Thoughts on target shooting, PR and PA

24 Oct 18 – As the Offensive Weapons Bill stalls in Parliament following a backbench rebellion over government plans to ban big rifles, UKSN’s author has a few ideas for nipping this kind of State behaviour in the bud.

1. Target shooting needs a dedicated public relations and public affairs function. PR is about talking to the press; PA is about talking to politicians. BASC does this very well for the huntin’, shootin’ ‘n’ fishin’ countryside lifestyle set, as does the Countryside Alliance and, north of the border, SACS. Target shooting, in contrast, doesn’t make a visible effort and its national governing bodies do little or nothing to draw attention to themselves. With the exception of the NRA’s annual Vizianagram target rifle match for MPs and lords, there is no regular engagement with the world of politics. Even the Vizianagram is just a jolly for a self-selecting handful.

2. Target shooting needs to regularly engage with the news media, both to generate article output and to build a deeper understanding. National newspaper journalists are, in general, London-dwelling millennials whose sole exposure to firearms is through American TV dramas, violent video games and police press releases. We shooters know these three sources paint firearms as an unquestionable evil, a stain upon mankind. Until we spend some of our money bringing reporters to our ranges, showing them what we do, letting them have a go, imparting a bit of understanding about licensing, cost and all the rest of it, the news media will continue to nod approvingly whenever government or the opposition proposes banning things. Journalists simply do not know that there is a whole world built around safe and responsible fun on the target range. In this day and age where reporters are expected to crank out thousands of words of clickbait per day, it is up to us to push our safe and responsible sport into their faces and harness some of that clickbait for our own benefit. We swim or we sink.

3. We need to build and promote a distinctly British target shooting culture and voice – a culture that embraces gallery rifle and CSR shooters just as much as the floppy-hatted TR brigade and the greybeards of black powder. If you talk about firearms ownership inside the M25, most people assume you’re some kind of American NRA survivalist prepper loon or a mercenary killer for hire. This image is heavily ingrained – and, indeed, is subtly encouraged by police workers. We need to flush that out by creating and repeating an image of British target shooting that is neither toffs in tweed nor shaven-headed “government ain’t gonna take mah gunz” lunacy.

4. We need to take ownership of the conversation around firearms licensing and cost. At the moment target shooting staggers from crisis to crisis because full-time salaried police lobbyists, whose brief is to end private firearms ownership, continually nag for access to any politician or civil servant who will listen. We need to get these people on the back foot, answering questions we raise and making them issue public rebuttals. BASC had the right idea with their 10-year certificate plan. To use the military term, we need to break the lobbyists’ OODA loop. Until we do that and deny them the public space to float bans and other anti-shooting talking points, we will never win and the State will continue erecting ever higher barriers to access our sport.

5. We need to productively engage with the police and moderate their hotheads. The vast majority of police workers have no exposure to firearms except as weapons used to harm human beings, both by their co-workers and by criminals. I think it’s a reasonable assumption that when you spend years or decades only ever interacting with the scum of society, you probably start to believe that anything which looks roughly similar is also a threat. If you’ve spent years arresting people who carry guns, you probably see anyone with a gun as a probable criminal, whether or not that is true – and we need to do more to make the average copper aware that registered firearms ownership is not a marker for criminality. We need to step up our existing police training programmes – the NRA and BASC both run occasional sessions for firearms licensing teams and these are a good model to build on.

6. We need to stamp out the social media tendency to want firearms for self-defence. It ain’t going to happen. Yes, a few people in Northern Ireland do have pistols as self-defence weapons but that will never, ever happen on the UK mainland. We need to be realistic – and we need to be seen as reasonable. The British public are conditioned to see firearms as tools of mass murderers: we make ourselves look worse when we talk about self defence, resisting government and all that American nonsense which has never had any application or relevance in the UK. Save it for the pub.

7. We absolutely need to sort out our personal social media presences. Long, rambling posts full of rhetorical questions about gun ownership are shit and boring and nobody cares. Similarly, nobody cares about the old analogy between firearms licensing and cars. This is a rhetorical technique known as whataboutery and everyone hates whataboutery. If you cannot deal with the question “why should you be allowed to have a gun” by answering it instead of bleating on about “well you have a car that can break the speed limit and run people over”, then say nothing. This is not to say that analogy and rhetorical questions have no place – but we need to develop strong, forward-looking answers to simple and sometimes ill-informed questions. Those answers need to concentrate on building a positive case for target shooting that stands on its own merits. Sadly, in this day and age, facts do not go half as far as making people feel happy about something.

