Northern Ireland children aged 12 could be allowed to fire guns
The thought of a shotgun in the hands of a 12-year-old may send a shiver down your spine – but it could become a reality in the next few years.
Justice Minister David Ford is considering lowering the age at which young people can have supervised access to shotguns and air rifles from 18 to 12.
British Association for Shooting and Conservation NI director Tommy Mayne said it should be lowered further – to 10, the age of criminal responsibility.
It seems a lot of people agree – last year, more than 3,000 people signed a petition calling for the age to be lowered to 10.
Indeed, Tommy's own children, Grace (7) and Glenn (6) have already had a go, during a tightly-controlled Guest Day run by BASC's gun club in Northern Ireland.
At the Young Shots Day, they tried out archery, laser shooting, shooting an air rifle and also learned about barn owl conservation – and they loved it.
"I loved BASC gun club. I liked the laser shooting and air rifles, the archery and learning about barn owls," Grace said.
Agreeing, brother Glenn said: "I liked Young Shots day very much. I really liked the rifles, the archery and the laser."
Tommy points out the incongruous nature of the law in Northern Ireland – there is no minimum age if you are a member of a club using guns that shoot bullets, but you have to be 18 to shoot a shotgun or air rifle under supervision, although under special circumstances a young person can be granted a firearms certificate at 16.
Meanwhile, in England, Scotland and Wales, there is no minimum age for using a shotgun or air rifle under supervision.
Tommy says the law discriminates against young people in Northern Ireland and it seems to be down to the sensitivities of our history here.
"It's seen as a quantum leap to bring us into line with the rest of GB where there is no minimum age," he said.
The whole point is to introduce young people to guns under very strict supervision.
BASC and other sporting gun organisations are advising that young people would have to be supervised by someone who is at least 21 and has at least three years' experience with that particular kind of firearm.
"It's crucial that we introduce young people to firearms at an early age and under supervised access, so that we can instill safety, discipline, responsibility and respect for firearms in them," Tommy added.
He also said, Olympic clay pigeon shooting contenders from Northern Ireland are being put at a disadvantage compared to their counterparts from other parts of the UK.
BASC is currently in talks with DoJ officials about issues around changes to the Firearms (Northern Ireland) Order 2004, following consultation last year.
A number of organisations said that there should be no age limit at all, as long as access is strictly supervised.
But not everyone agrees the age should be lowered.
Women's Aid said it believes gun laws should be tightened rather than relaxed because of the link between gun ownership and domestic violence, branding the proposals "ridiculous".
North Down Borough Council and DUP MLA George Robinson also oppose the plan.