Shooting is my greatest passion and as a sport I love everything about it. I love the firearms themselves, the technicalities of simply hitting a target from a set distance, the physics involved, the smell of the spent gun powder, the engineering, the community……..but most of all as someone living with a painful disability it gives me a chance to compete on a level playing field with the able bodied.
To elaborate I was diagnosed with Anklosing Spondylitis (arthritis of the spine) when I was 18 years old and was reportedly one of the worst cases in the UK at the time. My life changed very quickly from the news and lost the ability to walk without an aid a couple of years later. It left me pretty much housebound and in constant pain for over a decade.
Advances in medicine have given me my mobility back (most of the time) but I still live with constant aches, pain and my life is still carefully managed in order not to make it worse. So why am I telling you all this?
Well that’s simple, shooting has given me a sport that I can compete in and my life back.
Sport to some as an individual is being able to run faster than everyone else, to jump higher, to go farther. To others it’s a team effort where you score more points as a unit to best another team.
Well for someone with as restrictive mobility as myself those traditional concepts of sport are something I can only appreciate from afar. I can’t run faster…..or at all, I can’t jump higher, I can’t go farther without hurting myself.
Shooting however means I can compete on a level playing field, a rifle doesn’t discriminate it simply fires a lead projectile at a paper target – its the user that determines where and when the round is fired and it’s skill that determines where it hits and for how many points.
I can sit at a bench to shoot rifles and do that at a level where I can compete against others. I have little movement in my neck and spine so this actually suits my disability and I can work with it to an acceptable level.
With handguns my spine naturally wants to bend forward (part of the illness unfortunately) and the fact my bones are fusing together means I have a naturally good frame for the discipline. As long as recoil isn’t too big I can peacefully shoot in short sessions without hurting myself too badly.
Yesterday for example I was invited to shoot field target with Mid Ulster Air Rifle Club after making a short film on them last week. The traditional stance for this discipline is either standing unsupported or sitting hunched over in order to gain stability. I tried 10 targets in the sitting stance but it physically hurt me to do so and my accuracy was terrible. My partner for the day informed me if I was uncomfortable to try kneeling instead. As kneeling means I don’t have to move my spine this is how I normally shoot if I hunt.
The minute I changed my stance I was finally hitting the mark and started racking up points. Again the fact my spine is so ridged actually means I could steady the rifle to the point I could hit what I wanted, the best shot of the day being a 57 yard target the size of a silver dollar with a pellet weighted at 14gr in a crosswind. The boys informed me this was the more difficult way to shoot but for me it was a hell of a lot easier and didn’t physically hurt.
My favourite rifle is my 10/22 and it has been upgraded to a point that it is completely customisable in order to suit me on the day. The stock is adjustable meaning if my spine is particularly inflamed or bent that day I can set it to fit me. It has rails meaning I can use a bipod easily, I can add what I need when I want to with little fuss.
The fact it is semi Auto makes operating it easier for me even on a bad day and a .22 has virtually no recoil so I don’t get tired as quickly or risk hurting myself. However because it is “tactical” it is being demonised by some in the community that feel I should use a wood one that you can’t adjust – simply because some people that never be near a firing range in their entire lives might think it looks scary.
Not only are the new government “consultations” going to effect people like myself that shoot it may only get worse. MARS rifles make many disabled shooters lives easier, as do lever actions etc. The fact that we have people in the shooting community actually agreeing with the propaganda about black rifles deeply disturbs me. As shooters it is up to us to fight back against this nonsense and try to educate the uninformed. Now more than ever we need unity.