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THE SHOTGUN KIDS - Shooting scandal
Posted 1 March 2002
The following article from the Sunday Mirror, Sunday 3 March 2002, arises directly out of our campaign to keep firearms out of the hands of children (see Young Blood).
Ten year old Tom McKay smiles for the camera holding a shotgun that he's allowed to use completely legally.
A Sunday Mirror investigation has discovered that he is one of around 200 children with shotgun certificates, despite an explosion in the number of shootings on British streets.
Gun crime has almost doubled from 2,636 cases to 4,019 since the 1996 Dunblane school massacre when Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 people. Yet the law which allows Tom, a farmer's son, to own a potentially lethal weapon applies to children of ANY age and ANY background.
Unbelievably, the youngest licence holder in Britain is just nine.
Contrary to Britain's reputation for some of the toughest gun laws in the world, police are powerless to refuse a child a licence, provided just a handful of restrictions are met. And although Parliament is soon to discuss a call for a minimum age limit of 14, legal experts fear such an apparently sensible safeguard could be challenged in the European Court of Human Rights.
Our investigation covering 18 forces in England and Wales revealed that Gloucestershire police had issued the most shotgun certificates to children. But 14 forces, including those covering rural regions, were unable to provide figures.
Tom's father James, a farmer from Derbyshire, who gave his son his first replica shotgun when he was two, said he would be horrified if anyone thought he was behaving irresponsibly. "Tom knows guns are not toys as we've drummed it into him from an early age," he said. "The younger you introduce children to guns, the safer they are. It becomes second nature to them. I'd be appalled if anyone felt I was doing something wrong."
Under the present law, children given shotgun certificates can only fire their weapons on private land and must be supervised by someone over 21. But critics say it is almost impossible to police these conditions or to prevent a youngster misusing a weapon, pointing out a child and a gun are a potentially lethal combination.
"I was very surprised to discover that children of any age could be granted a shotgun licence," said Labour MP Steve McCabe, who is spearheading the campaign for a minimum age limit for shotgun certificates. "Although the requirements state that they must be supervised by an adult, there is no definition of the word 'supervision'. My view is that no child under 14 should be granted a shotgun licence and there should also be some guidance on what exactly constitutes supervision."
His call for a minimum age limit is supported by 50 MPs, including former Tory minister Ann Widdecombe.
But a spokesman for the British Association for Shooting and Conservation defended the right of youngsters to have guns. "Many of our firearms laws have been around since the 1960s and there have been very few problems and very few accidents," he said.
And Pat Johnson of the British Shooting Sports Council said: "A number of human rights issues would conflict with imposing a minimum age on shotgun licensing."