What might a post-referendum forecast be for the airgun industry? The editor canvasses opinion from the trade’s key players…
Move over the calibre debate! The question on every airgunner’s lips right now isn’t .177 or .22, but ‘in’ or ‘out’ – is it better for the UK to remain part of the EU, or to ‘Brexit’? The arguments being put forward by campaigners on either side cover a multitude of subjects, from immigration and homeland security to fiscal policies and economic stability.
Yet because the scenario of remaining in or leaving Europe is such a conflicting one, it may ultimately be the more personal things that influence where voters place their ‘X’ on 23 June. In that respect, I thought airgunners may be interested to hear what leaders of the UK’s top airgun businesses had to say on the big question…
While one might consider trade issues to be the over-riding concern for the UK airgun industry, the fact is the EU question runs far deeper – which is why Alan Phelps, MD of Armex, sole UK importers of German-based Umarex, doesn’t toe the line one might expect of someone benefitting from the EU’s free-trade advantages. Alan’s belief is that the UK’s airgun industry would be better off exiting the alliance. He says: “The EU is proposing all sorts of restrictions on all types of guns, which will have a profound effect on UK shooters. But rather than a ‘one size fits all’ approach, I believe the UK needs its autonomy to ensure we control and influence what happens.” He cites BASC, the Gun Trade Association and the voice of the hundreds of thousands of airgun shooters as being essential to achieving that control.
Bob Rothery of John Rothery Wholesale, which imports the Spanish airgun brand Cometa (and whose airgun product lines also include German-manufactured H&N pellets), is another chief executive who rates the UK’s autonomy above the trade advantages of the EU. Specifically from an airgun standpoint, his view is that an exit would be better. “Most EU countries have a lower power limit for their airguns, and the UK may ultimately have to fall in line. All EU governments would prefer to cut back on civilian gun ownership, too – so outside of the EU, the UK’s industry would at least have the ability to directly argue any changes to proposed legislation with the people we voted for.”
The concerns over the EU Firearms Directive is certainly what’s making Tony Belas hope for an exit, too – although the head of Daystate (also a director of Brocock) acknowledges that the companies’ common Italian-based owners would probably want to see the UK remaining in the EU purely from a trade perspective. Tony sees imposed legislation from EU as an inevitability of a ‘remain’ vote which, he believes, will ultimately have a negative knock-on effect within the airgun sector. “If the UK exited Europe,” he says, “I see a long-term advantage in that British principles could be applied to any regulatory changes up for debate. I’d rather we be able to talk to our own elected officials than have to try and keep wading through all the Brussels’ red tape.”
Highland Outdoors’ MD, John Bright has one eye on over-the-horizon legislation for airguns. Also a director of Webley & Scott, John thinks the airgun industry won’t be all that affected by either an ‘exit’ or ‘remain’ vote, but he does worry that EU-imposed firearms regulations could ‘catch’ airguns at some point. “Any talk about law changes definitely has an economic impact,” he says, “and there’s no doubt that if the UK has to follow EU policies, this could slow things down in our airgun market.” He also has concerns over another issue bubbling away on the EU agenda: lead. “This could potentially have a huge impact on the airgun industry,” he says. “It may be better if the UK is outside of the dictates of the EU; then we could control such thorny issues far more pragmatically.”
British manufacturer, BSA is also the distributor of the giant Spanish brand, Gamo – so it’s understandable that the Birmingham gunmaker’s MD, Simon Moore, finds it difficult to be drawn one way or the other. While on the one hand he sees that his competitors from Germany (and Turkey) steal an advantage in being able to export to the UK duty-free, he also enjoys similar benefits himself. “With part of our group being based in Barcelona, the ability to freely move products from Spain to the UK is a great economic advantage to us,” he admits.
Air Arms’ MD, Claire West approaches the referendum from more of a manufacturing angle. She admits that this sways her more toward an exit as “the UK has lost its right to manufacture because of EU bureaucracy. The EU tells us where we can and cannot export to, so being out of their clutches will open up a bigger export window. And if things cost too much to import following an exit, who knows? That may be all the UK needs to regain its status as a manufacturing nation, rather than just an economy so heavily reliant on the service and financial sectors.”
Derek Edgar, director of Edgar Brothers which imports Turkish-made Hatsan airguns, isn’t so sure the airgun market will be radically affected either way – though he does think that exchange rates might not be too favourable immediately following a ‘Brexit’. “But that happens with money markets anyway,” he says, “so we’d deal with it, and get over it like we always do.”
On the other hand, the volatility of the pound sterling is a major reason why Edward King, MD of ASI – importer of Crosman airguns from the US and the Swedish brand FX Airguns – is adamant the airgun industry will be better off remaining in the EU. “Airgunners will be paying a lot more for their guns if the UK exits Europe – and that’s not just because of the likelihood of having to pay import duty on airguns coming in from EU countries,” he declares.
“If we leave the EU, the currency value of the pound sterling will weaken, and you’ve only got to look at how it’s recently dropped in just a few weeks with the uncertainty of it all to see that a fall would be inevitable. When that happens, the cost of imported airguns will rise to a very uncompetitive price point.”
The latter sentiment is shared by Karl Waktare, director of GMK, for whom the import of Stoeger airguns is a valuable contribution to the business. He sees remaining in the EU as the safer option purely from the point of view of currency stability, and is confident that legislative issues can be still be handled in the UK’s favour if we remain in the EU. “I understand the concerns regarding the threat of EU-imposed legislation, but the UK has a good track record of fighting its own corner in that respect,” he says.
And staying put is very much the line taken by David Bontoft – head of Hull Cartridge Company, long-time importers of Weihrauch airguns from Germany. “I think it would create a minefield of uncertainty if the UK were to leave,” he says. “Exactly what impact that would have on the airgun industry is hard to tell, though. No one really knows what import tariffs would be imposed on us if we weren’t in the EU, so it’s simply better for the airgun industry if the status quo is preserved, and the UK remains in the EU.”
So, after canvassing market leaders on whether the airgun industry is better off with the UK in or out of the EU, the answer is pretty much in sync with the British public and government – namely, opinion is very divided!
AIRGUN INDUSTRY – CORE FACTS
The UK’s airgun industry represents a varied mix of importers, distributors, exporters and manufacturers. Typically, the UK’s airgun manufacturers export upwards of 50 per cent of their output, and while some goes to EU countries, the biggest share is to North America. All of the UK manufacturers rely to varying extents on imported components from the EU, be that barrels from Germany or stocks from Italy.
In terms of air rifle and pistol units, the UK’s airgun imports mainly come from China, Germany, Spain, Turkey and the United States. While EU imports are duty-free, Chinese and US imports attract a levy of just under 3 per cent, but Turkish imports are also exempt under a special free-trade agreement.