A target: "Shooting is kind of sexy, because concentration is sexy". Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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The man with the guns was the worst kind of control freak – one with a rationale

The ex-cop talked a lot of Zen stuff about waiting for the perfect moment, the lining up of the cross hairs. Letting the gun tell you when to pull the trigger. Aim for the head. Or heart. What a rush.

He looked just as I imagined someone who loves guns would look, so it was odd meeting him in the reception of the old Guardian offices in the Farringdon Road. He was imposing, and before I could stop him, he started getting out his stuff to show me.

“I’ve brought this revolver just for you.” He had six guns on him. The security guards who never let me past reception hadn’t seemed to notice. I bundled him out into daylight. Soon we were underground in one of the city’s shooting ranges.

He was American. Of course. He had been a cop. Of course. He had left in somewhat hazy circumstances that seemed to be to do with killing a burglar. Of course. He was going to teach me how to shoot.

Before the meeting he had barked all sorts of instructions down the phone about the precise kind of belt and shoes I should wear. No small talk.

This wasn’t the first time I’d held a gun. There were guns in the countryside where I grew up. A local policeman had brought round a sawn-off shotgun for my brother because he fancied my mum.

When I lived in the States various boyfriends had made me look after their guns but I was jumpy and handed them back as soon as possible.

Now, researching a piece on shooting for a magazine, I was being taught to draw from a holster – hence the belt – even though I kept arguing that I did not need to know this.

“The most common injury is that you shoot your own butt off,” the man reassured me.

The thing about shooting is that everyone around you shouts, because they are mostly deaf. You’re meant to wear headphones but as so many of them are ex-military their hearing is already shot to pieces. There’s just thudding and barking and intensity.

The moving targets are of outlines of men coming to attack you.

Shooting is kind of sexy, because concentration is sexy and you soon feel yourself getting better. I saw how you could get hooked.

The ex-cop talked a lot of Zen stuff about waiting for the perfect moment, the lining up of the cross hairs. Letting the gun tell you when to pull the trigger. Aim for the head. Or heart. What a rush.

Then I went to the loo and realised I was in charge of a loaded gun and felt somewhat out of control. When I went back downstairs I decided to tackle him about “gun culture”.

“If you teach ’em right everyone is safe around guns,” he insisted. He would brook no criticism.

I decided I needed to leave.

“You’re not going,” he said. “I’ve planned the entire evening.” He was the worst kind of control freak: the kind with a rationale.

I thought of my friend’s cousin who shot himself by accident in her dad’s kitchen in Miami. At what age did the ex-cop think children could handle guns?

“Three years old. If you teach them right.”

In an underground range full of weaponry, it was this that actually made me want to take aim.

Suzanne Moore is a writer for the Guardian and the New Statesman. She writes the weekly “Telling Tales” column in the NS.

This article first appeared in the 26 June 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Bush v Clinton 2

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Is defeat in Stoke the beginning of the end for Paul Nuttall?

The Ukip leader was his party's unity candidate. But after his defeat in Stoke, the old divisions are beginning to show again

In a speech to Ukip’s spring conference in Bolton on February 17, the party’s once and probably future leader Nigel Farage laid down the gauntlet for his successor, Paul Nuttall. Stoke’s by-election was “fundamental” to the future of the party – and Nuttall had to win.
 
One week on, Nuttall has failed that test miserably and thrown the fundamental questions hanging over Ukip’s future into harsh relief. 

For all his bullish talk of supplanting Labour in its industrial heartlands, the Ukip leader only managed to increase the party’s vote share by 2.2 percentage points on 2015. This paltry increase came despite Stoke’s 70 per cent Brexit majority, and a media narrative that was, until the revelations around Nuttall and Hillsborough, talking the party’s chances up.
 
So what now for Nuttall? There is, for the time being, little chance of him resigning – and, in truth, few inside Ukip expected him to win. Nuttall was relying on two well-rehearsed lines as get-out-of-jail free cards very early on in the campaign. 

The first was that the seat was a lowly 72 on Ukip’s target list. The second was that he had been leader of party whose image had been tarnished by infighting both figurative and literal for all of 12 weeks – the real work of his project had yet to begin. 

The chances of that project ever succeeding were modest at the very best. After yesterday’s defeat, it looks even more unlikely. Nuttall had originally stated his intention to run in the likely by-election in Leigh, Greater Manchester, when Andy Burnham wins the Greater Manchester metro mayoralty as is expected in May (Wigan, the borough of which Leigh is part, voted 64 per cent for Brexit).

If he goes ahead and stands – which he may well do – he will have to overturn a Labour majority of over 14,000. That, even before the unedifying row over the veracity of his Hillsborough recollections, was always going to be a big challenge. If he goes for it and loses, his leadership – predicated as it is on his supposed ability to win votes in the north - will be dead in the water. 

Nuttall is not entirely to blame, but he is a big part of Ukip’s problem. I visited Stoke the day before The Guardian published its initial report on Nuttall’s Hillsborough claims, and even then Nuttall’s campaign manager admitted that he was unlikely to convince the “hard core” of Conservative voters to back him. 

There are manifold reasons for this, but chief among them is that Nuttall, despite his newfound love of tweed, is no Nigel Farage. Not only does he lack his name recognition and box office appeal, but the sad truth is that the Tory voters Ukip need to attract are much less likely to vote for a party led by a Scouser whose platform consists of reassuring working-class voters their NHS and benefits are safe.
 
It is Farage and his allies – most notably the party’s main donor Arron Banks – who hold the most power over Nuttall’s future. Banks, who Nuttall publicly disowned as a non-member after he said he was “sick to death” of people “milking” the Hillsborough disaster, said on the eve of the Stoke poll that Ukip had to “remain radical” if it wanted to keep receiving his money. Farage himself has said the party’s campaign ought to have been “clearer” on immigration. 

Senior party figures are already briefing against Nuttall and his team in the Telegraph, whose proprietors are chummy with the beer-swilling Farage-Banks axis. They deride him for his efforts to turn Ukip into “NiceKip” or “Nukip” in order to appeal to more women voters, and for the heavy-handedness of his pitch to Labour voters (“There were times when I wondered whether I’ve got a purple rosette or a red one on”, one told the paper). 

It is Nuttall’s policy advisers - the anti-Farage awkward squad of Suzanne Evans, MEP Patrick O’Flynn (who famously branded Farage "snarling, thin-skinned and aggressive") and former leadership candidate Lisa Duffy – come in for the harshest criticism. Herein lies the leader's almost impossible task. Despite having pitched to members as a unity candidate, the two sides’ visions for Ukip are irreconcilable – one urges him to emulate Trump (who Nuttall says he would not have voted for), and the other urges a more moderate tack. 

Endorsing his leader on Question Time last night, Ukip’s sole MP Douglas Carswell blamed the legacy of the party’s Tea Party-inspired 2015 general election campaign, which saw Farage complain about foreigners with HIV using the NHS in ITV’s leaders debate, for the party’s poor performance in Stoke. Others, such as MEP Bill Etheridge, say precisely the opposite – that Nuttall must be more like Farage. 

Neither side has yet called for Nuttall’s head. He insists he is “not going anywhere”. With his febrile party no stranger to abortive coup and counter-coup, he is unlikely to be the one who has the final say.