Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: HBSA

We had to go to acronyms or the name of this W4 (see what we did there?) would stretch into Thursday: the Historical Breechloading Smallarms Association is a British fraternal organization which at once sponsors competitions with modern (i.e., not muzzleloading “antique”) firearms to the extent that such things are still permitted in Once Great Britain, and tries to defend gun rights, along with larger groups like the hunting-oriented British Association for Shooting and Conservation (144,500 members) and the target-shooting-oriented UK National Rifle Association (~20,000 members). The HBSA is more interested in the historical and collector firearms which are of secondary interest (if that) to the larger groups.

The Rights Battle in Britain

In the United Kingdom (partially excepting Northern Ireland under Home Rule), shooters and collectors lost the cultural battle before they lost one legislative and judicial battle after the next. While, technically, there is a “qualified right” to firearms for British subjects, compared to the status of Americans, Canadians, Australians and even many Continental Europeans, it looks a lot more like a conditionally granted and arbitrarily managed privilege.

As far back as AD 1181, as described by Blackstone’s Commentaries on the (Common) Law, the right to arms was extant, as an “auxiliary right,” but depended on who you were, that is, your station and class of birth (emphasis ours):

The …last auxiliary right of the subject, …is that of having arms for their defence, suitable to their condition and degree, and such as are allowed by law. Which is … a public allowance, under due restrictions, of the natural right of resistance and self-preservation….

You could call that “the clauses that ate the sentence.” Today, the legal battle is well and truly lost; the right of self-defense outside the home was erased in the 1937 Firearms Act, the right inside the home went in 1968, semi-auto and slide-action long guns were confiscated starting in 1988, and all pistols in 1996-7.

Britain’s gun cops continue blaming the dwindling number of legal owners for the roughly thirty firearms murders in the home islands annually. This means the shooters’ associations are stuck fighting a defensive battle in a steadily shrinking perimeter.

So, when you look around Massachusetts, New Jersey or California and think you have it rough, imagine the plight of your English cousins.

The Historic Part

And here is where most of our readers will find more to like about the HSBA. For example, this post recounts some interesting books written or co-written by French expert Jean Huon.

The historical part of the Association is evident in its annual Journal, which is high-quality but very expensive (US $12.49 for a 44-page .pdf download). But the equally interesting Lecture Notes can be downloaded from the site if you have a SlideShare account, or read online even if you don’t. Example: “Medical Aspects of the 2nd Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902.”

HSBA has also been instrumental in preserving some fragmentary firearms collections from the rapacious rozzers. Heritage Pistols, are a term of art under the law, must be stored at one of ten ranges nationwide.


13 thoughts on “Wednesday Weapons Website of the Week: HBSA

  1. DSM

    I was stationed in the UK for just shy of four years and the pistol ban happened shortly after my arrival. It was my first, real eye opening look at the issue from the point of view of another country. Us ‘Yanks’ were often, by no means always, viewed as uncouth and de-evolved people. We worked a lot with their excellent RAF Reg’t down at RAF Honington. Some of their guys were amazed that I owned several rifles back home and had even received them as gifts when I was a child. They asked if I expected to get into a gunfight with a chuckle.

    It’s the true difference between being raised a subject of a country and being a citizen of one. It’s a long held position of subservience to the crown. I think it may even still be on the books over there, but you needed a “license to crenellate” to add any type of feature to your property that could be construed as defensive lest you may use your home as a fort to fight the King! In the end they are their own nation with their own destiny. We remain a common people separated by a common language.

    At the time I didn’t appreciate it much but I loved living over there because of all the history.

    1. John M.

      “It’s the true difference between being raised a subject of a country and being a citizen of one. ”

      This is stuff and nonsense. The House of Commons, the representative of the People, is the body that has eviscerated the rights of Englishmen over the past 300 years, not the crown. Look at the dates in Hognose’s history above: 1937, 1968, 1988 and 1996-7. How much power did the crown have on any of those dates? The British drank deeply from the same Progressive well we have drunk from, and the crown has been a vestigial appendage on the constitution of the UK for a century.

      -John M.

      1. Hognose Post author

        One of the interesting things is that, in the USA, the Congress is bound by the Constitution, and has only the specific powers enumerated. In Britain, the Commons are not bound by much of anything, least of all prior decisions of Parliament. The Lords were a vestigial check, but Tony Blair more or less neutralized them.

        The US Constitution was written by people who had a deep fear of simple majority rule. Westminster style parliamentary government is, at its core, simple majority rule. British rights are protected by tradition (still a force, if a weak one, in Britain) more than by any legal structure that I can see.

