Charlie Portlock discusses how taking up airgunning is a good way to help prevent crime
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.
READY TO GO
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.
BARRIER – ‘IT’S DANGEROUS!’
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.
BARRIER – ‘IT’S VIOLENT!’
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.
TOP FIVE BENEFITS
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