Target shooters up in arms over gun control law

  • Target shooting: Local clubs feel gun control laws are unfair

    Target shooting: Local clubs feel gun control laws are unfair

  • Target shooting: Local clubs feel gun control laws are unfair

    Target shooting: Local clubs feel gun control laws are unfair

Local target shooting enthusiasts are mulling filing a complaint against Government for what they say is a law which discriminates against Bermudians.

They are also up in arms over the seizure of pistols valued at more than $70,000 by the Police Commissioner in 2011 for which they have not been compensated.

Bermuda’s gun control regime began with the Firearms Act 1973, a legislative response to the murders of Police Commissioner George Duckett, the Governor Richard Sharples and his Aide Hugh Sayers.

Police seized firearms then, but a deal was made which later allowed target shooters to practise their sport under controlled conditions at a shooting range at the Bermuda Regiment’s Warwick Camp.

In 2011, Sharon Lee, a member of the Coral Reefs Rifle and Pistol Club, asked Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva for permission to remove her pistols from the camp to the airport in order to travel to the Island Games in the Isle of Man.

Permission was denied, although she had a valid import permit from the UK authorities which would have allowed her to compete in the Isle of Man.

Mr DeSilva’s view was that the storage and use of pistols at Warwick Camp had been illegal all along. He ordered all of them confiscated again.

According to David Dumont, president of the Coral Reefs Rifles and Pistols Club, the value of the firearms ranged from $3,000 to $15,000 and about 60 were confiscated and are still in police custody with no indication as to whether compensation will be paid.

The Police Commissioner declined to comment for this story and Government did not respond when asked for comment.

Mr Dumont argues that the pistols were legally imported into Bermuda, customs duty was paid on them and that his members should be allowed to access them to practise locally and to attend international competitions.

“We don’t dispute that they were prohibited. We’re just saying they are our property. We paid for them,” he said.

Adding insult to injury are recent amendments to the Firearms Act which specifically restricted firearm licences for locals for use in a sanctioned competition to a maximum of 12 months at the Police Commissioner’s discretion.

Public Safety Minister Michael Dunkley promoted the change as a concession to local enthusiasts since previously members of licensed rifle clubs could apply for temporary licences for up to two months.

But Mr Dumont says that in the past the “temporary licences” were renewed “ad infinitum” whereas the new regime does not provide for renewals and specifically targets Bermudians and local residents.

“I don’t know anyone that has the wherewithal to purchase a $4,000 pistol for 12 months only to be told to get rid of it afterwards,” he said.

The Commissioner, he added, had the power to license the pistols before the law change and “chose not to do so”.

The Opposition Progressive Labour Party opposed the Firearms Amendment Act when it was debated in Parliament last month saying it prejudiced Bermudians and that not enough consultation had been done.

Mr Dumont, and other target shooting enthusiasts we spoke to agreed that Government paid little attention to their views on the matter.

The target shooting enthusiasts are also irked by the fact that the law treats all firearms the same, Mr Dumont said.

“The law makes no distinction between an air rifle, and air pistol, a paintball gun and a .38 revolver,” he said. “They are all equally prohibited under the law.”

Mr DeSilva is also of the view that the past practice of listing multiple firearms on one licence was wrong and now requires each firearm to be licensed. At $250 per licence, the cost of participating in the sport — with little access to the firearms for practice purposes — is prohibitive, said Mr Dumont.

Meanwhile, some local target shooting enthusiasts may have to sit on the sidelines and watch their foreign counterparts compete at next month’s Island Games.

Not out of choice — Bermudians have competed in shooting competitions here and abroad, done well and even brought back medals. But the Island’s approach to gun control has brought some aspects of the local sport to a screeching halt (see story in Sports).

The policy, says Mr Dumont, is misguided. “If all our firearms were shipped away tomorrow, are there going to be less illegal firearms on the streets? We are not the problem.”

The licensed rifle and pistol clubs also have strict screening procedures for membership and strict protocols for securing firearms, he added. Target shooting enthusiasts we spoke to are of the view that their protocols are in fact stricter than the police — they’ve rejected some applications which were accepted by the Police.

And there are reports within the target shooting community that some of their firearms which had been in police custody went missing after the first mass confiscation and were not returned by the police.

But the Firearms Act 1973 exempts the police of any liability should any firearms in their possession be lost or damaged, and also deems firearms in their storage for two years to have been abandoned and subject to disposal.

As for the murders in the 1970s, “none of the weapons that were used belonged to us”, Mr Dumont said.

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Published Jun 28, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 27, 2013 at 8:50 pm)

Target shooters up in arms over gun control law

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