Shooters seeking 1 million names to fight gun ban

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The Independent Online
The shooting lobby's anger over the Government's proposed ban on handguns will come to a head this week with the launch of a pressure group aimed at blocking many of the planned measures.

The Sportsman's Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will lobby MPs and seek 1 million names for a petition opposing a ban. It will also create a political party if its campaign fails and tough firearms legislation goes through.

The association was formed at a meeting of 600 shooters held during a competition at Bisley, Surrey, last weekend. They were furious about government proposals to ban all handguns above .22 calibre, which goes far beyond Lord Cullen's recommendations. Labour wants to go further, with a complete ban.

The group's spokesman, Michael Yardley, a shooting journalist and former army officer, said it already had 6,000 members. It is to be launched at Westminster this week as debate continues on the firearms issue. "A simplistic ban on the legal ownership of handguns will have no positive effects and distracts attention from real issues," Mr Yardley said.

The emergence of the association follows a week of disastrous headlines for the shooting fraternity. There was outrage when the Shooters' Rights Association threatened to put up a candidate in Dunblane, where Thomas Hamilton murdered 16 children and their teacher in March. Mr Yardley said the SRA had nothing to do with the new organisation.

The chairman of the Sportsman's Association is Albie Fox, a former helicopter pilot with the Royal Navy and RAF, who now runs a machine embroidery business in Shropshire. He said shooters had no option but to take action to protect their sport. "We maintained a dignified silence out of respect for the families of Dunblane, but that dignity has been abused by single-issue campaigners and cynical politicians. Our membership is rising at a phenomenal rate. Our target is 1 million. The Government will find it difficult to ignore that many people."

But a spokeswoman for the Snowdrop Petition, which collected 750,000 names for a petition demanding a handgun ban following Dunblane, said the action was too late. "There is little more that can be done. The MPs know the arguments and know the strength of public opinion. These people will have to change public opinion, not just lobby MPs."

Meanwhile, Labour is to launch a nationwide petition to try to win a ban on combat knives, the shadow home secretary, Jack Straw, announced yesterday .

Although the Government is sympathetic to such a ban, it claims a workable definition of a combat knife - as opposed to one designed for use in the kitchen - is not possible.

But Mr Straw insisted: "There is a clear difference which everyone can see between a kitchen knife and a combat knife."