The minimum age for shooting shotguns and airguns under supervision in Northern Ireland (NI) is to be lowered. The NI Justice Minister David Ford has agreed the move in principle, but debate continues over whether the minimum age should be 12 or 10 years. The Justice Minister and the police favour 12, but shooting organisations are arguing that the minimum age should be reduced to 10.

The NI Assembly previously considered the issue in 2011 but took no action due to concerns about supervisory criteria. BASC NI, Countryside Alliance Ireland (CAI) and the Gun Trade Guild NI (GTG NI) gave joint evidence to the Justice Committee in February of this year and have since had separate meetings with the Justice Minister and Department of Justice officials on this and other firearms-related issues.

When the change in the law does occur it is likely that youngsters will be allowed to use shotguns and airguns provided they are supervised by someone aged 21 or over with three years? experience with the relevant firearm.

BASC NI director Tommy Mayne said: ?While we welcome the Minister?s decision, BASC, CAI and the GTG NI would prefer that the minimum age was set at 10 years, which is the age of criminal responsibility. Such a move will allow our young people to be taught safety, discipline and respect for firearms during their formative years. In many respects the age of the young person is irrelevant, what is more important is the age and experience of the supervisor, and the fact that they will be accountable for their actions.

?The move will go some way to addressing the disparity that exists between young people in NI and elsewhere in the UK. BASC will continue to work with others to ensure that the supervision criteria are robust and that the necessary safeguards are in place prior to any change of legislation.?