Children of 10 obtain gun licences in east of England

Children as young as 10 are being given shotgun licences in the east of England, the BBC has learnt.

In figures released to the BBC under the Freedom of Information Act, it has been revealed that across the East more than 1,000 under 18s have licences.

Anti-gun campaigners have expressed concern at the figures, but shooting enthusiasts have argued that it is a responsible sport.

The minimum age for holding a shotgun licence is 10.

And the minimum age for obtaining a firearms licence is 14.

The figures show that in the region Hertfordshire Police issued the most shotgun and firearms licences to under 18s with 301 being given out.

The age range in Hertfordshire of people with licences ranges from 11 to 94-years-old and 544 gun licences were issued in 2009/2010.

Suffolk issued 213 gun licences to people under 18 and a total of 787 firearm certificates and 2,633 shotgun certificates in 2009/2010.

While Bedfordshire issued 49 gun licences to under 18s and 700 gun licences in total in 2009.

A spokeswoman for the Gun Control Network told the BBC News website: "We oppose the idea of anyone under the age of 18 being given a firearm or shotgun.

"We totally oppose this - children and guns do not mix.

"If people are familiar with guns they are far more likely to use them.

"If a gun is in a house people are far more likely to be affected by a gun injury accident."

'Learn discipline'

But Andrew Clifton, of the Bedfordshire-based Sporting Targets Shooting Club, said it was right that young people could obtain shotgun licences so they could take part in the sport and "learn the discipline early".

"We are a recreation and we support youngsters to do it in a controlled and disciplined manner," he said.

George Macfarlane, 14, from Cambridge, has held a shotgun licence for about a year.

The clay pigeon enthusiast believes it is right that young people are given shotgun licences.

"You can't go out on your own, you still have to be supervised," he said.

John Fletcher, Assistant Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police, said police will personally interview the parents and guardians of any youngsters who apply for a gun licence.

Officers will also talk to the school and teachers to obtain a full picture before issuing a licence.

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