11:49 15 June 2012
Earlier this year Thomas Docherty MP introduced a Private Members Bill to the House of Commons, designed to set a minimum age for the granting of a shot gun certificate. He made plain his reason for doing so. There is, at present, no minimum age limit for holding a certificate to own a shotgun and Mr Docherty wanted, in his words, to send a clear and straightforward message that our society is not comfortable with the principle of young children handling lethal weapons.
Perhaps we should first ask whose society Mr Docherty was referring to. Was he talking about the society in which nearly half a million people go out into the woods and fields during the winter months to hunt gamebirds, pigeons and rabbits or out onto the marshes and estuaries in pursuit of ducks and geese? Did he perhaps have in mind the fiercely competitive world of target shooting that will be a feature of the Olympic Games in London in just a few weeks? I doubt it.
I have introduced many young people to the sport of shooting. It is a sport in which there is no age barrier. Indeed, in families where shooting is a way of life, it is often the case that as soon as children are physically strong enough to spend a day outdoors in the countryside they want to do little else.
From the moment they pick up a stick and join the beating line or tag along with dad as he goes out shooting pigeons with his friends, they are usually hooked. It is then just a matter of time before they want to have a go at shooting for themselves.
In Britain, the law does not preventparents or responsible adults fromintroducing their children to the sport ofshooting. What it does, however, is toinsist that children may only handle a gununder strict adult supervision. That isexactly as it should be. The law also rightlyplaces certain conditions upon thepossession of firearms, such that only invery tightly defined circumstances may aperson borrow a gun without himselfholding a certificate.
And so, in many cases, a young would-beshooter has to apply for and obtain ashot gun certificate for him or herself.I have watched a number of youngstersgo through this process, including my ownson, who obtained his certificate from thepolice at the age of 11. Young people growin maturity when they do so. An interviewwith the police firearms licensing officer just the same as for an adult means theytake on board the responsibility of holdinga certificate. The slightest brush with thelaw would almost certainly result in theloss of their privilege. They also lap upadvice and information from adultshooters or from books and magazines.
Basic gun safety is something taught toevery young shooter, things such as how tocross a fencesafely; how to put a gun in aslip properly and take it out again; andalways to carry a gun open and emptywhen in the company of others. Oncetaught, they never forget. How often do Isee young people handling a gun unsafely?Very rarely. How often do I see shootersof advanced years do so? All too often.
Many of the older generation were nevergiven formal tuition in gun safety andbasic gun handling; they were expected topick it up as they went along. That is notthe case today.
Those who start young often go on toachieve greater proficiency than peoplewho start as adults. Take, for example,Richard Faulds who has won 19 worldchampionship titles and took gold at theSydney Olympics. He got his shot guncertificate when he was nine and by theage of 13 was competing for his country.
I suspect the young children MrDocherty referred to are the inhabitants ofa rather different sub-culture, that of theinner-city back streets. This is a placewhere a gun is not a piece of sportingequipment or a passport to building astronger relationship with ones parents,but a badge of power and control.
If indeed that is the case and I amcorrect in my assumption, then we can restassured that his Bill, were it ever tobecome law, would not have the slightestbenefit to the public. Ihave yet to find a member of a streetgang who holds a shot gun or firearmcertificate, let alone is prepared to pay 50and submit himself to an interview with apolice firearms licensing officer in order toobtain one.