
Some candidates chose not to answer the questions, instead sending a statement which Firearms UK’s researchers characterised within one of the three categories above.
All Conservative respondents were in favour of firearms ownership, though a significant minority were either vague about or against a “sensible relaxation” in Britain’s firearms laws. All respondents also stated they were in favour of legalising .22 pistols for target shooting. None could be classed as anti-shooting or ambivalent.
The majority of Lib Dem respondents said they were against any “sensible relaxation” in Britain’s firearms laws. Otherwise, their candidates’ views were a mixture of supporters of shooting and people whose views stopped short of opposing further restrictions.
All UKIP respondents bar one were in favour of permitting .22 rimfire pistols to be used for competition shooting, which would mean repealing the existing ban on their possession. The sole dissenter was ambivalent, rather than being explicitly opposed. Many UKIP supporters have sought to link Nigel Farage’s comments last year about legalising pistols to party policy, though this has never been a party policy or a manifesto pledge. No UKIP respondent could, in UKSN’s reading of the results, be classed as anti-shooting.
The Pirate Party’s three respondents were all broadly in support of firearms ownership, with some ambivalence about further legal restrictions.
Green Party candidates were mostly in favour of new restrictions on shooting, though about half its respondents claimed to be against a total ban on private firearms ownership. Green Party policy is to raise the barriers of entry to shooting to such a high extent as to amount to a constructive ban.
Four out of the English Democrats respondents were in favour of private firearms ownership, with one not answering the questions put to her and responding with a statement classed as “undecided” or “vague”.
Despite the SNP’s active moves to introduce mandatory airgun licensing, against all advice given to them by experts and also public opinion, the four SNP candidates who responded – three of whom ignored the questions put to them – were ambivalent about their position on firearms law.
The sole Plaid Cymri respondent also ignored the questions, coming out firmly against private firearms ownership.
While the low rate of response to Firearms UK’s survey clearly indicates that gun issues are very low on the electoral agenda, with up to a million people involved in shooting – either as a competitive sport or as a livelihood – a significant number of votes could hang on individual candidates’ views. The full survey is available on the Firearms UK website.