Shooting representatives were united in their calls for no ‘knee-jerk’ response from the government with regards to firearms licensing in the wake of the tragic shootings in Peterlee in January. Taxi driver Michael Atherton shot his partner Susan McGoldrick, her sister Alison Turnbull, and her niece Tanya Turnbull before turning the gun on himself.
Atherton apparently legally owned six guns including three Section One firearms. It also appeared that the police had decided not to revoke his licences after being alerted to concerns about his mental health in 2008. Some MPs and members of the public were quick to call for a tightening of licensing laws in the light of the shootings, including stricter checks on a person’s mental health, and involving partners in the application process.
However, the response from shooting bodies has been calm and organised. The Countryside Alliance was first off the mark, as director of shooting David Taylor circulated a public statement.
He said: “The United Kingdom possesses the toughest and most stringent licensing laws of anywhere in the world, and the result is that tragic incidents like this one in Peterlee are extremely rare.
“Over half a million people shoot for sport each year and Great Britain will have some of the finest sportsmen and women participating in the shooting events at London 2012.
“The authorities in this country have been careful to find the right balance between public safety and shooting rights, and must ensure they continue to strike the right balance.”
BASC followed on 3 January with a statement: “The UK’s largest shooting organisation, the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), has expressed sadness at this tragedy and sympathy for the families of the victims but has warned against any kneejerk reaction. No conclusions can be drawn from this case until the full facts are known.
“There has just been a comprehensive parliamentary review of firearms law in the UK and the facts in this incident need to be firmly established.
“BASC notes that this case has been referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission and awaits the outcome of that investigation.
“BASC is involved in talks with the government, doctors and the police as to whether any improvements can be made to the operation of the licensing system.”
Mike Yardley, representing the Shooting Sports Trust, made 25 television and radio broadcasts in a day, as well as consulting with a wide variety of print media, in order to balance shooter’s rights with concerns for public safety. He says, “Well, it was certainly a tough day professionally speaking, but I think we succeeded quite well in getting the message across – that is, shooting is a sport enjoyed by more than a million law-abiding decent people and that further restrictions would offer no public benefit. As well as BBC TV, I was interviewed on BBC Radio 5 Live, BBC Radio Wales, BBC Radio Birmingham and host of BBC local stations as well as an independent station. The interviewers ranged from frosty to perfectly sensible, the toughest was on Radio 5, but even there I would not let myself be bulldozered.”