Northern Ireland to allow gun use at age of 12
Northern Ireland gun laws are to change to allow children as young as 12 years old to use firearms.
Justice Minister David Ford has decided that the age at which a young person may have supervised access to air guns or shotguns will drop by four years.
At present, firearms certificates may be issued to 16 to 18-year-olds in specific cases for use on farms.
In the rest of the UK there is no lower age limit for the supervised use of shotguns and air guns.
Mr Ford's decision follows public consultation and discussion with Chief Constable Matt Baggott.
Two organisations for shooting have called for the age to be lowered to 10.
In February, the Northern Ireland Firearms Dealers and Shooters Association and the British Association for Shooting and Conservation told the Northern Ireland Justice Committee that they favoured the lower age.
On Tuesday, a spokesman for the Department of Justice said: "Following public consultation and having considered the view of the chief constable, Justice Minister David Ford has decided that the age at which a young person may have supervised access to air guns or shotguns will be reduced to 12 years of age.
"This will require further consideration of the detail to ensure appropriate supervision by a suitably experienced adult."Competitive sport
Stewart Dickson, Alliance, a member of Stormont's justice committee, said he felt "nervous" about the move but would not be challenging the justice minister.
"I think that the arguments have been put to the committee by the various gun organisations," he said.
"Use by 12-year-olds would be in extremely supervised circumstances, those are the assurances we have received."
Mr Dickson said the argument was that in competitive sport, such as the Commonwealth Games and the Olympic Games, would-be competitors from Northern Ireland were not starting at a young age and could not get to the levels required.
"I do have concerns for the safety of children and I am concerned that any change in the gun laws is exceptionally well managed," he said.
Mr Dickson said he would challenge anyone who sought to bring the age below 12.
It is understood that, under the changes in the law, children as young as 12 would be able to use firearms provided they were supervised by an adult aged over 21 with at least three years' experience in firearms working in a controlled environment such as a gun club.