Crossbows: just say no

11 May, 2019

The news this morning that the 74 year old pensioner shot with a crossbow bolt on Good Friday has died is the latest and most appalling in a long line of recent incidents with crossbows in the UK. Easy to buy on the internet, and popular with people looking for an no-training weapon in a country that has very strict gun legislation, crossbows have been the idiot’s choice for decades. Of course, there have been accidents with bows and arrows, but the learning curve puts off the very worst kind of idiot. Not so with crossbows, unfortunately. 

Usually, when something stupid happens with a crossbow, the press distinguish it from archery and bows. But not always. This idiot, for example, actually used a crossbow. Every time they do, the sport loses out. And in other countries, there have been broad-brush approaches to banning archery as a fellow traveller to other people’s idiocy.  

Crossbows are not ‘archery’. The narrow definition of archery is a bow and an arrow, whereas a crossbow fires a bolt. Taking a broader perspective, crossbow shooting shares elements with archery (especially historically), and some elements with gun/rifle shooting, but at the same time it is neither of those things. It sits awkwardly across the two.

There is a small but very dedicated target crossbow shooting sector in the UK, but only in a few tiny corners of the target archery world do bows and crossbows stand together. ArcheryGB covers crossbows in their rules of shooting, although they certainly don’t shout about it. They are banned on a very large number of archery ranges. 

In my capacity as an British archery journo, about a year ago I was asked to go on BBC Radio as part of a debate with a regional MP who wanted crossbows further restricted from sale, after a previous incident. It was entirely clear from the tone of the email that they wanted someone from the ‘archery’ world who could provide a pro-crossbow point-of-view, in the name of the essential ‘balance’ that these things invariably require. I was more annoyed that someone could conflate the two things, although I don’t blame the harassed researcher directly. (I politely declined). 

I’ve occasionally had messages from arbalists believing that we should all stand together as bow-shooting sports or what have you.  The problem with this is that archery as a sport has maintained, in the public’s eyes, a near spotless image recently, contributing to its rise in the last few years, and the associated TV exposure and so on. Crossbows remain associated with appalling news headlines and criminality, and subject to range bans and increasing legislation. Which is a shame. But not surprising. 

I am absolutely sure all the dedicated crossbow target shooters out there are committed to the sport, and to safety and to maintaining a safe image. Good luck out there.  

Sorry guys, but in 2019, you’re on your own. Archery has everything to lose and little to gain from having you in the fold. It’s not because of you, per se. Unfortunately, it’s because there are too many idiots in the world. 

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