Char­lie Port­lock dis­cusses how tak­ing up air­gun­ning is a good way to help pre­vent crime

Air Gunner - - Contents -

Char­lie’s on a mis­sion to teach young­sters self-dis­ci­pline by pro­mot­ing prac­ti­cal and safe airgun ed­u­ca­tion in schools

Afew years ago I em­barked upon what I thought would be a chal­leng­ing but worth­while quest; I wanted to start an air ri­fle club at one of the UK’s most chal­leng­ing schools in the south of Birm­ing­ham. The school has one of the highest rates of eco­nomic deprivation in the coun­try with 82% of pupils com­ing from fam­i­lies who are out of work or on some kind of income sup­port (the na­tional av­er­age is 14%). Gov­ern­ment statis­tics show that our pupils are al­ready over a year be­hind their peers from more af­flu­ent ar­eas be­fore they even leave nurs­ery school. By the time they reach 16, this gap has widened so much that eco­nomic background has been shown to in­crease sig­nif­i­cantly the chance of young men en­ter­ing the crim­i­nal jus­tice sys­tem. Shock­ingly, pupils from these com­mu­ni­ties will die over 10 years younger than their peers from richer ar­eas.

It’s a complex sit­u­a­tion with many vari­ables, but it’s one that we need to con­front head on if we’re go­ing to steer young peo­ple, es­pe­cially boys, away from sub­stance abuse and crime and to keep them en­gaged in school. Sport is al­ready a fan­tas­tic tool for teach­ing boys the value of dis­ci­pline and co- op­er­a­tion, and modern re­search shows that if you can give the most way­ward of sons a con­text where they can find status and self- con­fi­dence, it can be life- chang­ing. Shoot­ing is one

such place, but for some reason it’s rarely on of­fer in the schools that need in most.


Birm­ing­ham has a rich tra­di­tion of airgun man­u­fac­tur­ing that en­dures to­day and I’d planned care­fully, net­work­ing with the lo­cal Airgun Train­ing & Ed­u­ca­tion Or­gan­i­sa­tion (ATEO) for ad­vice and sup­port, pass­ing my Youth Pro­fi­ciency train­ing with the Na­tional Small Bore Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion ( NRSA) and tak­ing out com­pre­hen­sive in­sur­ance that would al­low me to run a small range on school ground. I pointed out that in 2015 clay shoot­ing was ac­cepted as be­ing part of the GCSE cur­ricu­lum, and the PE staff were in­ter­ested and will­ing to help. I’d even man­aged to con­vince a fel­low teacher from a lo­cal prep school to take an af­ter­noon off to come and share best prac­tice with our se­nior lead­er­ship team. Per­haps they could try air- ri­fle shoot­ing first- hand and be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate the ben­e­fits along with the strin­gent safety protocol.

I’d writ­ten a long and bal­anced pro­posal and ev­ery­thing was look­ing very pos­i­tive, and then it went to the Board of Gov­er­nors (a group

of par­ents and lo­cal com­mu­nity mem­bers who have a strong in­flu­ence upon school policy). They re­jected it with­out even both­er­ing to try it. ‘No,’ they said, ‘ We don’t want guns in our school’. I was fu­ri­ous. I don’t mind dif­fer­ences of opin­ion and I could see why they’d said no, but they hadn’t even let me present my ideas in per­son; blind ig­no­rance.


Fast for­ward to the present and I’m ready to try again. This time I’m go­ing to win. How­ever, I’m also ask­ing for your help. I’m us­ing this space as a sound­ing board that I hope will en­able all of us to pro­mote the so­cial and ed­u­ca­tional value of air­gun­ning wher­ever we en­counter un­rea­son­able re­sis­tance. I be­lieve that in a struc­tured and safe en­vi­ron­ment, tar­get shoot­ing can im­prove well- be­ing and self­con­fi­dence and in­stil an im­por­tant sense of dis­ci­pline. Like mu­sic, it’s a pos­i­tive ve­hi­cle for learning a host of lessons, the most fun­da­men­tal of which is the be­lief that we can suc­ceed if we’re will­ing to put the work in. Be­low, I’m out­lin­ing some of the bar­ri­ers that we’re all likely to face at some point as we try to grow our sport be­yond the rel­a­tively safe con­fines of the scout group, tar­get club or cadet corps. I think that my re­sponses to these bar­ri­ers are rea­son­able and I hope that they might be use­ful to all of us, whether we’re ap­proach­ing schools di­rectly or try­ing to con­vince wary par­ents that their vis­it­ing son should be al­lowed to en­joy some plink­ing in the back gar­den.

All of these bar­ri­ers are based upon fear, and given the role of guns in game and film, along with the way the me­dia re­ports gun crime it’s un­der­stand­able.


