Citizens of England and Wales are actively pursuing interests in shooting sports despite strict gun control and pressure from anti-gun groups.
The number of firearms licenses across England and Wales is now at a record peak, with approximately 597,000 guns this year—an amount 160,000 more than 10 years ago, according to the Home Office. The Home Office estimated that each legal gun owner owns an average of four guns. These figures do not include shotguns, which are subject to different licensing.
The British Association for Shooting and Conservation attributed this rise in firearms interest to increased participation in shooting sports. “BASC membership numbers are at a record high showing the popularity of shooting in the UK,” according to the BASC website, which has launched an appeal to encourage women to get involved in traditionally male-dominated shooting sports.
The photo above is from the Fieldsports Channel, which showcases British hunting, shooting and fishing.
Some of the traditional shooting sports practiced in Great Britain include clay pigeon shooting, deer stalking, driven game shooting, wildfowling and woodpigeon shooting.
Membership in shooting clubs and participation in clay pigeon shooting is up in various regions on a never-before-seen scale, according to members of sports associations. Young people, in particular, are turning out in droves to participate in clay pigeon shoots in the countryside on weekends. One local shooting club, whose membership was down to less than 50 only five years ago, now has 80 members with a waiting list of seven.
The sport of clay pigeon shooting is increasingly popular with youth; in some cases, children as young as seven have been granted shotgun licenses to practice the sport with adult supervision.
Experts note that clay pigeon shooting is also a popular and rewarding hobby for the elderly and disabled people who have limited mobility.
This interest comes during a time when shooting sports enthusiasts in England are under fire from gun-control groups seeking to discourage interest in firearms.
Notably, the sport of target shooting was barred from the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games this June. The games are a competitive sporting event spanning 53 member states of the British Commonwealth of Nations. This is the first time that target shooting has been excluded from the games since 1970. “The news was met with dismay in the shooting world, with a petition on Change.org receiving 61,094 supporters,” noted British Shooting, adding that the UK’s home countries regularly achieve about 30 medals in shooting sports and lamenting the exclusion of talented athletes from the games.
As gun ownership is on the rise, anti-gun activists have alleged that the increase in legally owned firearms is dangerous to society. The BASC disagrees, citing the U.K.’s stringent gun-control laws. “The number of licensed firearms used in crime is minuscule,” said Bill Harriman of the BASC.
Also, Britain’s Opposition Labor Party has called for a critical review of the ancient sport of driven-grouse shooting, with a spokesperson claiming that: “There are viable alternatives to grouse shooting such as simulated shooting and wildlife tourism.”
However, grouse shooting provides “essential income” for land conservation “and is responsible for over 1,500 jobs” in rural areas, according to the Moorland Association, a conservation group dedicated to maintaining 860,000 acres of wilderness used for the sport.
Owners and sporting tenants within the Association’s 190 member grouse hunting lands in England and Wales have spent more than 50 million pounds per year on land management and the protection of endangered bird species, according to the organization.
“The Labor review needs to hear from the people on the ground who maintain grouse moors with massive benefits for conservation and the environment,” the BASC responded to recent criticisms of grouse shooting, stating the sport stimulates “massive economic benefits” to rural communities.
The U.K boasts some of the strictest gun-control laws in the world. Police conduct home inspections and at-home interviews for gun-license applicants. Applicants must also provide detailed plans for securing firearms in their homes and provide witnesses to reference those details. In addition to background checks, the police also interview the applicant’s primary-care doctor to determine eligibility for a firearms license.