Cumbrian school among those piloting new gun toy

Guns thumball
Image caption The guns thumball was developed by a company in Keswick

A Cumbrian primary school is testing an educational toy designed to encourage children to talk about guns.

The Guns Thumball is a soft ball with names of 32 types of gun, from a Mac-10 to a water pistol, printed on it.

The firm behind it said it was "even more important" for children to discuss guns in light of Derrick Bird fatally shooting 12 people in the county.

Bassenthwaite Primary's head said it enabled pupils to talk about guns' role in society in a "safe and fun way".

Children at the school in Bassenthwaite, Cumbria, are among those in a pilot group trying out the ball before it goes on sale.

Promote discussion

The toy is thrown around a classroom, with the person who catches it lifting their thumb and reading from the panel underneath. It is then used to promote discussion in the classroom about how guns are used in different scenarios.

Head teacher Sara Royle said: "The new Guns Thumball gives us the opportunity to positively encourage the students to talk about the role that guns have in society in a safe and fun way."

Ch Supt Geoff Feavyour of Leicestershire Police, a strategic firearms commander, backed the ball but recognised it might be controversial.

"I can understand the sensitivity, but we are fooling ourselves if we think our kids don't arrive at school without exposure to guns, gun issues, and in some cases gun culture," he said.

He admitted some may see guns as a taboo subject, but said children were often exposed to "unrealistic, positive and even glamorous" views of the weapons.

"I can understand that parents, even teachers, may be concerned that guns should be a taboo subject in an educational environment, and I can't help but think this is very similar to some attitudes to sex education," he added.

"Talking about things in a controlled educational environment rarely makes things worse, and if we can improve awareness, there is the very real possibility that lives can be altered," he said.

Rosie Fey of Keswick-based Happy Secrets, the firm that developed the ball, said the toy was inspired by the visit of a firearms sergeant to the shop while he was on holiday in Cumbria.

"We want to make children thoughtful around the word 'gun', and to de-glamorise it," she said while describing the design process behind it.

Mike Burgess, executive director of the company, said the Cumbria massacre had "raised awareness of guns, even for young children" and that "it has made it even more important that it is used as a topic of discussion."

Taxi driver Derrick Bird sparked a massive police manhunt when he went on the rampage in west Cumbria in June, shooting dead 12 people and injuring 11 others.

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