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Posted 30 November 2001
Government attacked over child shooters
The government has failed in its duty to protect the psychological well being of the most easily influenced members of society, says national campaign group Animal Aid. The organisation's attack comes in its damning new report exposing the hard-sell tactics used by the pheasant shooting industry to recruit young children.
UK law currently allows a child of any age to use a shotgun to kill animals for pleasure. Last April, parliament's Home Affairs Select Committee warned the government that an age threshold of somewhere between 12 and 14 had to be introduced. But the government rejected the age-limit recommendation following pressure from a gun lobby desperate to recruit young blood.
Young Blood is the name of the Animal Aid investigation published this week - just ahead of a key report on the children-and-guns issue by the Home Office's own formal advisory body, the Firearms Consultative Committee.
Young Blood calls on the Blair Government to reconsider its refusal to act. Young Blood also details the unsavoury recruiting methods used by the shooting lobby to attract children, some of whom are barely old enough to lift a firearm.
The premium placed on young children by 'game' shooting interests becomes all too clear when examining their websites, magazines and club newsletters. Depressed by the downturn in the number of shotgun owners and users in Britain in the wake of the 1987 Hungerford shooting and the Dunblane massacre of 1996, the gun enthusiasts are resorting to desperate measures. Free bird-shooting days are on offer. There are 'uplifting' tales of, for instance, young children being smeared with the blood of animals they have helped to slaughter. Parents write enthusiastically of their young children's interest in shotguns. And there is no shortage of photos showing children (in one instance, aged five) posing with guns amidst neatly arranged dead birds. Foxes, geese, rabbits and deer are among the other targets.
A special 'New Year Fun' feature in the February 2001 edition of Sporting Gun magazine pictured the results of the 'cracking sport' child shooters had enjoyed killing pigeons. One boy, gun in hand, posed with 84 dead birds spread before him. Another was pictured with 101 corpses - and a third with 104.
The more up-market Shooting Times magazine is the official publication of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, an umbrella body that claims 1600 affiliated shooting clubs and syndicates. A regular ST feature, called Next Generation, celebrates the exploits of child shooters.
An October 2001 Next Generation subject was a nine year old from West Sussex - shown posing with a shotgun and two dead rabbits - to whom the police had just granted a firearms certificate in his own name.
At the lower end of the social market, shooters target rabbits, pigeons, foxes and other 'vermin'. Pheasant shooting, on the other hand, is expensive and elitist. Here the image is one of tweedy amateurism, good breeding and respect for the countryside. In reality, Animal Aid has revealed, it is a poorly-regulated agribusiness that combines the worst aspects of factory farming with live-target shooting galleries.
Dr. Peter Squires, Reader in Criminal Justice, University of Brighton, and a member of the Gun Control Network steering group that was set up in the wake of the Dunblane massacre:
"There has been surprisingly little research looking at the impact of firearm use and ownership - including air weapons - upon young people and their broader social attitudes."
Dr Mary L Randour, a leading US psychologist who gives seminars to law enforcement officials, mental health professionals, educators and other relevant community groups on the consequences of animal abuse for society at large:
"Witnessing masses of birds slaughtered or being clubbed to death can have long-lasting negative effects on children."
Animal Aid director, Andrew Tyler:
"Animal Aid abhors the shooting of any animal for 'sport'. We especially condemn the present legal position which allows a child of any age to use a firearm for 'game' shooting, and to become a target of the gun lobby's hard-sell recruitment tactics. The government must act promptly and decisively to keep firearms out of the hands of children."
Notes to Editors
- The Young Guns report and full background on the pheasant shooting industry is available online here.
- More information from Andrew Tyler or Ronny Worsey on 01732 364 546.
- Photos of child shooters with their quarry, plus our Danger... Targets Children logo can be e-mailed, on request.
- We have an ISDN line for Broadcast-quality radio interviews.