A spokesman for the British Shooting Sports Council said: "There are certainly several that are closing already."
Brian Phillips, owner of Nottingham Shooting Centre, which has 600 members, and a turnover of pounds 250,000 a year, was one of those who said their club may have to close. "It will put four people out of work," he said. "It is very depressing. We are looking at compensation. I think under European Union law we have to be compensated for five years' earnings."
The ban will remove 160,000 legally held pistols and revolvers from circulation, leaving an estimated 40,000 .22 calibre single-shot and semi- automatic handguns which can only be held at secure clubs.
Many believe that the new laws will sound the death knell for the entire shooting community, with the restrictions moving in time to all shotguns and rifles at a later date.
Some fear the new measure could drive the pistol-shooting industry underground. One source warned: "People will not hand over their weapons until they know how much they are getting. They remember what happened after Hungerford - some have still not been compensated for that ban." However, another source said: "I think you will find that shooters are law-abiding people and they will obey the law, even if it is a bad one."
The gun industry yesterday promised that there would be a bitter "gloves- off" fight to defend their interests. The Shooters' Rights Association, which represents 5,000 shooters and dealers, said it would be issuing a writ against Central Scotland police for alleged negligence over their handling of the case, and investigating the possibility of bringing corporate manslaughter charges against the same force.
Spokesman Guy Savage promised action against the Government under European law for "full and generous" compensation for loss of earnings. "This is only the beginning. We are not going down without a fight." He added that his business as a gunsmith in north-west London was effectively over.
The secretary of the National Smallbore Rifles Association, Colonel John Hoare, said he believed the proposed law was a "backdoor ban" on all handgun shooting. He thought the Home Office might allow permits for .22 calibre weapons to be removed from clubs for national and international events, but not for county or regional tournaments where people learnt how to shoot competitively.
Col Hoare said for the Government to commission the Cullen report, which considered the evidence over many months, and then to disregard its views "overnight", was a waste of time and public money. "This country is being run by the media and a section of public support for an emotional cause."
Ron May, an east London gunshop owner, said he would believe reports of compensation when he saw it. "It's end of 100 years of club shooting in this country. It's just the end of the sport. I just hope no one commits suicide."