8. We need to build awareness of PR and marketing techniques. Looking at the Offensive Weapons Bill going through Parliament now: when Labour is losing they start to shriek about the “gun lobby”. That is a deliberately loaded phrase used to conjure up images of heartless Americans profiting from dead babies (of course that’s total bullshit, but this is political communication we’re talking about here). We need rifle clubs themselves to start engaging with the press, with civic society, with local politicians and with the wider general public. We need to get out there and invite MPs – even the hostile ones from hostile political parties – to our ranges and our dinners and events, while being as crushingly polite and well-mannered as we can possibly be so no-one can turn around and accuse us of being spittle-flecked lunatics. We need to bring along local churches, mosques, synagogues, Women’s Institutes, Rotary clubs, Scouts, Guides and all those kinds of organised pastimes. We need to throw our doors open and show the world that we are just ordinary people with a fun hobby that can be shared by many more. Even if they don’t share it, at least they’ll understand it’s not much different from playing darts, or golf, or whatever.

9. We also need to develop well-understood strategies for dealing with negative publicity. What do we do if a fellow member of the licensed firearms community breaks the law? What should we do when a reporter rings up out of the blue and asks for comment on something outrageously bad that someone’s done? When your club or association is appearing in the news because a reporter’s made a connection between a member and you, how do you turn that around? We need internal training courses within target shooting on handling these kinds of situations and a well-understood SOP to follow. The NRA’s current approach to this kind of thing is to bury its head, which can occasionally have its merits, while the NSRA does not appear to do this at all. British Shooting appears to have a good understanding of how and why to build a positive public persona around elite Olympic shooters – some of that wisdom could be used at regional or even local level too.

10. Stop relying solely on others. BASC is a countryside lifestyle association. They happen to have a very well resourced firearms law advice department but that does not necessarily mean it is their duty to fight our battles in Westminster, sympathetic as they are to us. You can apply the exact same argument to the Countryside Alliance. If the national governing bodies for target shooting are unwilling to get fully stuck in but are happy to let others do the heavy lifting for them, collar the key people and demand to know why.

Further suggestions are welcome in the comments.

Above all, this is going to mean spending time, effort and money on a long-term aim, and I am not sure the target shooting world really wants to do that. Shooters are not a unified bunch and passively resist any attempts to bring them together. Most target shooters would quite happily see Parliament voting for bans on types of firearm they do not personally use so long as they themselves are left alone. Perhaps doing the things above would help break down those insular little silos – or perhaps not.

12 thoughts on “Thoughts on target shooting, PR and PA

  1. Mike Jenvey

    All very true – the “one man” control band in one of the major organisations has not allowed productive efforts from within.

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  2. Frank Fisher

    I don’t think there is value in trying to persuade the media or cops. Their minds are made up. You’re fighting the blob, and you don’t even know who is blob and who is not. You could spend 80% of your time trying to persuade people who will NEVER be persuaded. More efficient to target individual MPs and peers. Full-time lobbyists in Westminster and lots of invitations from clubs to MPs and peers to come along to rifle ranges etc, see the benign side of shooting.

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    1. Gaz Corfield Post author

      I took a reporter from a rather well-read semi-clickbaity news website along to a club open day. He left after having an absolute whale of a time. Otherwise he was the epitome of the London-dwelling millennial I’ve described here, with no experience or knowledge of firearms. His first contact with real firearms, therefore, was fun, educational and informative – and he went away to boast to all his colleagues what a fun time he had.

      I’ve also had some limited success with my local Labour MP, a full throttle anti, which if it works out in the way I hope it does could be very valuable for the future of the sport. Never say never.

