The Westminster government’s new, heavy handed approach to banning lead pellets and bullets will be a disaster for rimfire and airgun shooting. That’s the conclusion of the National Smallbore Rifle Association, GB governing body for disciplines using this ammunition, many of which are Olympic sports
Dave Froggett, of the NSRA says that short and long-range target shooting could collapse.
He says: “It will be in a really bad place. The main reason for that is that even, from the research that we have done, the lower levels of competitor will still be able to outshoot the best of the lead-free ammunition. The problem with that is that it will turn the whole competition structure into a lottery.”
Non-toxic airgun pellets and rimfire rounds are not accurate enough for target shooting. It will mean an end to Olympic hopes for many GB target shooters.
The problem began in May 2022. The UK’s Health & Safety Executive began a six-month public consultation on proposals to ban most lead bullets and lead pellets for outdoor target shooting and hunting, plus a ban on the sale and use of lead shot. It closed in November 2022. It is unclear when the legislation will come but, when it does come, it is likely to mark a speedy end to the use of lead.
Since then, the war in Ukraine and the effects of covid on supply chains and manufacturing suggest that five years will not be long enough. The HSE aims to hurry up this process – and extend it into other forms of shooting and different types of ammunition. It wants to force a change in the way Britain’s half million active shotgun and firearm certificate holders and estimated 12 million airgun owners go shooting.
BASC’s Terry Behan says his understanding from reading the Gun Trade Association’s papers and submissions to the HSE is that there are supply chain issues with compound powder and components. He says: “There are issues across the board regarding ammunition, especially rifle ammunition, and therefore this needs to be considered. At the time that we noted our transition period, no-one knew there was going to be a war in Ukraine.”
The COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine has had a massive impact on manufacturing.
Some ammunition manufacturers switched from sporting to military. Cartridge manufacturers also say they are struggling to raise the finance for the machinery to replace lead shot with steel shot.
If shooting sports collapse because of an unworkable government ban, it will affect the UK’s rural landscape.
Terry says the timeframes are too short and too unrealistic.
He says: “Based on the evidence that we have submitted, along with the other shoots and organisations, then it will have a tremendous effect on the amount of pest control that’s undertaken. If the pest control is not undertaken, then the conservation work won’t be undertaken, species and crops will suffer.” He says if people cannot get the ammunition they need, they won’t be going shooting and rural communities will suffer economically.
Shooters struggle with the phase-out of lead. Livens gun shop in Staffordshire say its customers are concerned and confused, especially about the changes to ammunition for deer and foxes.
Shop manager Neil Wragg says they’re worried about the expansion on bullets and nontoxic bullets and what effects they will have. He says: “A lot of hunters tend to develop their own loads. They’re a little concerned with that. It’s all a bit up in the air. People are asking a lot of questions and we, as a dealer, can’t really answer some of them as far as what bullets, ballistically, are like, non-toxic-wise – what effects they are going to have.”
BASC has prepared a series of new technical reports to illustrate where the banning of lead isn’t necessary or requires a longer timeframe. This includes smaller rifle calibres and .22 rimfire rifles as well as airgun ammunition.
BASC’s report on airgun ammunition concludes there should be no restrictions as there is limited risk to the environment and any risk to human health can be managed through existing sector guidance on game meat handling. Terry says: “We have undertaken some tests around weight retention of pellets, penetration testing and accuracy testing and actually there is no residual lead left so, with good game handling skills, the removal of wound chambers, there is negligible risk to human health.”
Shooters fear that the proposed changes are being driven by people who want to ban shooting, not just shooting with lead ammunition.
Terry says: ”If there’s going to be legislation which we don’t believe there should be, we are still very much for a voluntary transition, then we are expecting at least a five-year timeframe. And for .all rimfires we are saying that we want them to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of ammunition”
He says it’s vital to ensure there are sufficient amounts of ammunition available and at that time, when they are available, there should be a five-year transitional period from that point.
Dave says the changes will be devastating. He says: “There is no question about it there aren’t any viable alternatives, either for smallbore rifle for target shooting or for air rifle target shooting for the various disciplines that we cover.”
He says it’s important to control lead but if the government looked at the way shooters control it and the systems that are already in place it is quite sufficient to keep everyone safe.