THE shopkeeper cocks a £1,000 gas-powered gun and shoots.

The thing’s fuelled by a canister of diving-grade gas, equipped with a silencer and comes with a top-of-the-range loading mechanism.

But there’s no bullet in the barrel, and hardly a sound as Ivan Mather fires the air rifle towards the shop floor inside C & H Weston gunsmiths.

The 54-year-old has run the store in Brighton’s East Street since 1982. It has stood there for more than two centuries and Ivan believes it is one of the oldest shops in the city.

There are racks of rifles and shotguns, pistols in glass cabinets and antique arms mounted on the wall.

The one Ivan just fired is a high-end model made in Sussex.

“From 50 yards, you can get ten shots through a 5p piece with it,” he says.

There’s a lot of admiration for that kind of thing here.

Men inside the shop are talking about how far military snipers can shoot.

One says they can fire almost a mile. Another knows a soldier who shoots a gun with a range of two kilometres.

But while they’re talking, Ivan is keen to make sure we don’t get the wrong idea.

He is concerned about negative coverage of the gun shop and does not want anything inaccurate reported.

As he’s speaking, a man comes in to have a big gun repaired and lays it on the counter.

Ivan shows where the green-lensed scope fits and points out the crosshairs.

I ask him what the appeal of owning and shooting a gun is and he is keen to stress the sporting dimension.

“It’s about discipline, trying to get better and being the best you can be,” he says.

The £1,000 air rifle in hand, he explains the rules around buying a gun.

“It’s all properly regulated.

“For a shotgun, you need a licence. For an air gun you don’t, but we still take ID and register the customer’s address.”

It’s a hot topic. Other men in the shop chip in. They say the UK has some of the tightest gun regulations in the world.

One says: “The laws used to be less strict but now people break it and buy guns illegally. That used to be unheard of.

“Gun control doesn’t stop gun crime.”

I ask what the guns here are used for. There are guns for clay pigeon shooting, guns for target shooting, and guns for pest control. I’m told that usually means rats – but “some people get upset by that”.

Who buys Ivan’s guns? More than half of his customers are regulars. “It’s a very social sport,” he says. “It’s not one you dip in and out of.

“We get a lot of customers coming back – from youngsters to people at club level. Our oldest customer is 95.”

There are several shooting clubs and clay pigeon ranges around Brighton.

Ivan turns to an antique gun mounted on the wall. “This one was made in 1750,” he says. “It was all done by hand. It’s a work of art.”

I rejoin the discussion about sniper ranges. The men are talking about rifles.

One says: “Some guns will go 1,000 yards. You’re firing at eight inch targets or 20 inch targets.”

“The size of a man’s head, basically,” another says. He’s polishing a big old gun.

I thank Ivan and say goodbye. It’s been an unusual morning for The Argus business section.