Snappy disaster.

Was moving the rifles from the safe at home to the safe in DURC so that I could train there during lunchtime. As I’m walking, the strap on the Anschutz rucksack bag undid itself and the bag fell off my shoulder and dropped the three feet to the ground. It’s happened once or twice before (though on grass) so I didn’t panic, I just picked it up and walked into the range. Then when I was taking the rifle out of the bag to put it in the safe I noticed the bag was bending where it shouldn’t be bending.

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Disaster. The sintered stock has had several complaints over the years on the net about people having exactly this happen to them – the pistol grip is apparently a weak point in the design. I’d been planning on buying a Peli17xx case next month for just this reason as well. 🙁 *sigh* And I liked that stock, it was damn easy to adjust and I’d set it up properly for myself. At least all the adjustments can be carried over to a new stock fairly easily, even the customisation of the pistol grip (by just taking off the pistol grip and moving it to the new stock). Well, I keep hearing about the fabulous after-care you get from Anschutz and it’s why I bought from them in the first place, so it’s time to fire up the email client and send them a “Help!” email. They don’t make the 2002CA anymore though, so I don’t know if they still have stocks. Fingers crossed…

Prime Time

Some news coverage is more infuriating than others. For anyone who didn’t see the Prime Time hatchet job on the shooting community, these letters ought to give you a good idea of how shooters received it. First to Prime Time themselves:

Dear Sir/Madam,
I have watched Prime Time and it’s predecessors for many years now, but until tonight I have never seen a segment on a topic I know so well. I’m an Olympic target shooter myself. I own three licenced firearms. I have taken national medals, I have coached, I have helped run the national governing body in the fourteen years I’ve been shooting and I have had the honour of representing our country internationally. I was also the resident expert on the recent firearms legislation for the national governing body and have represented Olympic target shooting in negotiations with the Department of Justice regarding this legislation.

I have to say, that based upon my knowledge and experience of this field, your report on Tuesday was exceptionally poor, with gross errors in fact and was libellous at several points. You have portrayed the most law-abiding section of Irish society – and the only section where every member has been deemed to be safe and responsible by the Gardai – as being a group of mindless dangerous gun-crazed idiots. This is reprehensible.

Where was the interview with Garreth Byrne of the firearms section of the Department of Justice or any of his section? Where was the interview with Superintendent Noel Clarke, responsible within the Gardai for the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act’s Firearms legislation? Where was the coverage of the recent Firearms Consulative Panel conference from two weeks ago, where over two days representatives of the shooting community, the Department of Justice and the Gardai all met to discuss the changes in the firearms legislation?

Who checked the facts from the Times security correspondant, whose comments bore no resemblence to fact in any shape or form, but which were pure sensationalism from start to finish? I could understand one or two errors, no man is a perfect expert, but every single fact he proferred was grossly in error. From the range of a .308 rifle, to the characteristics of a 9mm pistol, every technical fact was simply wrong. And the less technical statements he made would trigger libel lawsuits had they been made at a more specific group. Since when is it responsible journalism to state that it is only a matter of time before someone from a group of people will shoot at a schoolyard?

Being the national broadcaster carries with it the responsibility to inform the public in an even and accurate manner. Being the flagship in-depth news show for that broadcaster adds to that responsibility. Tonight you abdicated from that responsibility and embarked on a spree of sensationalist scaremongering, dragging through the mud the name of the only section of Irish society where every member is approved by the Gardai as being safe and responsible.

Yours in abject digust,

And to the Letters to the Editor pages of several newspapers:

Dear Madam,
I have watched Prime Time and it’s predecessors for many years now, but until tonight I have never seen it cover a topic I know so well. I’m an Olympic target shooter and have been for fourteen years. I’ve competed, coached, run competitions. I’m a licenced judge. I’ve represented my country internationally, and my sport to the government. I say this not to brag, but so that you will understand that I am proferring informed opinion when I say that the coverage of changes in the Firearms Act in Tuesday’s Prime Time was excretable rubbish.

The most law-abiding section of Irish society – and the only section of our society where every single person has been deemed to be safe and responsible by the Gardai – has had its name dragged through the mud by the flagship news show of the national broadcaster. This is utterly reprehensible.

Where was the interview with Garreth Byrne of the firearms section of the Department of Justice? Where was the interview with Superintendent Noel Clarke, responsible within the Gardai for the implementation of the Criminal Justice Act’s changes to our firearms legislation? Where was the coverage of the recent Firearms Consultative Panel conference, where representatives of the shooting community, the Department of Justice and the Gardai all met to discuss the changes in the firearms legislation and how we would work together to implement them safely and efficiently?

