Child, 7, granted gun licence in UK

Children as young as seven have been issued with shotgun certificates in Britain, data released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed.

Children as young as seven have been issued with shotgun certificates in Britain, data released under the Freedom of Information Act has revealed.

The figures showed 13 children under the age of 10 have been issued with licences in the UK during the past three years.

Gloucestershire police granted a licence to a seven-year-old, West Mercia and Cumbria approved a licence for an eight-year-old, and 10 other certificates were issued to nine year olds.

The figures, obtained by the BBC from 51 forces around the UK, showed that between 2008 and 2010, 7,071 licences were issued to under-18s.

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

West Mercia Police said the eight-year-old boy held a licence for clay pigeon shooting and was supervised by his father.

In December, the Commons home affairs select committee described legislation in England and Wales as a "complex and confused" mess and called for tighter restrictions on gun licences.

The committee said minimum age limits should be considered "with the aim of reducing inconsistency and complexity around the use of firearms by children".

The Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) has recommended the introduction of an "absolute minimum age" for shooting with firearms and shotguns, set at 10 years old.

A spokesman for the British Home Office, which is reviewing the laws, 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."

Christopher Graffius, of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation (BASC), the UK's largest shooting organisation, said: "A shotgun certificate is a piece of paper which allows people under the age of 18 to shoot under supervision.

"The law still prohibits a person of this age from owning or buying a shotgun or using one without supervision.

"It is important to remember that you cannot buy so much as an airgun pellet in this country until you are 18.

"An applicant for a shotgun certificate is subject to the same procedure whatever their age which includes police vetting, face to face interviews and a home security check.

"In the case of children, they will come from families where shooting sports are a part of daily life and where the police are convinced that the young person and their family will act legally and responsibly."

A West Mercia Police spokesman said: "Most of the under-18s who have firearms licences do so for sports purposes, such as clay pigeon shooting. Some of them are shooting at very high levels - some in West Mercia are even representing Britain and training towards the Olympics in 2012. Some older teens will have them as part of their job, for example in farming.

"They all must have an adult over 21 who is a firearms licence holder themselves to vouch for them and they use any weapon under their supervision.

"They are not allowed to own a firearm and cannot even have access to a gun cabinet - a member of their family or the gun club would supply them at the appropriate time and then take back possession of the firearm afterwards.

"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.

"Before they are granted a licence, thorough checks are made, including being tested on their ability to handle a gun safety."

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