The thought police are watching

Post a picture of young shots on Facebook and you could be in deep trouble, warns Predator.

We all know the importance of encouraging the next generation into our sport. What parent doesn’t take pride in seeing their youngster dressed up in shooting gear, striding out into the field? You get that warm glow of knowing that you’re bringing them up right, with an appreciation of the countryside and our traditional way of life.


It’s only natural that we take photos of our kids dressed up for a day’s sport, perhaps proudly holding an air rifle, a pigeon or a brace of pheasants, and share them with our friends. Nowadays, of course, the ubiquitous Facebook is the best place to do that.

Many keepers and shooters have a wide group of friends on the social networking site, and a photo of a youngster grinning broadly and enjoying a day out in the shooting field will get dozens of ‘likes’ plus a long list of comments along the lines of ‘Great to see the youngsters taking an interest, they’re the future of our sport’.

For one Scottish stalker, however, an innocent photo of his two kids in camo and holding airguns unleashed a storm of trouble. First he had a call from his local Firearms Department demanding to see him about “irresponsible behaviour”. Not knowing what they meant, he assumed someone had made a complaint about his shooting.

Half an hour later the Firearms Officer was banging on his door, and he quickly learnt that someone – anonymous of course – has made a complaint about the photo.

Rather than tell the whinger that there was nothing wrong or illegal about the photo, and it was frankly none of their business, the Firearms Dept had gone into a spin. Our man was told in no uncertain terms that it was “irresponsible” to post such a photo on Facebook, and it had put his FAC in jeopardy.

Why exactly? Well he’s unclear – and in the circumstances you don’t ask the Firearms Officer what the heck his problem is. You make all the right apologetic ‘Yes sir, no sir’ noises and hope that he’ll be satisfied and leave you in peace. There was, however, a strong hint that people with firearms should keep themselves “under the radar” and not draw attention to the fact they shoot.

What? Are we supposed to be ashamed of our roots, our proud traditions and conservation work? If firearms users have to go “under the radar” then none of us can admit to going shooting ever, or being a professional gamekeeper, or advertise our services for pest control, wear camo or put a BASC sticker in the car… there’s no end to it.

Well it seems that our man is going to keep his FAC now that he’s had a stern warning and promised not to do it again. But that’s not the end of it. In a sinister twist, Police Scotland have reported him to Social Services – and now he is being dragged in to a meeting “to ascertain if any supports are required”. Which sounds to me like Social Services speak for “We’re going to be watching you very closely.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I know a few people who work for the council, trying to protect children who are in danger because their parents are alcoholics, drug addicts and what-have-you, or a stepfather is inclined to violence or sex abuse. I don’t envy their job – it’s horrendously complicated and difficult, and often it’s a case of picking the least awful of several nightmare scenarios. All the while they must cover their backsides with reams of paperwork because when something goes wrong they are in the firing line. It’s thankless work and I admire them for doing their best in very trying circumstances.

But have we really reached a point where allowing your kids to dress in camo and hold an unloaded air rifle is viewed as some sort of child abuse? I dread to think what they’d make of a photo of a youngster holding a dead rabbit, perhaps even with a spot of blood on them. And yet my Facebook feed is filled with such photos – indeed they appear regularly in the Young Shots pages of the most respectable shooting magazines.

There are entire groups devoted to introducing youngsters to the sport of shooting – BASC has its Young Shots, there’s Rob Collins and his Pass It On Group, and many more.

Call me old-fashioned, but I think these people are doing an excellent job of introducing young people to a healthy outdoor sport that contributes enormously to conservation and food production, and giving them a balanced view of where our food comes from. They learn to respect our wildlife, nurture habitats and harvest a sustainable surplus. They are also being taught to respect firearms and use them safely at all times.

In my view it’s totally irresponsible to let children grow up believing that meat comes in plastic wrappers, fluffy wildlife lives in some idyllic harmony where nothing is killed or gets eaten, and guns are only used by violent criminals.

But that isn’t the politically correct viewpoint – and nowadays the long tendrils of the State creep into every corner of our lives, telling us how to act and what to think. If we don’t accept the officially sanctioned view, then we risk being forcibly re-educated or, God forbid, having our children taken away so that we can’t cause them any more “harm”.

It conjures up a terrifying picture reminiscent of what George Orwell predicted in his book 1984, with the Thought Police watching our every move and coming down like a ton of bricks on anyone suspected of a Thought Crime.

Facebook provides a valuable service to the rural community. It’s a place where people in remote areas, with limited contact with friends and like-minded people, can come together to chat, swap stories, brag a bit, and get advice and support when they need it.

It would be an absolute disgrace if we were forced by an urban-minded elite to hide what we do, simply because it doesn’t fit with their ideas of what is and isn’t “acceptable”. That is tantamount to cleansing an entire culture, and it mustn’t be allowed to happen. I know our shooting organisations are on the case – here’s hoping they will provide a robust response to Police Scotland and the Social Service, and tell them to leave our culture alone.


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