by Chris Bird
Sometimes Texans don’t realize how good we have it. It takes a visit to somewhere like Bermuda to make us understand this.
In Texas, law-abiding citizens can buy shotguns, rifles and handguns legally and without much difficulty. We can get concealed handgun licenses and carry handguns on our persons, out of sight, and use them to defend ourselves and our loved ones. Without concealed handgun licenses, we can carry our guns loaded in our vehicles and use them in legitimate cases of self-defense without going to prison.
It’s not like that in Bermuda.
My wife Anita and I sailed to Bermuda this summer and enjoyed the island nation. It’s a great place to visit but as gun carriers we wouldn’t want to live there.
Bermuda consists of a chain of islands joined together by bridges and causeways in the shape of a fishhook. It is about 26 miles from one end to the other but it takes about two hours by bus. Hamilton is the capital and is in the middle of the chain. St. George’s used to be the capital and was settled in 1612. The British built 90 forts to protect the islands from invasion by the Spanish, French and Germans. However it is now about as well defended as the Falkland Islands were before the Argentine invasion in the 1980s.
The island is about 650 miles east of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and the edges of the Gulf Stream wash the area and keep the climate sub-tropical.
The country is still very British with people driving on the left-hand side of the roads, which are narrow and winding. The cops look British and some of them are. It appears that only the armed response team and protection details are armed.
You cannot hire a car in Bermuda but you can rent a motor scooter. Many of the locals have small cars and of course there are taxis. The national speed limit is 35 kilometers an hour which is about 25 mph. Our boat was docked more than a mile from St.
George’s so we did a lot of walking. All the houses have white limestone roofs with little ridges at the bottom to catch and channel the rainwater into downspouts leading to tanks under the houses. All houses are required to catch the rain as there is little other fresh water available. In the US you see gasoline tanker trucks on the roads. In Bermuda you see tanker trucks carrying water. In St George’s and most everywhere in Bermuda except Hamilton everyone greets everyone they meet, typically with a “Hello, good morning, how are you?” This is true even on the buses.
Thanks to our friend Derek Bernard, the gun activist from Jersey—that’s not Noo Joisey the state but the island in the English Channel—we made contact with Ross Roberts, president of the Bermuda Target Shooting Association, and Sharon Johnson, a member of the Coral Reefs Rifle and Pistol Club. They made us very welcome.
As far as handgun shooters are concerned Bermuda is a police state. All handguns were seized in 2011 on the orders of Police Commissioner Michael DeSilva. The gun control campaign started in 1973 as a result of the assassinations of the police commissioner, the governor and the governor’s aide. Bermuda target shooters have been paying the price ever since. In 2011 Sharon Johnson got permission from the British government to take her target handgun into the UK to compete in the Inter Island Games to be held in the Isle of Wight.
She was refused permission by DeSilva to take her gun from the Warwick Camp, home of the Bermuda Regiment, to the airport. She went to the games but had to borrow a gun to compete. All air rifles and air pistols are prohibited in Bermuda.
In the words of David Dumont, president of the Coral Reefs Rifle and Pistol Club, “They (the police) deem your air rifles and air pistols a threat to national security—I’m serious.” DeSilva confiscated all the handguns without compensation and had them moved from Warwick camp to the police armory. When they were at Warwick Camp, handgun shooters could practice with their pistols but could not take them home.
Bermudians can own rifles and shotguns provided they belong to a target shooting club. It can take up to a year to get police approval to belong to such a club and it is illegal for new shooters to try out other peoples’ long guns or even touch them. This effectively freezes out young people from the shooting sports much as it has in the UK.
All empty cases, including twentytwos, have to be collected and accounted for in case someone might reload them—I am serious.
While Bermudians and ordinary visitors are denied handguns for self defense, anti-gun crusader Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, has no problem bringing armed security whenever he chooses to visit his multimillion dollar mansion on the island.
This year’s Inter Island Games were held in Bermuda between July 13 and 19. We volunteered to help. No one in Bermuda had run an international shooting match before so the shooters brought in three Canadians to run the three shooting ranges and we assisted them on two of the ranges. I helped Keith Cunningham on the 50-meter free pistol and .22 rifle range while Anita helped his wife Linda Miller on the 10-meter air rifle and pistol range. Both these ranges were at Warwick Camp. It took us up to two hours to get there from St. George’s on the bus. Keith and Linda run a shooting school for cops and civilians in rural Ontario.
Although Bermuda was given permission to hold the games this year on condition that the usual shooting stages would be allowed, the police would not issue permits to Bermuda competitors until a few days before the games started. They only issued the permits after stories of foot dragging appeared in the newspaper. This meant that handgun shooters only had three practice sessions. At each practice session a police officer had to bring the guns from the police armory to the range, be present at the range during the practice, then collect all the handguns and take them back to the armory. The shooters had to pay for the police officer’s time. Similar conditions were imposed during the games though the shooters didn’t have to pay for the officers’ presence. The Bermuda team collected three medals—one gold, one silver and one bronze—but none was for handgun shooting and no team members competed in the air rifle or air pistol events.
To compete in the Island Games, an island must have a population of less than 150,000. Islands that entered shooting teams included Gotland (part of Sweden), Aland (Finland), Minorca (Spain), Jersey, Guernsey, the Isle of Wight (all in the U.K.), Gibraltar, the Falkland Islands and St. Helena. The shooting medals were presented by Lt. Col. Michael Foster-Brown, the commanding officer of the Bermuda Regiment on loan from the British Army.
I learned something about handguns in the UK. Tony Elgar who organized the games in 2011 when they were held on the Isle of Wight was shooting a free pistol in Bermuda. A free pistol is a long barreled, single shot .22-caliber handgun used in the Olympic Games at 50 meters. I noticed that Elgar’s pistol had two rods about a foot long extending back from the pistol. I thought these were some kind of balance rods but, no. When I asked Elgar about them he told me that shooters in Britain had gone to court to challenge the no-handgun law. The court ruled that shooters could have single shot pistols provided they had barrels at least 12 inches long and were at least 24 inches overall. The rods were to comply with the court ruling to make the pistols two feet long overall. Go figure! After the games finished the volunteers were given a party at Warwick Camp regimental sergeants’ mess. Inset in the top of the bar are all the cap badges of the regiments that have visited Bermuda in the past. The walls are lined with the shields and crests of the regiments and naval ships (mostly British and Commonwealth) that have stopped in the islands. It was a fascinating piece of history. We had a great time.
We were sad to see Bermuda hull down in the rearview mirror as it was certainly the highlight of our voyage. But we were happy to return to Texas and put our guns back on.
Chris Bird is author of The Concealed Handgun Manual and Thank God I Had a Gun: True Accounts of Self Defense. He is a former director of Texas Concealed Handgun Association, which first published this article.