And what on earth possessed your own security correspondant, whose comments bore no resemblence to fact in any shape or form, but which were pure sensationalism from start to finish? I could understand one or two errors, no man is a perfect expert, but every single fact he proferred was grossly in error. From the range of a .308 rifle, to the characteristics of a 9mm pistol, every technical “fact” he proferred was wrong, not by a small amount, but enormously so. And the less technical statements he made would trigger libel lawsuits had they been made at a named individual. Since when is it responsible journalism to state that it is only a matter of time before someone from a group of people will shoot at a schoolyard? The man has made a mockery of himself amongst those with actual knowlege of the subject – the very people whose names he has just spat upon.

How can anyone call this fair and balanced journalism? I dread the flood of letters in the editorial pages of our nation’s press from people who have now been terrified by this utter dross, not to mention the coverage which will no doubt ensue on our airwaves, as our name – *my* name – is dragged through the mud over and over again in the days to come.

Yours in abject digust,

Hobby versus Sport

Been pondering that distinction for a fair while now. Up to now, you see, I’ve not been much of a plinker. I did plink once, back before I got drafted/dragged onto the DURC committee years ago. From that point onwards, I’ve been pretty much solidly committed to competitive shooting and I tend to go all-in on these sort of things. I’m aware I’m not the statistical norm in this (or as others have more succintly put it, I’m odd and a bit of a dry s***e). And with the exception of the colours team two years ago, I’ve tried not to demand anyone else get my addiction (and for the colours team, to be fair, they were all volunteers and I was putting my life on hold for six months to train them – and the results they got were more than worth it).

But of late, I’ve been plinking again. I still shoot air rifle the old way, with budgets for equipment and training plans and all the necessary bits and pieces. But air pistol was never intended to be serious – I’m a 500-level shooter with a cheap IZH-46M pistol and I’m happy to keep on shooting like that and let it build up on its own – the idea was to learn stuff from air pistol to use in air rifle (trigger control, for example). It’s a hobby, not a sport. And to be honest, I don’t ever see it going beyond that point. I just don’t have the interest in it. The same could be said for smallbore pistol. Probably not for smallbore rifle, that was too challanging, but I’ve not had the chance to shoot it for two years now (though that’s going to change now I’m back in TCD).

Recently though – and this is what got me thinking – I’ve been mucking about with archery. Ewan Oughton was one of our members before he ran away to the US to write computer games, and he got a few of us interested in seeing if the archery side of the club could take off like the airgun side did. And recently we found a useful contact in the archery world to help us get up and running, and now Geoff and Jimmy have done their coaches courses in archery and Geoff’s stocked a few basic recurve bows (wooden risers, composite limbs, all basic beginners kit) in the shop, and a bunch of folks have been plinking away on 80cm faces at 10m outside the airgun range to get a feel for it. That’s definitely a hobby – I might buy a basic bow and kit in a month or three, but it’s just purely for a bit of craic during the summer with the warm evenings. And it’s a bit of fun to do this on your first day:

And I did a little better this weekend:

Although Geoff’s just much, much better at this sort of thing!

But here’s the thing that has surprised me – it’s definitely a hobby, but I know in my gut that if I’d found Olympic Archery before I found Olympic Target Shooting, I would never have gone into competitive shooting. It’s just too much work to get to the line in shooting compared to getting to the line in archery. You need licences, gun cabinets, thousands of euros of kit, the clubs have for years been very reluctant to publicise themselves so they’ve become closed shops with lots of in-fighting and hassle, and there’s never been organised coaching and training paths to take someone from newbie to competitor. That last bit is starting to change, it’s true, but I still cannot take a total newbie and say “turn up at such-and-such a place and such-and-such a time, there’s a course on for total newbies, it’s an hour a night on thursday evenings and lasts for X weeks and costs X euros and at the end you’ll have a competency certificate and your own shooting glove and we’ll have an information pack for you listing off your local clubs, the name of your local Firearms Officer and a letter from us to him saying you’re sound, and the names of local clubs, and we’ll put you in contact with them, and the next follow-on course is in X weeks time and we’d love to see you there, and here’s what we’ll be doing then”.

But in archery, you can do that (though you don’t need the stuff with the gardai which is a major advantage for them – it’s possible we might someday get to where every other EU state is and have airguns to seven joules deregulated as well, and if we do the sport will get much easier, but for now we’re stuck).

It’s a sobering thought that if one little thing had been different (if TCD had had an archery club – it’s the only college in Ireland without one), then something that you’ve poured so much of your life into for so long would never even had happened.

It’s a more sobering thought to wonder what it takes before what is a hobby becomes a sport. In twenty years, I’ll still be standing on a firing line somewheres – I know myself well enough to know that – but will it be an Anschutz 2002 in my hands or a PSE X-factor?

