Man is made to shoot
It’s a fact that when we are kids we love to play soldiers shooting at each other with toy guns. Whether it’s Nerf guns shooting foam balls, water pistols or virtual shoot ’em ups – guns seem to satisfy a deep need in us men for combat – sorry girls, it’s true. For those of us in the UK our obsession with guns starts with toys and typically stops with virtual or cinematic fantasy.
We no longer have a gun culture in Britain, for good or for ill (probably the former!). We may know the names of some gun manufacturers, may even have our grandfather’s Second World War pistol he kept in the attic. But they aren’t part of British life, unless you’re in the Armed Response Unit, an arms manufacturer, (or a wannabe Kray!).
With only 1.3 in a 100 licensed firearms users in the UK, we can bet you’ve probably never gone near a pistol let alone an AK-47. That’s why we thought we’d give you the low down on the history of firearms, and interesting facts about two infamous weapons you’ve probably heard about or seen on screen. Armed with the knowledge you can blag to your mates when shooting guns a on stag weekend in Eastern Europe.
Firearms in History
Although the Chinese and the Turks had been exploding things for centuries, the first recording how to make and use gunpowder was by a monk around 1250. Out of this crude cannons were made, and by the mid 14th century the first ‘hand cannon’ was invented. However these were lit with a burning wick, like larger cannons. The real advance came in the 1400s with the matchlock.
You’ve seen the film ‘Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels’ right? Well ‘lock, stock and barrel’ are the three things you needed to make a matchlock. The stock being the wooden block the barrel rested on, and the lock being the device used to ignite the gunpowder – as you can imagine they were a health and safety nightmare!
Technology advances of course, and today (as you’ll see) guns are a lot safer to fire with no more issues of backfiring – and if you’re shooting guns on a stag weekend: we won’t send you to a range with muskets, we promise.
Some Famous Guns
The Glock pistol was created by Gaston Glock who founded his company just outside Vienna in 1963 where he experimented with creating objects using plastics and metals. Although his company manufactured weapons he had no experience making firearms. But in 1982 he was able to use his expertise in plastics to create a polymer frame for a line of handguns. Its plastic frame is what made many initially resistant to it. But the Glock has proved its worth: now it dominates the market in the US for handguns for defence and recreational use. It comes in a variety of models up to the 45 calibre Glock 21, available to shoot during our Prague activity. This is at the heavier end, but like all Glocks, while chunky in shape it is easy to hold and safe to handle.
The Kalashnikov AK-47 is probably the most recognisable weapon in the world. Mikhail Kalashnikov created the weapon in 1947 after winning a competition to design weapons in Soviet Russia. He was inspired by Soviet soldiers, five years earlier, who he overheard complaining about the quality of their guns during the war. Since then it’s become a symbol for both gangsterism and the armed struggle, and is now the most widely distributed weapon according to the Guinness book of records.
Although initially only manufactured in Russia, by the time the third generation AK was created it was being manufactured in Hungary and Poland. That’s why you can get to pull the trigger on these weapons in former Eastern bloc cities such as Kraków. The French newspaper Liberation named it the most important invention in the 20th century. And for hardcore guy points there has got to be nowhere better than ex-Warsaw Pact countries like Budapest to have a go at firing the AK-47.
Gun Stats: U.K. vs the Rest
To be able to fire a handgun UK citizens must have no criminal record and to possess a Firearm Certificate (FAC). This is not something you’re likely to get hold of, unless you have a “good reason to possess.” If you want a licence to shoot, you need to be a full member of a gun club. But getting into these gun clubs is such a palaver, that you’d have to be really keen to join one. There’s no chance of just showing up in a city for the weekend and seconds later be blasting away. There are about 14,500 handguns in private hands in Britain, and chances are you won’t get to fire one in your lifetime!
The Czech Republic however is a different matter. The gun nuts at Guns & Ammo magazine rated the country second only after the USA for gun ownership. At 137,266 handguns in private hands that’s more than a hundred thousand more than Britain. And if you compare population sizes there are about 50 million more people living in Britain than in the Czech Republic.
Poland has a higher number of guns in private hands, probably 500,000 according to studies. This is because while the licensing laws are tight, you need to go through a psychological study before you can get one, and you need a good reason – once you have one licence you can buy multiple weapons.
While the government has been cracking down in recent years, Hungary has a strong history of hunting and shooting for sport. Though the right to bear arms is not enshrined in law, over 22,000 Hungarians own handguns (still more than the UK). But never fear, unlike England you can book a shooting activity in Budapest and get firing without any trouble.