“Ye’ve goat tae be kidding!”
So, in case you missed it, there was a bit of a rammy, excuse the pun, when an American tv host and her husband visited a Scottish island to hunt. This might not seem that absurd considering the hundreds of shooting estates covering millions of acres of Scotland’s highlands and islands. What was peculiar was included in her quarry, a goat and a black faced tup, a ram, basically a male sheep. How do we know what she shot? Cos she posted pictures of her and her hunting party’s kills. Initially I thought the sheep was getting a wee chin rub, as you do, but hey, this isn’t an animal rights piece.
We can discuss the pro’s and con’s of countryside sports another day. This piece is about guns. I actually thought that Scotland had some of the strictest gun control laws. This is mostly to do with what happened after the tragic, infamous incident at Dunblane. The only people I expect to be in possession of firearms are farmers, soldiers and the police. With exception of the laird and his games keepers of course, and the people who come to shoot on their estates… wait. What? Why am I so desensitised to this? How many tourists are coming to Scotland and cutting about our moorland with weapons? How do they get licences? How does anyone get a licence? This is how I began my lesson in firearms in Scotland.
My first stop was to Police Scotland firearms webpage, the authority who licences weapons in Scotland. I was really surprised to find that a visitors permit is only £20 for an individual or £100 for a group of six. I was further shocked to learn that the police only deal with a sponsor from Scotland, who themselves do not have to possess a firearms licence.
The “hunter-tourist” as they shall be henceforth called, need only possess a visitor’s firearms permit made via an application. As well as the aforementioned sponsor and whatever fee is required;
“The applicant should also supply an original or a full copy of the European Firearms Pass if the permit is requested by an EEC resident or a copy of the visitor’s hunting permit valid in their home country or Certificate of Good Conduct – available from the visitor’s home police/sheriff department.
Applications for a Visitors Permit should be made at least 6 weeks prior to arrival in Scotland. There may be extenuating circumstances when an application is made close to the date on which the applicant wishes to travel to Scotland. Police Scotland will make every effort to process late applications on time, however this cannot be guaranteed.”Firearms – Police Scotland
So to be clear, (never mind the potential brexit implications this may pose) a tourist can come to our country and be able to legally kill an animal with a dangerous weapon while dressed in camouflage fatigues and using an optical scope. As long as they have someone in Scotland who will apply on their behalf to come shoot something with a ballistic firearm. They also have to have a permit in their own country.
Side note: Here is an interesting Wikipedia page...
As a Scottish citizen, I have never really felt the need to have an opinion on “Gun Rights”. It has always felt a very American topic of conversation and the right to bear arms and second amendments and all that seem a very passionate subject. But I can arm myself, I can own a sword and a targe, a dirk, a sgian dubh, a lochaber axe, heck i have about three sets of golf clubs in my cupboard come the zombie apocalypse. But guns? I’ve shot air rifles and spud guns, once shot at a target in a scout hall in Aberfeldy. I’m not particularly adverse to guns, I play video games. I love the shooting gallery at the fairground. I like laser quest and can even get down with clay pigeon shooting. But I have never had the urge to kill anything.
Which brings us to our next issue, where can you kill things with a gun in Scotland? Seems so absurd to even type that, but it’s not. On an estate. With the laird. At the big hoose. Legally sanctioned hunting. Often grouped under Land Stewardship/Conservation or Countryside Sports, but henceforth to be known as “The Hosts”. Because lets face it, if you really “love animals” and want to “preserve ecosystems” you wouldn’t desecrate land for easy shots of too fat to fly grouse and you would come up with alternatives to mass culls such as contraceptive darting, then host visitors on a trophy hunt. But hey, this isn’t an animal rights piece. I have to keep repeating that so I don’t get distracted.
