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Just sporty fun with guns? New Wickford range aims to win over critics

By Billericay Gazette  |  Posted: July 16, 2012

in the sights:   Owner Keith Slater on the range, above and top

in the sights: Owner Keith Slater on the range, above and top

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ARE guns misunderstood? Does handing a replica pistol to a teenager represent education?

For Keith Slater, the owner of the Essex Range, both answers are an unequivocal yes.

With five ranges of varying sizes, obstacles and targets, the Brock Hill Road centre offers people the chance to use airsoft guns in a competitive environment.

But the aim is not just to fire plastic ball bearings at targets, there is also an educational aspect.

"Ever since guns were banned there has been a misunderstanding behind them all," said Mr Slater.

"I love airsoft, and with this you can turn it into a proper sport."

Airsoft guns are replica firearms that use compressed gas to fire plastic pellets. They are non-lethal and make limited sound.

Mr Slater, from Benfleet, is adamant that a shooting range will help change people's attitudes towards firearms.

"This is not a bunch of people running around shooting each other," he said.

"It is a matter of education. In Asia, Australia and mainland Europe they are all familiar with guns as they are all still legal.

"Here, pistol shooting clubs have to go to Northern Ireland."

Handguns have been banned in Britain since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre, which provoked a public outcry against private gun ownership. Strict UK gun laws mean that even the Great Britain Olympic shooting team must train abroad.

"Once you educate people about guns the fear disappears to a certain extent.

"You realise it is not the gun that is the problem, but the person behind it," continued Mr Slater.

"People are desensitised to what the gun is through playing computer games. They shoot bad guys and if they get hit they just get back up again.

"Soldiers in Afghanistan will tell you that is not true. This will teach youngsters that it is not a computer game."

The 42-year-old's interest in guns started from a historical point of view, which led him to attend historic re-enactments.

Eighteen months ago he founded Mad Badger Group, which imports airsoft equipment for clients and arranges shooting trips for members.

The new shooting range, founded with his partner, is intended to encourage people to compete in shooting competitions rather than just shooting each other at skirmish events.

Housed on a former pig farm with indoor ranges taking up farm buildings, the four-acre venue can be booked by parties of up to 40 people.

Those aged between 14 and 18 will need parental consent to take part.

Mr Slater believes the Wickford range is the only one of its kind outside London.

"I would like to see people copy the idea we have had so eventually we can have clubs around the country," said Mr Slater.

"We can get proper teams together and real competition to build up a proper sport."

The venue will also sell airsoft guns, but only to those carrying a UKARA licence.

Saturday's opening was fully booked and was attended by people from across the country.

"We were booked up a couple of months ago," added Mr Slater.

"There has been a huge amount of interest, even from people who don't have anything to do with airsoft."

For more information visit madbadgergroup.com

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  • TommyBM  |  August 02 2012, 11:58PM

    I can understand the fear behind privately owned guns, especially when so many people who are pushing for every Jane and John Doe to own a gun "For their own safety" does not realize that it is the responsibility of the person holding the gun, regardless if it is a paintball marker to an airsoft gun, and not everyone will be responsible. Airsoft is an excellent team building sport. However, you do need to push for safety and education prior to use. There are a lot of sites like http://tinyurl.com/7rhq52m that provide safety information. People need to educate themselves first.

  • bjjkjm  |  July 18 2012, 7:50PM

    I stared out playing airsoft guns before I ever owned any real steel firearms. Airsoft taught me basic firearm safety! Here is a great link for safety! http://tinyurl.com/7s4sbvh

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  • bjjkjm  |  July 18 2012, 7:47PM
  • JabbaThepug  |  July 17 2012, 11:03PM

    Airsoft is a great sport which very much so teaches responsibility, and teamwork. I have been playing for many years, and hate how much of a bad rap it gets. For those who are unfamiliar with the sport, check this out, it will help. http://tinyurl.com/7rhq52m

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  • Rhollamby  |  July 17 2012, 2:44PM

