Closing Speech at the WFSA  Plenary Session (World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting)

  Plenary Session

Call  to Action:

Staying the Course in a Changing World


by Mr. Bruce Shaw

South African Gunowners' Association

March 11, 2004, Nuremberg, Germany – IWA


          Mr. Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, it is a pleasure for me to deliver the closing remarks to this eighth Plenary Session of the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities.  I say this because I come from a country where hunters, shooters and firearms owners are essentially a political minority.  Africa has been the epicentre of the UN’s efforts on so called “small arms” control and my home government – the Republic of South Africa – has been a leader in this movement.  As you’ve also heard, we in South Africa are imminently threatened with new laws and regulations.  Sometimes it’s a bit lonely fighting the battles we fight, and so it’s especially satisfying for me to be in a room with individuals and organizations who share a common vision of preserving hunting, sport shooting and the private ownership of firearms. 

           It is nice to realize that we in South Africa are not alone, that men and women from all over the world share a common cause with us and I especially want to thank the World Forum for going to South Africa last September. 

           You have no idea what a boost it is for an organization such as ours, the South African Gunowners Association, to receive the implied support of other groups by their going to South Africa.  When organizations like the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia or the British Shooting Sports Council, the Forum Waffenrecht or the NRA make such an effort it means something.  And, let us not forget that in 2003 the World Forum met in Australia – I think that’s even further to travel than South Africa – this truly says that we are a world forum. 

           Referring to our global nature leads me to something that needs to be said in this call to action.  And that is to remind us that when it comes to responding to those international threats to sport shooting, hunting and the private ownership of firearms we are it.  Whether it be the UN, or regional international organizations such as the EU, we and our associations working together are the first line of defence.  There is no UN working to protect our interests.  We must continue to fight our own particular domestic battles in each of our countries, but we simply can not ignore the international side. There are some fundamental aspects which are common to all.

           First, globalization is not going to stop.  A world economy, a world media and a political climate where issues know no borders are a reality.  Short of a cataclysmic nuclear war, we are going to see the present trend to globalization continue.  And with this globalization has come the type of NGO politics that Mr. Lapointe talked about earlier today.  To advance their own agendas of anti-firearm lobbying, these interest groups have infiltrated and infested regional and international organizations.

           My second point is that the so called small arms issue is not going to go away.  It is now literally a permanent part of the UN agenda – the UN bureaucracy is there, the think-tanks and the institutes have been established – we are now in the policy equivalent of the Thirty Years War.  Too many governments have become involved, too many people have been hired, too much institutionalization has occurred, too much money has been spent for this to go away.  You can be sure that the newest UN group, mentioned by Mr. Mason, will produce a treaty or instrument on marking, and then there will be one on brokering, then there will be a general small arms control treaty, and so on and so on.

           My third initial observation is that more and more governments are taking action where their reason or justification is some international treaty or arrangement.  Instead of “the devil made me do it,” it’s now “the UN made me do it”.  I know what I’m talking about.  The increasing role of international organizations in what should be domestic policy matters goes far beyond the firearms issue.  Whether it be the UN, the EU or the regional organization such as the one my own government is involved in called SADC (which is the acronym for Southern African Development Community), this is not a good thing.  International organizations are by their very nature relatively closed processes. 

           Now, if you, in leadership positions of World Forum member organizations, have not attended a UN conference I would urge you to do so.  One of the things you will be shocked by, and I say this facetiously, is that governments will say one thing at a conference and something else at home.   I trust the representatives of my government and I’m sure they are people of good will – but I trust them a whole lot more when I am sitting in the room listening to what they say.  More on this later.   

           We face a dual threat.   First, there are the treaties, or political agreements, that will directly impact international aspects of hunting, sport shooting and the commerce which is rightly part of these endeavours.  These could take the form of prohibition of commerce or transport of certain types of firearms, under the label of tracing systems. This is tantamount to international gun registration. These tracing systems include onerous regulations that make it extremely difficult to cross borders for hunting and sport shooting.  This is not only a possibility, but will be a reality in Africa on the first of July, 2004.  The other side of this threat is that governments will use these treaties and instruments to justify further gun control measures.  Again, let us not forget that these are battles that will go on for years.  And I might add they are not possibilities which can be ignored because your particular country may not be a party to a treaty.  If the EU and EU countries sign a treaty controlling commerce in firearms, then that is certainly going to affect us all.  If SADC enforces unrealistic travel regulations, it will not matter which country you’re traveling from as the effect will be the same. 

           During this past year I have been encouraged by some events and disappointed by others.  I am encouraged that the folly of the disastrously expensive Canadian firearms registration system is becoming more and more evident every day.   I am disappointed that the Canadian government has yet to address it by doing something substantial rather than political.

           In the United Kingdom I am encouraged that, because of the outcry following the conviction of Tony Martin, the right to defend one’s home is becoming a political issue in the United Kingdom.  I am disappointed that some British politicians refuse to take seriously the public’s wish for such a right. As the World Forum has successfully argued at the May symposium, defence of one’s life is a fundamental human right. Governments may have the power to deny this, but I would argue they don’t have the right.

           I am encouraged that my own government made some accommodations for hunters and sport shooters under the South African Firearms Regulations.  I am discouraged that the regulations themselves are mostly unnecessary and may make it extremely difficult for foreign hunters and competitors to hunt and shoot throughout Southern Africa.

           I am encouraged by the success of the right-to-carry movement in the United States. It saves lives. I am discouraged that no specific legislation has been passed to protect firearm manufacturers from frivolous law suits.               

           Let me move on and review some of our weaknesses in contrast to some of our strengths, and make some recommendations.