So­lu­tion – Take an airgun safety course. Most of the re­ported airgun ac­ci­dents oc­cur due to the com­plete ig­no­rance or in­com­pe­tence of a par­ent. BASC run these regularly and any air ri­fle club will be able to run a safety in­duc­tion for you. There is no more ex­cuse for be­ing lax with airgun safety and stor­age than their is for leav­ing your Stan­ley knives out for the chil­dren to bor­row. If you’re trained you can say so, and you won’t be seen as some dan­ger­ous, cav­a­lier un­cle who likes to shoot tin cans in the gar­den af­ter a few beers. We’re all rep­re­sent­ing our sport whether we know that we’re be­ing viewed from the neigh­bours win­dow or not.


So­lu­tion – Guns are tools, just like knives and bows. Yes, they can be vi­o­lent, but so can cars, screw­drivers and fists. The vi­o­lent por­trayal of guns is ev­ery­where in our cul­ture

“How­ever, I’m also ask­ing for your help. I’m us­ing this space as a sound­ing board”

from bill­boards, to games con­soles, films and mu­sic. It’s sad but it’s also im­pos­si­ble to ignore.

Tar­get shoot­ing is not vi­o­lent, it’s the an­tithe­ses of vi­o­lence; it’s about team work, calm and self- con­trol. Vi­o­lent peo­ple lose!

Ques­tions – Does your child play Fort­nite or Call of Duty? Wouldn’t it be bet­ter to let them learn about shoot­ing in a safe and dis­ci­pled en­vi­ron­ment where the goal is to score points rather than to kill peo­ple?

Bar­rier – ‘NO!’

So­lu­tion – For some peo­ple, the idea of their child hold­ing a gun is so ab­hor­rent that their fear­ful, emo­tional brain will shut down any prospect of rea­son­able con­ver­sa­tion. These peo­ple should be treated with the ut­most re­spect, but de­bate should be avoided. It’s best that we think about our closer so­cial and fam­ily net­works and in­vite those peo­ple with more open minds.

Al­ways try to ask peo­ple first if you’re not sure where they stand on shoot­ing be­cause it will be very easy for them to sim­ply say ‘no’. Firstly, they need to trust that you’re safe and if lit­tle Jimmy heads home grin­ning and telling sto­ries about his prow­ess with the ‘gun’ he might never be al­lowed over again. The safety protocol will be para­mount to the du­bi­ous, so en­sure that you’re clear, calm and con­sis­tent, al­ways re­ward­ing good prac­tice first and ‘re­mind­ing’ rather than rant­ing.


The proof of the pud­ding is al­ways in the eat­ing, but it does help to have some pos­i­tives ready to roll off the tongue. Tar­get shoot­ing can pro­vide young peo­ple with the fol­low­ing:

1. The chance to get away from dig­i­tal de­vices and meet new peo­ple of all ages in the real world.

2. An op­por­tu­nity to learn a new skill and to be­lieve that they can suc­ceed. 3. A place where they will learn to re­spect guns and to use them safely and with hu­mil­ity.

4. A frame­work to build re­straint, dis­ci­pline and self- con­trol.

5. Op­por­tu­ni­ties for pro­gres­sion to a high tech­ni­cal level competing re­gion­ally, na­tion­ally and in­ter­na­tion­ally.


As we move into the spring, I’m pre­par­ing an­other pro­posal for staff at my school. By the sum­mer I’d like to be load­ing the truck with straw bales and tar­gets and set­ting up a small range in the grounds. I’ll only ask the most chal­leng­ing stu­dents if they’d like to join me, the stu­dents who are at risk of ex­clu­sion and who, if they are ex­cluded, will be at high risk of be­ing drawn into crime and lo­cal gangs. These are the kinds of young peo­ple who most need to feel that they’re good at some­thing. They’re too far be­hind now to gain any GCSEs and if they leave school with no other skills other than the abil­ity to re­sist au­thor­ity and play the bad boy, then their fu­ture, and ur­ban so­ci­ety’s for that mat­ter, is pretty bleak. Tar­get shoot­ing is the per­fect so­lu­tion and whilst it can’t solve the core prob­lems it can at least of­fer these young men an al­ter­na­tive path.

I’m con­vinced that the very best way we can pro­mote the fu­ture of air­gun­ning is to look slightly be­yond our com­fort zones and to in­vite peo­ple warmly to shoot in our gar­dens, at our clubs and on our per­mis­sions. This could be chil­dren, par­ents or both, but I chal­lenge anybody, even the most scep­ti­cal, to leave a well-run range with­out a glow of sat­is­fac­tion and the de­sire to come back; ‘I never thought I’d like shoot­ing, but it was ac­tu­ally re­ally good fun …! Let’s go to work! Char­lie.

MAIN: Noth­ing beats the great out­doors and fresh air

RIGHT: Is a ri­fle re­ally more dan­ger­ous than this?

BE­LOW: Archery is seen as fine for chil­dren. Why not air­guns?

RIGHT: The Scouts is a good place to start

ABOVE: Com­pe­ti­tion shoot­ing re­quires self dis­ci­pline

BE­LOW: Shoot­ing should be ac­ces­si­ble to all

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