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Last Updated: Friday, 19 August 2005, 08:43 GMT 09:43 UK
Shooters seek handgun law change
By Andrew Fraser
BBC Sport

Russia's Sergei Alifirenko in action in the men's 25 metre rapid fire pistol event at the Athens Olympics
Three Olympic shooting events are illegal in Britain
The government has been urged to relax gun laws which make it illegal for Britain's top pistol shooters to train in England, Scotland and Wales.

Home Secretary Charles Clarke has given special permission for pistol events to be staged at the London 2012 Olympics.

But British team members face having to do all their 2012 preparations abroad.

"It would be fantastic if they were given the ability to compete on a level playing field," said British shooting's performance chief John Leighton-Dyson.

"I would like to think reasonable people will be able to have reasonable discussions and come to reasonable conclusions about this."

We must be allowed to train on the same level as other athletes if we're to have a reasonable chance of competing effectively
British shooting's performance director John Leighton-Dyson
Laws banning most types of handguns were introduced after gun enthusiast Thomas Hamilton killed 16 schoolchildren and their teacher at Dunblane Primary School in March 1996.

As a result, British shooters who compete in the rapid fire, 50m pistol men and 25m pistol women Olympic events can only train in Northern Ireland, the Channel Islands or Isle of Man.

Team members currently spend about 20 to 30 days a year training in Switzerland, and receive no funding because their events are illegal in the UK.

The Home Office agreed to relax the law so the three events can be staged in 2012, as it did for the 2002 Commonwealth Games events, although stringent security measures will still be required.

But the government's current stance is that there will be no further concessions for training in the build-up to the Games.

Japan, which has similar gun laws to Britain, gives its elite pistol shooters a special exemption.

And Leighton-Dyson is keen to set up talks with the government, the British Olympic Association and London's organising committee in an attempt to broker a similar compromise.

"It is very difficult for us to get young people to come into a sport they can't practise domestically," he told BBC Sport.

The banning of handguns wasn't a matter of eroding personal freedoms
Home Office spokesperson

"The British team in 2012 will be the biggest we can possibly put out because we are playing at home.

"We must be allowed to train and prepare on the same level as other athletes if we are to have a reasonable chance of competing effectively."

The International Olympic Committee has received letters from various parties since London won hosting rights for 2012 asking it to push for changes in Britain's gun laws.

But IOC spokeswoman Giselle Davies said: "We are totally comfortable with what has been put in place for Games time."

A Home Office spokesperson said the laws had been voted in by an "overwhelming majority" of MPs.

"The banning of handguns wasn't a matter of eroding personal freedoms, it was a matter of ensuring that what had been shown to be a terrible, if statistically small, risk was removed," she said.


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