Just like old times: Britons go to Belgium to shoot

Handgun fans are using Continental ranges and European courts to save their sport, writes Mark Rowe

British gun clubs are moving abroad to get round the total ban on handguns which was introduced in the wake of the Dunblane massacre and starts to come into force this week. The handover period for guns begins on Tuesday but many clubs and gun owners are already taking steps to pursue their hobby and sport on the Continent.

Under the Firearms Act, owners of guns over .22 calibre have until 1 October to hand them in.The Bill to ban all handguns was passed in the Commons two weeks ago, but is not expected to receive royal assent until next spring. Owners of .22 weapons can keep them beyond the deadline for other calibres.

The handover and destruction of weapons is being carried out by local police forces. Owners will be able to claim compensation of second-hand value for their guns.

But Ian McConchie, general secretary of the National Pistol Association, confirmed that he was arranging to buy into a range in Belgium. Another club, the Redoubt Rifle and Pistol Club at Eastbourne, Sussex, has bought a property near a range in Dieppe, with all members listed on the title deeds to meet residency conditions for ownership of gun licences in France.

Gun owners can move their guns across Europe as long as they possess a European firearms certificate. Under the terms of such a licence, the gun must be securely locked and separated from ammunition.

The Welsh national shooting squad is finalising details to practise at a club near Ostend in Belgium. Albie Fox, one of its members, who is also director of the Sportsman's Association, says the process of shooting in Belgium is laborious but worthwhile. "If we don't go there we cannot practise for the Commonwealth Games next year," he said. "The club is welcoming us with open arms." He said he had received more than 2,000 enquiries from individuals andclubs on how they could move their weapons abroad.

"Unfortunately, in the long term this will turn shooting into a rich man's hobby," Mr Fox added. "Your casual shooter will not have the resources to travel over to the Continent. Ultimately the sport will wither because youngsters will not be able to afford to travel abroad."

In a separate development, gun clubs have joined together to fight the handgun ban in the European courts. Although gun owners can claim compensation for their weapons from the Government, they are unable to claim for loss of business.

The National Pistol Association Fighting Fund, set up after Dunblane, has united the NPA and the Sportsman's Association to fight the anti-gun legislation. The battle is being fought on three fronts: dealers are seeking compensation for loss of business; the NPA fund will fight the ban on the grounds that it infringes rights under European law to enjoy their possession of their guns; and both the Sportsman's Association and the NPA are to sue for compensation on grounds of loss of amenity.

Brendan Murphy, who is representing the NPA Fighting Fund, said: "On the broader issue we are quietly confident we can succeed."

Mr Fox said: "We fully expect to win on the question of loss of amenity.

"I have spent a fortune travelling around the world to shoot in trials and competitions. They are taking away my quality of life. It's not just the shooting - there is a huge social aspect to this. You make friends. Most people hate their jobs and it's only their pastimes that keep them sane.

"The Government could have avoided the huge expense of compensation by consulting us on what had to be done. Banning guns is not the answer. The problem with Dunblane is that the police did not do their job properly and failed to heed warnings about Thomas Hamilton.

"What is needed is a Firearms Control Board of professionally trained people to control firearms licences."

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