Guns in Scotland. Who has a gun anyway, beside the police, armed forces, farmers and the hunter tourists and the hosts. Well if you have “good reason” you can apply for a licence. The good reason could be for sport or vermin extermination. Perhaps you are a farmer or a vet? Or perhaps a bored housewife who has joined a local gun club? There are probably thousands of legitimate reasons to want to get a licence, I’ve never really considered it, however I was so surprised to learn that in just a few simple steps I too could be out in camo with a scoped rifle shooting living things. Legally.
It is even more alarming when you consider that the majority of brutal massacres involving firearms across the globe, were perpetuated with legal weapons. In the case of the Dunblane massacre this lead to the banning of most privately owned hand pistols and in the Port Arthur incident, Tasmania which resulted in the Australian Governement restrcting private ownership of semi-automatic rifles.
I mention these horrific tragedies only to emphasise my next points of interest. In Australia right now there is discussion about attachments to shotguns to increase their fire rate. Shotguns are traditionally two barrel (two single shots then reload required), shell (so fragments scatter rather than pierce like a bullet), slow rate of fire weapons. Usually stereotypically slung over a farmers arm, used for grouse shooting and vermin eradication. In a zombie apocalypse you would probably want a bump stock, shortened barrel and hair trigger attachments, but this is just my inner video geek talking. “Real” shooters will tell you that what you want is a longer barrel for minimum spread, probably. But bump stocks are real, and available from your local gun dealership. (Which I will come to later.) And in the case of the Australian discussion, lever action shotguns, specifically the Adler shotgun.
I don’t know why you need more than two consecutive shots to shoot a big fat grouse or pheasant anyway, just get in your motor and they will jump in front of it on any highland back road.
Most American gun ownership is of handguns, hand held small calibration pistols, which is tightly regulated in the UK. But if you are a visitor coming to shoot a deer on a highland estate at the invitation of a host is it a gateway for you to have a shot of a scoped rifle? Dress up in camouflage, hide on a hillock of heather, track down an ungulate on foot, smear yourself in the blood of a farmyard animal. Sorry, this is not an animal rights article.
This is about land rights, gun rights and classism. Yes classism. The right for some people to have access to guns and exploit the natural resources of the land for a jolly good laugh, is classist. When legislation speculatively states “good reason” in the licensing guidelines, wee guys from schemes cannae be zooming about on quad bikes on the moors hunting mountain hares, can they? When the countryside sports spokesmen chat about how ‘that’s not the British way of hunting’, and glory posts on social media are ‘very American’, and I quote “they can shoot a bigger deer in England”, I truly find myself doing mental gymnastics to justify this ease of access to legal weaponry for some people.
The exploitation of our land is a whole other article along with the subtlety mentioned animal rights topic I briefly quipped about throughout this article that I hope to address in the near future. But questions should be asked when hosts can be the sponsors to hunter tourists and make a profit becoming firearms dealers (selling hunting attire, scopes, ammunition and guns) for as little as £200 for a licence, what actual assurances have we got as citizens and visitors with the right to roam across our countryside? Who is hiding in the bushes with a sniper scope on a long rifle? Are they sponsored by the landowner who may or may not be hosting a cull? Are farmers pimping out livestock to show off their amazing weapons available at the hotel gift shop? Are councils endorsing tourist-hunter culls of pests? Is anybody proficient in using firearms on this goat hunt? Why are you wearing camouflage hunting a sheep?
During all the research and ranting, I have only ended up with more questions. If I become an Air BnB host can I sponsor a shooter to come take out the grey squirrels in the local woods? Can you deep fry squirrel? Can I get compensated from the council for this tourism service? Has someone already been on Dragon’s Den with this idea? Who’s the smuggest; vegans, vegetarians or pescatarians? Should gun legislation and land use be reviewed pronto? Is it too easy for anyone to legally get a shot of a gun? Can shot of a gun mean two things? Who goes on holiday to stalk livestock? What does a Hunter Tourist say to custom’s at the airport when they are asked “the purpose of your trip to Scotland?”