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  3. Stuart Smith

    One of the reasons I would put for the restoration of pistol shooting is for protection when travelling abroad, the world is getting so much more dangerous, I also ran an armed protection service before they banned pistols, I have protected many.
    Having friends in Southern Africa and other places I would love to go to again bit it would be so foolish to go unarmed, politicians going abroad get protection so should we.
    I would love to go to the horn of Africa also, but again to go unarmed would be so irresponsible.
    Surely no politician [ reasonable ] could object to this?

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    1. James McArthur

      Some excellent ideas there. The main points that need to be stressed are the need for unity among all elements in the firearms community, and reaching out to the non-shooting public. Clay pigeon shooters, air gunners, deer stalkers, gallery shooters, gun collectors, big bore rifle enthusiasts, all need to stand together and realize that a threat to one is a threat to all. And every person whom you can help to develop an interest in hunting or target shooting or gun collecting is another ally for the cause, and another vote for the shooting community.

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    2. James McArthur

      But even if you could get UK permission to own a pistol for carrying in another country, how would you get that country’s permission to carry while you’re there?

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  4. Paul Forrest

    A good article, so thank you. There are too few shooters who are prepared to think about how we can not just survive but make shooting more popular. Journalists are untrustworthy, but some can be reasoned with. Taking a friend shooting (e.g. on the clays) is an easy way to pacify any irrational hostility they might have, and they can end up defending shooting to others afterwards when confronted by logically-faulty arguments.

    I disagree slightly on one point. Using the logic of cars and kitchen knives is valid, I think. Put opponents in a corner and make them admit that they will tolerate a certain number of lives lost on the roads for the freedom of private car-ownership. It leaves them a choice between being inconsistent–wanting to ban guns but keep their cars–or conceding the point. I do agree though that merely stating that people die in other ways is not itself a good argument.

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  5. Granville Davies

    All good stuff, but in my nearly 60 years of target shooting I’ve heard it all before, and indeed, said it all before. Many years ago I suggested that the governing bodies, if they were loath to merge, should at least form a small secretariat to provide a united front to lobby government and politicians on behalf of all shooters……..And, yes, it’s as well I didn’t hold my breath.

    BTW to the question “why should you be allowed to have a gun”, I reply, ‘as we live in a democracy its up to you to say why I shouldn’t own a gun’ Usually does the trick.

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  6. Antonio

    I totally agree with the points in your article.

    Having said that I believe that it is not just a matter of the shooting community being fragmented but also a lack of leadership, unbiased and non-political.

    It is all well and good to point out what we can do as individuals and / or clubs to put out there the truth that the shooting community is composed of law abiding people carrying out their hobby in a safe and responsible manner but if the community has any hope of reverting or halting the trend which would see all shooting and firearms banned, it needs leadership and money, paid, professional individuals working to further the lawful and fair interests of the community.

    I don’t see as I haven’t seen in the past 20 years or so, in this country, any believable grassroots organisations who would put itself forward, like Firearms United, publish a Statement of Intent, create itself as a charity, create a GoFundMe page or similar, get the money and start caring for our corner.

    As I said I totally agree with your points and it is a well written article but i’m getting tired of reading about what we (the shooting community) needs to do but no credible organisation stepping forward to lead said community.

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  7. Nick Harman

    I would have thought comments such as ‘ the floppy-hatted TR brigade and the greybeards of black powder’ display the same kind of lazy stereotyping you are complaining that the media indulges in.

    At the end of the day I think we are actually best advised to keep our heads down. No one wants to be a hostage to fortune by being professionally linked to firearms as an MP/PR/lobbyist/Journo etc. One ‘incident’ and they will be finished, forever stained by association.

    I personally think that staying off the radar is a better way to survive than stirring the hornet’s nest. To wildly mix metaphors.

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  8. Dave Guest

    Very succinct points with intelligent options and also interesting to see the range of replies.
    We might not be able to make a united stand but I am definitely thinking of trying to get my own club and discipline (gallery rifle in my case) to agree to an invitation day for local press and politicians. If each club or discipline does a little something it will eventually lead to a better understanding of our sport by those who make decisions or influence others that do. Everyone is afraid of what they don’t understand, so our job must be to educate.
    The ability to “keep our heads down, and off the radar” is no longer valid. mass media will paint which ever picture gets it the most coverage, and that is usually the negative view, our only option is to counter that by supplying them with a positive view.

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