A reader wonders if he needs his own shotgun licence if he is teaching a grandson to shoot ... Graham Dowling responds
Q: My 14-year old grandson is very interested in shooting and I am keen to give him the best possible opportunity to develop his interest. Obviously he must be supervised when using a shotgun, but must the adult who is supervising be a licence holder?
A: Section 22 (3) of the Firearms Act 1968 prohibits a person under the age of 15 to have with them an assembled shotgun unless they are supervised by a person aged 21 or over, or unless the gun is in a securely fastened cover.
There is no requirement for the supervising adult to be a shotgun certificate holder, though obviously it is sensible that any adult supervising a Young Shot should have an understanding of shooting and gun safety.
From the archives – children and shotgun certificates
Here’s a piece written by Shooting Times back in 2011 on the age at which children should start shooting .
Recent revelations that children as young as 10 years old have been granted shotgun certificates have resulted in numerous front-page headlines nationally and regionally and shocked reactions from MPs and pressure groups. Newspapers love stories about children and guns.
In fact, if some of our nation’s politicians are to be believed, the UK is overrun by shotgun-wielding youngsters, terrorising their teachers and friends with legally-held weapons, before going home to have tea and finish their homework.
But, according to top British shooter Charlotte Kerwood, those who demonise young Shots are aiming at the wrong target. Charlotte won her first Gold medal at the Commonwealth Games at the age of 15, and believes that starting shooting at a young age can only have a positive effect on children.
She told Shooting Times: “Shooting is such a great sport, it teaches children discipline and respect, how to behave almost. I think it would be such a shame if the law is changed so that you can’t have a licence until you’re 18 years old. I started shooting when I was 12 and I got my licence quite soon after. I had to get a letter from my school, you have to get people to vouch for you, so I had a couple of teachers write for me.”
I started shooting at the age of eight. I’m lucky to come from a farming background, so there were opportunities…
A complicated law
The 1968 Firearms Act imposes no minimum age for the grant of a shotgun certificate, but it states that no young person is allowed to use a shotgun without the supervision of an adult over the age of 21 until they are 15 years old. Furthermore, it states that no young person can buy or hire a shotgun or ammunition until he or she is 18 years old.
In Northern Ireland, the rules are different. Under article 7(3) of the Firearms (NI) Order 2004, the Chief Constable may grant a firearms certificate to a young person for a shotgun for sporting purposes, provided he is under the direct supervision of a person who has attained the age of 21 years and has held a firearm certificate for a firearm of that type for at least three years.
Charlotte Kerwood thinks the system works well: “You aren’t simply given a shotgun licence. It’s not something you apply for and get straight away. There are checks, then a firearms officer comes round to speak to you. If you’re caught being stupid, it’s so easy to have your licence taken away. It’s not something that’s given out freely. You have to show that you respect what you’re doing.
However, the law is complicated. The principle exemption for shooters without certificates states that a person may, without holding a shotgun certificate, borrow a shotgun from the occupier of a private premises and use it on those premises in the occupier?s presence. There is no definition in law of what exactly an occupier is.
BASC’s director of firearms, Bill Harriman, believes that this uncertainty can lead young shooters to apply for a shotgun certificate unnecessarily, as they are unsure as to whether they satisfy the exemption’s criteria. He is clear that complicated legislation is no reason to put a blanket ban on giving youngsters the opportunity to learn to shoot.
He said: “The certificate application process is beneficial to young people because they have to behave in a proper manner during the interview and convince the firearms licensing officer of their maturity. Thereafter, they know they are on notice that their certificate will be lifted if there is any bother.
“Being granted a certificate is a rite of passage. We don’t have many of those in society these days, so young people never cross from one state to another, they do not take up the maturity and responsibility that is expected of those who have moved up in society.
“I am unable to think of any such case where a youngster’s certificate has been revoked because they may be a danger to themselves or others. There is certainly no evidence that exposing youngsters to firearms at an early age is detrimental.”
Vital to start early
MPs who call for a ban on the granting of shotgun certificates to children also seem to forget just how good Britain is at competitive shooting. Shooting overall won more medals for Britain in last year’s Commonwealth Games than any other sport apart from athletics and swimming, and hopes are high for next year’s London Olympics.
Charlotte Kerwood is adamant that she would never have won either one of her Commonwealth Games golds if she hadn’t held her certificate until she was 18 years old: “It’s crazy. You can’t expect to pick up a gun when you’re 18, then win the Olympics. It doesn’t work like that. I wish it did!
“Shooting definitely had a positive effect on my teenage life. I started travelling abroad when I was 15 years old. I’m now 24 years of age and I’ve pretty much travelled the world with my sport. I think it’s a great thing and I’m really lucky to have been able to shoot from such a young age.”
Doug Florent, from the Oxford Gun Company, agrees. He has taught shooting skills and techniques to thousands of children and says that it is vital for them to start early.
“Shooting is a discipline,” he told Shooting Times. “We take youngsters here at a very early age and we tell their parents that shooting is nothing to do with age, it’s to do with size and maturity. If the children are sensible, they can come here to shoot. If they’re not, they can’t. It teaches discipline.
“I am very happy with the rules as they are now. If youngsters have a licence they can use guns, but only under supervision, and that supervision teaches them the discipline to then go on to use the equipment on their own. As soon as they’re physically capable of holding a gun, they can start. The steps that you go through now to get the certificate are very good.”
Initiatives such as BASC’s Young Shots days and the Oxford Gun Company’s Schools Challenge, one of the largest schools shooting organisations in the country, are further encouragement for young people to take up shooting.
Doug said: “We also do Young Shots Game Days, where we take youngsters gameshooting for the first time. This encourages them to get involved in the countryside. We teach them the etiquette of gameshooting and how to train a gundog, and we show them the way a game shoot is run.”
Educating the decision makers
But it appears that many of our leading decision-makers are unaware of programmes such as this. What does Doug make of politicians who say they are ‘shocked’ when a 10-year-old is granted a shotgun licence? Why does he think they call for reviews and minimum ages?
“These politicians have got to put their brains in gear,” he said. “You train children to be responsible adults and part of that training comes if they’re using a shotgun. It’s all part of growing up, learning to be responsible for your own actions. It’s always sad when MPs in Parliament start dictating what people can and can’t do, particularly when it’s counter-productive.”
Perhaps it is only by meeting young British shooting stars such as Charlotte that minds can be changed. She told Shooting Times: “MPs should come along and meet the people who shoot, rather than simply having an idea in their own mind of what it’s all about. They should meet shooters such as myself, who have been shooting since they were 12, and see how good it is for youngsters to do a sport they enjoy. They’re not running around committing crimes. They’re shooting for sport, because they love it.”