Firearms Consultation Panel conference

Well, that’s the conference over. A lot of further detail on what happened is up on this thread on boards.ie, so I won’t duplicate it here, save this:

…I’m of the opinion that people (not necessarily me, and I’d prefer it if there were a lot more doing it) showing up at these things and blogging them like that is somewhat akin to having a boil on your posterior lanced. It’s a pain in the rear end while it’s going on, but the end result is that everything’s a little bit better afterwards because then everyone knows what’s happening, feels more invested in the whole process, and we generally see better results and less muppetry. (I say generally, because life is full of very specific muppets )

Anyway, today was not a shouty day. Almost the entire shooting and hunting community was represented (and those not officially represented had significant people present to hold up their ends, like the team coach for the IPSA teams for example, who was there for another body but was still a friendly face). And almost every state body was represented as well. And problems were openly and straightforwardly discussed, sometimes a little more clearly than others yes, but discussed nonetheless. No-one shouted. No-one banged the table, metaphorical or otherwise. Everyone stayed in the same room. Everyone put forward viewpoints and everyone else listened. This despite the fact that I know several of the people in that room wouldn’t have urinated on each other were they on fire only a few years ago.

Now, nothing got decided. Make no mistake there. This wasn’t a “let’s decide how to do X, Y and Z” day. This was very much a talkaboutit day. And it succeded enormously in that respect, and even now it’s continuing to do so – as we speak, the DoJ and Gardai and NARGC and NTSA and SSAI and a dozen other groups are sitting down to dinner and drinks and they’ll chat and schmooze and network and get facetime and whatever other buzzword you use to describe it. And that is how you fix stuff. Not sexy, not dramatic, and generally noone feels like they got exactly what they wanted, but everyone can live with the end result. People met at this, they listen to the stuff presented, they put forward things they’ve been thinking about, and then they go away and think about what they’ve heard and a solution gradually forms and bubbles up through their respective associations and through the FCP and pretty soon we have a comprimise consensus and then we get to actually go and do things. Like run matches or actually – gasp – shoot!

And some of the things that came out today were genuine sea changes being publicly expressed. Noel Clarke’s talk had quite a few eyes discretely popping as he said in public things that we’ve “known” the Gardai would never say for as long as I’ve been shooting and for longer for quite a few others. Nothing was shot down – one person one licence (doing my bit against sexism there ) was discussed and no objection past the technical one of implementation was raised. And this was put forward as an annual thing.

Seriously, does anyone else see this as being as important as I’m thinking it is? An actual, official, annual conference between all the members of the shooting community and the Gardai and the DoJ? How long have we wanted something like this? How many people have broken their backs working towards something like this? How much time and effort and money has gone into trying to get to here? And now we’re seeing it and it’s being acknowledged as a first step, the beginning of a continuing process rather than the end of an experimental trial run that will then be abandoned. That, in and of itself, is a massive, massive leap forward.

Having been in the middle of it for a few years, let me say that I for one am exceptionally happy that the useless shouting and macho posturing is being set to one side as a failed approach and something more productive (if less dramatic and tabloid) is being tried, and is succeeding.

Firearms Consultation Panel conference

One of the odd things about target shooting administration in Ireland is that there aren’t many people in it. Most of the shooters want to, well, shoot. Meaning that about 2% of the people do 98% of the work involved in running matches, keeping clubs going, meeting the Powers That Be and so forth – and also meaning that when something large like the FCP happens, a lot of the old hands who were involved in specific areas get called back in to lend a hand (or frontal lobe, as the case may be).

In my case, I was pretty involved in the meetings and analysis which followed the changes to the Firearms Acts laid out in the Criminal Justice Act 2006. As a result, I’ve been tapped once or twice since I stepped down from the NTSA committee last year to give an opinion on some stuff that led on from that. Hence the invitation to this week’s FCP conference that dropped in my letterbox last week. There’s no confidentiality agreement involved here so far as I know, so here’s the agenda. I’ll report on it afterwards (and maybe during).

Post-Kuortane disaster recovery

So I got back from Kuortane with a great deal of motivation and a notebook full of technical and training ideas, and a plan to dive back into the training and go for the British Nationals in Feb ’08 and on then to Munich in June ’08.

Unfortunately, work was waiting at the airport with three months of 14-hour days. As my mother would have put it, I was in for a right land. At any rate, all plans were blown out of the water. Three months later, and I finished up the product run with the job, handed in my notice and left to go home to sleep. A fortnight later, I started searching for a new job and landed one back in Trinity College Dublin. I started last monday. A meeting with one of my coaches and we’re looking at being up to the 570 mark in air rifle by November, go back to Kuortane for a training camp (either one week or two, that’s fuzzy yet), and then on to Intershoot, the European Championships, and the World Cups in Munich and Milan.

Since I’m back in the college, and already signed up as a Range Officer for DURC, I now have access to a range again, and my time is more or less mine to organise (with the obvious exception of meetings and such), which allows me great freedom in terms of how I train; and the pay’s good enough to get the kit I’m looking to get, starting with a pair of balance bags to work with. Roll on payday.

As part of this starting back into training, I’m starting back with this blog again.  More entries to come, two more in the pipeline as I speak.