    I am minded of an apocryphal story as follows: " This is an exact replication of National Public Radio (NPR) interview between a female broadcaster, and US Army General Reinwald who was about to sponsor a Boy Scout Troop visiting his military installation. FEMALE INTERVIEWER: So, General Reinwald, what things are you going to teach these young boys when they visit your base?" GENERAL REINWALD: We're going to teach them climbing, canoeing, archery, and shooting." FEMALE INTERVIEWER: "Shooting! That's a bit irresponsible, isn't it?" GENERAL REINWALD: "I don't see why, they'll be properly supervised on the rifle range." FEMALE INTERVIEWER: "Don't you admit that this is a terribly dangerous activity to be teaching children?" GENERAL REINWALD: "I don't see how. We will be teaching them proper rifle discipline before they even touch a firearm. " FEMALE INTERVIEWER: "But you're equipping them to become violent killers." GENERAL REINWALD: "Well, you're equipped to be a prostitute, but you're not one, are you? " Now, whether or not the foregoing actually happened or not, is not so relevant as the moral question it poses. You can substitute all sorts of examples ..... le's say you learn to drive a car, but it doesn't mean you are a hit-and-run merchant, or a getaway car driver. Few people are actually afraid of cars; but badly-driven cars are frightening. Nobody should be scared of spiders, but many are. Spiders are not dangerous, in this country anyway. But I know people who would have them banned nonetheless. I do understand why some people are critical of guns. We all have our likes and dislikes, our rational and irrational fears, our reasoned logic and our prejudices. It is when we insist upon others adopting those same opinions and attitudes that we should take a step back and study the real issues. My own view, should anyone be remotely interested? Well, last weekend I drove a tank around a secluded private track on the Norfolk coast, along with several others both male and female. Never done anything like that before, but we all had enormous fun, we did not deliberately harm anyone or any thing very much as far as we could tell. We were given a highly educative tour of the military museum attached to the tank circuit (or is it the other way round?) and we even learnt that the Germans are beginning to discuss and thus to come to terms with the less illustrious years of the 1930's and early 1940's. Education, understanding, tolerance, forgiveness - much better than ignorance and prohibition and hatred, I think.

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  • BHirsh  |  July 17 2012, 6:25AM

    "Sorry. Too silly." - Graham Chapman, Monty Python's Flying Circus Ah, you Brits. You really need to eliminate all your gun laws and get with the program. Your cultural reticence viz private gun ownership, self-defense and unencumbered exercise of a fundamental, natural right IS silly. Too silly. You suffer mob violence, and your people are powerless to defend themselves. If a Brit subject defendes himself on the street with an umbrella, he is charged with using a prohibited offensive weapon. Do you realize how SILLY that is? It would be laughable if it wasn't so pitifully tragic.

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  • englishblue  |  July 16 2012, 5:02PM

    This is a very sensible attitude to take; guns themselves are not dangerous- how can they be?- they are inanimate objects. However, a personal with a criminal intent IS dangerous, and if their intention is to use force or violence, they will do so whether or not they have a gun- if would-be murderers can't get a gun, they'll simply use a knife, or a cricket bat, or a golf club etc. Should these otherwise harmless objects be banned too? Banning guns in a bid to cut gun crime was and is senseless- it was a typical political gesture to win cheap popularity at the expense of behaving sensibly. Banning guns meant simply that legal gun owners had to hand in their legally-held sporting weapons. Did the drug dealers and gangsters hand in their illegally held semi-automatics and sub-machineguns? I think not... because gun crime (by definition) isn't committed by people who abide by the law. As was seen though, it provided the spineless government of the time with an immediate antidote to the knee-jerk tidalwave of mass hysteria that was whipped up by the gutter press following Dunblane. If the public were better educated about the realities of life, their opinions wouldn't be so easily manipulated by people with a shady alterior agenda. An initiative such as that in the article above should go some way to reducing the public ignorance surrounding guns. As with all things- learn about them, and respect them.

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