Singapore gun clubs take new rules in their stride

Mr Timothy Ngui at a shooting competition in Phuket last March.
Mr Timothy Ngui at a shooting competition in Phuket last March.PHOTO COURTESY OF TIMOTHY NGUI

Members of shooting community say stricter controls will not hurt their interest in the sport

The developing saga over unlicensed firearms, some reportedly military grade, has shoved the low-key local shooting fraternity into the spotlight.

New regulations from the police stemming from security concerns has led to tighter controls on the types of firearms allowed at the National Shooting Centre (NSC), which was closed in February last year following an arms audit.

All automatic weapons, semi-automatic rifles and air weapons are now prohibited. As a result, the Singapore Gun Club (SGC) and Singapore Rifle Association (SRA) will have to destroy or export about 70 firearms and relevant ammunition belonging to their members.

The gun community has disputed that the firearms in question are "military grade", if the term - commonly used as a marketing tag line - refers to weapons similar to those used in armed forces, such as the M16 or Uzi rifles.

An SRA spokesman said: "It is unclear what the term military grade meant in earlier reports, but certainly none of our firearms have been flagged as military by the authorities."

MULTIPLE CHECKS

In total, the wait can be around six months or more after club certification and application to the police.

MR TIMOTHY NGUI, a member of the Singapore Rifle Association, on the wait for approval to buy a firearm here

He added that any resemblance to military-grade weapons is purely cosmetic and that there are "absolutely no automatic sub-machine guns".

To compound matters, the usually low-profile group has to combat perceptions of laxness and irresponsible behaviour, arguing that these accusations are wildly off the mark.

Mr Timothy Ngui, an SRA member since 2015, noted the stringent rules and screening process to own a firearm in Singapore.

Buying a gun here can be done only through police-licensed arms traders. The buyer requires an endorsement from a shooting club, which conducts multiple interviews, psychometric tests and background checks, and approval from council members.

The buyer also needs to pass stringent gun safety and technical handling tests.

Said Mr Ngui, 37, who works in the technology sector: "In total, the wait can be around six months or more after club certification and application to the police."

Retiree Kevin Leong, 66, who has joined shooting clubs in the United States and Australia when he was posted to those countries for work, added: "We have among the strictest gun laws in the world. In New York, I could keep guns at home without a safe, although that was in the 1970s. In Sydney, I could keep it at home in a gun safe bolted to the ground."

Strict regulations aside, gun hobbyists have to also contend with steep prices, with import charges and miscellaneous fees resulting in inflated prices.

Mr Ngui said: "My 9mm pistol would be US$999 (S$1,406) in the US market but in Singapore, I paid about S$3,000 for it."

Entrance fees to the SRA and SGC, which has about 400 and 250 members respectively, cost around $3,000, with annual fees of between $300 and $360. This excludes range fees and ammunition costs.

Despite the stiff regulations and high costs, gun hobbyists are still drawn in by the adrenaline rush of hitting the target.

Mr Leong said: "It's a real thrill when you overcome the elements, like the sun and wind, to hit the target. It's a constant competition against myself to try and do better each time."

Hobbyists also enjoy the camaraderie forged during overseas trips. The SGC, for example, regularly sends its members for regional competitions in Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia. The SRA also organises about four trips a year for its members.

For now though, the shooting community is bracing itself for change.

Company director Matthew Lee's .223 Remington rifle was among the 70-odd non-compliant firearms recently cited by the police. The 41-year-old, who picked up shooting 14 years ago, said: "Those are the new guidelines and we all respect that."

Most gun hobbyists are, however, concerned that the controversy might paint the sport in a bad light.

Said Mr Leong: "The publicity has not been very positive. It's disappointing that some of the stuff reported is not accurate... It doesn't give the sport a good image."

Moving forward, the shooting community hopes the furore will subside and that they can return to the ranges soon. To that end, Sport Singapore (SportSG) said it expects the NSC to reopen in the second half of the year.

A SportSG spokesman added: "The review concluded that only firearms and ammunition for sports shooting would be allowed to be used and stored at the NSC. "

The spokesman clarified that sport shooting in this instance refers to disciplines at major events such as the Olympic Games and World Championships.

Mr Michael Vaz, SGC president and head of the Singapore Shooting Association, welcomed the checks.

He added: "One of the requirements from the police is that we build a perimeter fence around the entire centre, which hopefully will be done by March."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on February 05, 2017, with the headline 'Gun clubs take new rules in their stride'. Print Edition | Subscribe