Last was his Ruger Redhawk, a pistol he had purchased in his 20s with a small sum of money his uncle—a veteran and an avid shooter—left him when he passed away. He would miss that one the most.
With the Firearms Act, the bureaucrats of Parliament effectively banned private handgun ownership in Great Britain. The legislation—enacted following the tragic Dunblane massacre in which Thomas Watt Hamilton murdered 16 children and one adult, before committing suicide—affected an estimated 57,000 people who legally possessed handguns in England at the time. It was the final act in what was a long history of restrictions on firearm ownership in the United Kingdom. Today, only blackpowder guns, pistols of historic or aesthetic value, rare prototypes, starting pistols and shot pistols for pest control are allowed. Harrison, however, had no firearms of the sort.
On Sept. 13, 1997, the stone-faced Brit left his military post and marched into a Warwickshire, England police station dressed in full uniform to surrender his handguns to agents of the State.
“I deliberately left it to the last week of the time graciously granted by the Government and went to the police station in uniform,” Harrison said. “I don’t think anyone else noticed the irony, but I wanted to make the statement to myself if no one else.” It was a feeling any American shooter or military officer would find hard to imagine.
Harrison had spent almost all of his life around firearms. He began at age 10 with a .22 rifle, moved to competitive shooting as a teenager in IPSC and spent his 20s fighting for his country overseas. The ban was an unwarranted punishment for this self-proclaimed lover of all things firearms, a groundless infringement on his rights.
“After [Dunblane] happened the British government decided it would be a good idea to confiscate everybody’s handguns. So, after that my wife and I—we both shoot—decided that we didn’t want to pay taxes to a government that didn’t trust us with firearms and decided to pick up and leave.”
Harrison admits that it wasn’t the only motivation for moving to America, but the British government’s show of distrust in its people helped him finalize his decision. Only months after he had turned over his handguns, he would leave his home to come to the United States, where there was no doubt he would have the Right to Keep and Bear Arms.
An Unlikely Reality
Twelve years later Harrison’s wife of 15 years, Judith, forwarded him an interesting e-mail from work. They were then living in Sherwood, Ore., running a large timber construction company and shooting 3-gun competitions a few weekends a month. The subject line read: “The History Channel is seeking marksmen with amazing firearm skills.”
The e-mail contained a casting call for any skilled shooter who would like to win $100,000 in prizes on television’s first marksmanship competition show. The new reality series demanded competitors be in good physical shape, have mastered at least one firearm and be able to adapt to new challenges and demanding mental situations. The show, to be called “America’s Top Shot,” piqued Harrison’s interest, and after some forceful suggestions by his wife, the now-42-year-old decided to put in an application.
“I kind of approached the whole thing tongue-in-cheek, not really serious about it. I figured nothing ventured, nothing gained,” Harrison said. “So I pretty much did everything you shouldn’t do in order to get selected I wasn’t particularly serious when I filled out the application for it.”
Soon after Harrison sent in his application he received a call from the producers of the new show telling him they were interested in his story. He was then asked to a submit video displaying his shooting prowess and the more exciting points of his personality. Still, he didn’t quite take it seriously.
“I sent in a video of myself shooting in several different competitions,” he said. “I was really just in my natural element; I wasn’t showing off, it was just doing what I do.”
Producers received an estimated 5,500 applications from their initial casting call and narrowed that number to 50 qualified hopefuls. As it turns out, the nonchalant Brit made the cut.
Next was a week-long audition in Los Angeles, Calif., where shooters were tested on their mental and physical abilities. Harrison gave several extensive interviews, revealing his storied history with a myriad of rifles, handguns, shotguns and other military arms. He also scored well in the range portion of the audition with a stock Beretta 92, a Colt Peacemaker revolver, an AR-15 and a Mosin-Nagant 91/30 rifle. Then it was back to Oregon to resume his construction work and spend time with his wife and two dogs. All he could do was wait.
Ten days later Harrison got the call; he would be one of the 16 contestants vying to be the first-ever Top Shot.
“I didn’t really know what to think when I found out,” he said. “I know I was excited when I got the call. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and after all that I’d been through as a shooter, I was glad the producers [at The History Channel] recognized that.”
Harrison, who always assumed shooting was “throwing money in a black hole,” now had the chance to turn his love of firearms into a $100,000 payday. He would be billed as “a former British Army commander now-turned Oregon construction manager and amateur gunsmith.” But Harrison’s history with firearms was more than that, much more.
A Self-Taught Shooter
Growing up just outside of Durham—a small city in Northeast England—Harrison wasn’t immersed in the firearm culture. His father ran his own business as a marketing consultant and had no interest in teaching his son to shoot—and the shooting sports weren’t exactly a celebrated pastime in the United Kingdom. Admittedly, Harrison’s introduction to guns “came about rather surreptitiously.”