        1. John M.

          Going back at least to the Magna Carta, English politics were all about the power struggle between the crown, the Church, the nobility and the commoners. For all that history heralds the Magna Carta as presaging government “of the people, by the people and for the people,” it was just a power grab from the crown to the nobility.

          Aside from a brief interlude when the Stuarts were put back on the throne following the Commonwealth, power has steadily been accreting to the commoners since about 1600, at the expense of the other three. You will note that in England today, none of the other three can do very much at all. The Queen retains some notional powers, but when was the last time an English monarch declined a Prime Minister, or declared “la Reine s’avisera” (i.e. “dream on, commoners, this ain’t gonna be law”)?

          So, again, this idea that the crown is to blame for the sorry state of the rights of Englishmen today is Progressive claptrap.

          -John M.

          1. LSWCHP

            The queen removed from office a lawfully elected Australian Prime Minister in 1975. So not even her own PM, but that of another country. My Dad is a very calm bloke, but even after 40+ years I can still remember his rage.

            Let me just say that I’m no great fan of the inbred assclowns making up the Royal house of Saxe-Coburg Gotha. The sooner we become a republic the better.

          2. John M.


            That’s good to know; I hadn’t heard that story before. We don’t get much news of the Antipodes up here, and 1975 was a little while before I was following the news.

            -John M.

      2. DSM

        Oh I agree John, I wasn’t trying to say the royals rule with an iron fist. The point I was trying to make being their law is steeped in much history and tradition, owing allegiance to a nobleman, landowner, king, or Saxon chieftain going back throughout recorded history.

        Their assertion of individual rights there I think is actually stronger than here. The traditional view, however, is not one that supports someone’s ability to defend himself. As Hognose related above we have our Constitution whereas they have a history of laws and traditions that predate their country. I do think that does have impact.

  2. Keith

    I was fortunate to visit both in 1999 and 2000 and was just viscerally aware of the history all around me. I stayed in The Queen’s Head Inn in Sutton Valence in Kent both times. The current proprietor had a list on the wall of all the owners since 1450 or so. He said he tried to drill into one of the common rooms ceiling beams, 6″ old English oak, and burned out a modern electric drill. I mean just two things. The folks stood outside in 1940 and watched the Battle of Britain. Starting in 1943 they would have seen the 8th Air Force going over head. And in 1944 one of the divisional streams for Market-Garden went by over head. And a final note, on the hill was the Norman ruin of the castle the village was originally founded in 1200 or so to support.

    And on the village square was the monument with the 18 names that didn’t come back from W W I, later another block was inserted with the 22 names that didn’t come back from W W II.

    I’m very aware of out history and have been to several of the eastern Civil War battlefields. I’ve been privileged to walk on Omaha and Utah. But it’s not the same as being in a town that’s been in continuance use for 800 years. Or being in a city the Roman empire called Londinum.

    1. DSM

      They have outstanding dendrochronology records going back well over a thousand years on their famous oak. It’s useful for when the beam is in situ but also even if it was a reused part of a known previous or nearby structure. Fascinating stuff. And you’re absolutely right, in walking distance you can see Bronze Age boundaries, a Roman road (they were the only straight roads in the entire country as far as I could tell) and a pillbox built to protect a bridge by their Home Guard in WWII.

      One of my stupid stories over there was while we were doing training at their STANTA range, don’t quote me but I think it stood for Stanford Nat’l Training Area, so any bloke that can correct me please do so! Our Ministry of Defense supplied topo map had the usual marks including cultural references. While we were planning a patrol route we noticed the word “moat” in old English style script. We double checked with our liaison who related their maps list ruins and other culturally significant sites that are protected. So we ended up turning that training exercise into tourism as we planned our route to include checking out the moat. It ended up being an overgrown ditch but still cool.

  3. John M.

    “…some interesting books written or co-written French expert Jean Huon.”

    I think you mean, “co-written BY French expert…”

    -John M.

  4. SAM

    To tell you how bad its got in the UK if you look at the site you will see that to join if you do not shot, and will not be shooting you still have to have have a police background check and go on a course just to read or talk about guns.
    I’m in the UK can not afford to shoot and can not even join our NRA but the USA NRA will have me as a member.


    I have no desire to every visit England and I don’t see myself every going there. If I was going to go anywhere out side the US it would be East Asia. Maybe Italy and Portugal. All where the food and women are better looking

Comments are closed.