Shotgun licences given to children under 10, BBC learns

By Danny Shaw
Home affairs correspondent, BBC News

image captionChildren issued with shotgun certificates can not own a gun, and must be supervised by an adult

Thirteen children under the age of 10 have been issued with shotgun certificates in the UK over the past three years.

The youngest child to be granted a licence was seven years old, figures obtained by BBC News show.

Last year, the Association of Chief Police Officers suggested under-10s should be banned from using shotguns.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says children use shotguns for sports and on farms.

The statistics were released by 51 police forces under the Freedom of Information Act. Dorset was the only constabulary not to provide information.

Between 2008 and 2010, there were 7,071 licences issued to under-18s.

Devon and Cornwall police granted the most certificates, 418, followed by West Mercia (346) and Norfolk (324).

No minimum age

Ten shotgun certificates were issued to nine-year-olds. Two forces - West Mercia and Cumbria - each approved a licence application for an eight-year-old.

In 2008, Gloucestershire police granted a licence to a seven-year-old child.

In a statement, the force said applications were carefully considered on a case-by-case basis.

"The application for a licence was submitted and supported by the boy's father, who is himself a firearm and shotgun certificate holder", it said. "The young person - now aged 10 - remains under direct supervision."

A West Mercia force spokesman said thorough checks were made before any licence was granted.

"Most of the under-18s who have firearms licences do so for sports purposes," he said. "For example, the eight-year-old boy has a licence for clay pigeon shooting under the supervision of his father at organised clay pigeon events only."

Under current laws, there is no minimum age for applying for a shotgun certificate in the UK. The decision to grant a licence rests with a senior police officer.

The British Association for Shooting and Conservation says the law still prohibits people under-18 from owning or buying a shotgun, or using one without supervision.

Spokesman Steve Bloomfield said age was "irrelevant" as the decision on granting a licence was made by a very experienced police officer who would visit the family involved.

He added that the certificate simply allowed a child to be trained and educated by an adult.

"It's far better to take a young person with their parents, or to a club, and allow them to use that shotgun and be trained from whatever age," he said.

"And the age is irrelevant. It's the mental aptitude, and the stability of the family, and the stature of that young person that decides it - the age doesn't decide it at all."

'No cause for concern'

West Mercia police said all under-18s must have an adult over 21 who is a firearms licence holder themselves to vouch for them.

Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, lead spokesman on firearms legislation for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), says the evidence on young people obtaining shotgun certificates "does not currently give cause for concern".

But he said there should be a minimum age for shooting with firearms and shotguns.

He said: "If we are to continue to allow children to shoot, then introducing a minimum age across firearms and shotguns without exemptions would apply more controls than currently exist."

Last October, he told the Commons Home Affairs Committee there should be an "absolute minimum age" of 10.

Ten is the age of criminal responsibility in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The Home Affairs Committee reported that a "large number" of young people enjoyed shooting in a safe and responsible manner.

But it concluded that the laws should be "simplified and clarified" and that there was "no good reason" to maintain the current differences in age restrictions between shotguns and firearms - where people have to be 14 before being granted a licence.

The Home Office is currently reviewing firearms laws and is expected to publish its response to the committee's report by early summer.

A spokesman said: "Public protection is the first duty of any government and our firearms laws are among the toughest in the world.

"It is right that we keep them under review and we are prepared to tighten them further if necessary. Those controls must also be proportionate and fair and all options are on the table.

"We are carefully considering the recommendations made by the Home Affairs Select Committee, the Association of Chief Police Officers and any issues raised in the parliamentary debate, before deciding what further action might be necessary."

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