Shooters and shooting organisations swung into action to defend their sport against calls for unworkable gun laws, following a horrific incident in the early hours of New Year’s Day at Horden, near Peterlee in Durham. Taxi driver Michael Atherton shot dead three members of his family before shooting himself, apparently with a legally-held shotgun.
Individual shooters quickly responded to criticisms on Twitter, Facebook and the comments boards on newspaper websites. Shooting blogger ‘The Town Gun’ contacted BASC and the Countryside Alliance to check that they were preparing statements for the press, and reported their responses on his blog at www.towngun.co.uk
Shooting Sports Trust spokesman Mike Yardley was up all night on 2 January, responding to media enquiries, giving statements and arranging live interviews. By 6pm on the 3rd, he had completed 25 broadcasts on radio and TV, including BBC local radio stations from Liverpool to Devon.
The Countryside Alliance issued its statement on 2 January, emphasising that the UK has “the toughest and most stringent shotgun licensing laws of anywhere in the world” and going on to stress that “Over half a million people shoot for sport each year and Great Britain will have some of the finest sportsmen and women participating in the shooting events at London 2012.” Their spokesman David Taylor was also busy giving radio interviews.
BASC was also in contact with the media, briefing journalists and researchers, but chose not to release its statement until the following day. It expressed sadness and sympathy for the families of the victims and warned against any knee-jerk reaction. “No conclusions can be drawn from this case until the full facts are known,” the statement said.
An investigation will be carried out by the Independent Police Complaints Commission to determine why Atherton was allowed to keep his firearms, after being reported to Durham Police in 2008 for threatening to kill himself.