           Our first weakness is that most of the members of our World Forum organizations don’t know what is going on.  At best they have a vague sense that there is an international threat.  Most of our hunters, sport shooters and civilian firearms owners are busy leading their own lives.  They don’t read The Times or The Economist or get daily packets of articles over the internet.  When members of the hunting or sport shooting community become exposed to what is really going on they’re stunned. I was, when I attended the 2001 UN Conference in New York. I was just flabbergasted by what we were up against.  This must change.

           Our second weakness is that some organizations just don’t understand that we’re all in this together.  Some organizations think they can protect their particular type of hunting, shooting or collecting at the expense of others.  I don’t compete in action pistol matches, I don’t shoot .50 calibre, I don’t own a so-called “military style assault rifle”.  But why in the world would I want to give away what is valued by others in our community in a vain attempt to protect my own narrow interest?  If we start down that path, where some guns are more acceptable than others and some sports are more politically correct than others, then in years to come the only shooting, if there’s any at all, will be Olympic-style air rifle!

           Our third weakness is really the most peculiar.  During the 2001 UN Conference on Small Arms we were extremely effective at protecting the rights of the hunting, shooting and firearms community.  Our enemies have said as much.  We were successful because we had a unified voice, offered positive alternatives and focused our political resources on key issues.  The Programme of Action resulting from the 2001 Conference did not, I repeat did not, so much as mention civilian possession of firearms as an issue. This was a major victory for us.   The 2005 Biennial Review Conference and the even more important 2006 UN Conference will not be a simple repeat of 2001. Times change and we must not think that we can again rely on the same game plan.  We must broaden our efforts. We must have more of a presence in every aspect of this battle. 

           So what are our strengths? – what have we done right recently?

           First, we have established ourselves as the internationally  recognized NGO for the hunting, sport shooting and firearms community.  Governments and organizations know who we are and frequently contact us. We are known in international circles.

           Secondly, we have broadened the focus of our efforts and we have been able to do some long range planning and development.  The coming symposium on the sustainable use of lead ammunition is a good example.  We can’t focus solely on the UN. We have to be aware of other threats as well.  And if we plan far enough ahead, the way we seem to be doing with the lead symposium, we can draw together the resources for such projects.  I was pleased to hear some other long range plans during our meetings – symposiums on women and firearms, the relationship of hunting to conservation, the image of the hunter in the media, universal gun registration and self defence.  These are all symposiums that need to be held.

           Thirdly, we have made important progress with the Manufacturers Advisory Group.  We have compiled directories of firearms and ammunition manufacturers and have corresponded with all of the National Points of Contact for the UN Programme of Action.   These are concrete steps that lay the foundation to make the Manufacturers Advisory Group the equivalent of an international trade association and, I must add, a most influential one.

           Finally, we have established a marvelous precedent by facilitating the first regional hunting shooting alliance with the Pacific Shooting Sports Forum. This was put together last October between the Sporting Shooters Association of Australia, and New Zealand’s Council of Licensed Firearm Owners.  We should be doing the same thing in Africa.  Returning to what we have not done, we remain painfully weak in South and Central America.  You can’t tell me that with all of that bird hunting in Argentina and Paraguay and many other places that there are no organizations and groups to be part of the World Forum.     

           This speech is really a recommendation for further action, so let me make a few more before I conclude:

           First, we need to commit ourselves – when the next major UN Conference occurs we mustn’t have ten groups there. We need fifty.   I mentioned keeping governments honest by being present.  I don’t know where we are going to get a Japanese shooting group, but every major government at these conferences needs to know that their local hunters and shooters are there and that they are watching.

           Secondly, we need to realize that we simply must expand our efforts.  As effective as we have been, we can’t go on being outnumbered 10 or 20 to 1. We can’t go on being outspent, and out-staffed. We can’t go on being out-published and out-researched and continue to be successful.  Yesterday morning we heard that there are at least 30 committed people employed full-time for the anti-firearm NGOs. We heard that their budgets alone are three to four million dollars a year.  We learned that they have managed to publish over 20 books in support of their cause.  It goes on and on.  We will never match their resources, and our member groups will continue to spend the vast majority of their resources where they should, domestically. But if we don’t expand our efforts they are going to overwhelm us. 

           I mentioned how well we did in 2001. Well, the other side of it is that there is a great deal of bitterness on the part of certain governments and NGOs.  They will be back and we have been warned.

           Let me conclude by returning to something I mentioned earlier, the right to defend one’s home.  On the 1st  of January this year the British Broadcasting Corporation’s Radio 4 did a survey asking listeners what law they would like introduced into Parliament – a so-called “Listeners’ Law.”  Stephen Pound, a Labour MP, agreed before the event that he would introduce the bill. 26,000 people replied.  Lo and behold, the favourite proposal was that homeowners be allowed to use force to defend their homes from intruders. Mr. Pound dismissed the idea out of hand with a rueful laugh, saying, and I quote, “The people have spoken – the bastards.”  Pound later said Americans had somehow rigged the poll.

           Regardless, this illustrates something we must contend with.  There is a word in the international arena that describes it: impunity.  It usually refers to human rights abuses, but it describes a situation where a government feels itself so powerful, so unassailable that it can simply ignore legitimate and valid complaints and concerns.  Ladies and gentlemen, this is what we have been faced with in so many places – in the UK, in Australia, in South Africa, in Canada – governments that act with impunity.  This was their attitude when they took the pistols away from Olympic shooters in Britain, when they took the pump-action shotguns away from duck hunters in Australia, when they made ordinary gun owners criminals in Canada.  If history teaches us anything it is that such behaviour will run its course – such impunity cannot be tolerated.

           But we will prevail.  Hunters, shooters and firearm owners will have to be listened to if we just stay the course, trust each other and work together.  Much has changed in this world, but traditions, our rights and our heritage remain as valid as ever. 


          Thank you for listening and go well.        



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