Hundreds of children aged under 13 have shotgun certificates
Hundreds of children aged 13 and under have shotgun certificates in England and Wales, new figures reveal.
There were a total of 313 youngsters in the age group who held the documents as of April this year.
The Home Office statistics - revealed for the first time - were not broken down further, but Freedom of Information requests have previously revealed that certificates have been issued to children as young as eight.
There is no minimum age for applying for a shotgun certificate, but the law prohibits children from using them without supervision of an adult aged at least 21 until they are 15.
In addition, children and teenagers aged under 18 are banned from purchasing or hiring any firearm or ammunition.
There are 3,938 holders of shotgun and/or firearms certificates aged 17 or under, the figures showed.
Firearms certificates cover guns other than shotguns, such as rifles, but these are restricted to those aged at least 14.
Christopher Graffius, of the The British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said youngsters use shotguns for target shooting and country shooting.
A young person with a certificate can only use a gun with supervision, and cannot own a gun or buy ammunition or a gun, he added.
He said obtaining a certificate was "part of impressing on a young person the importance of discipline and safety".
Mr Graffius said: "The police and courts and government over the years have said that it is in the interests of public safety that those that are being taught to shoot learn these habits at an early age."
The disclosures came as new "experimental" statistics breaking down certificate holders by age were included in annual data for the first time.
Overall, there were 153,404 firearms certificates on issue as at the end of March, covering 539,194 guns, and 567,015 shotgun certificates covering 1.3 million shotguns. A certificate can cover several guns.
The UK is seen as having some of the toughest gun control laws in the world.
Applications are examined and then granted or refused by local police forces after a number of checks including interviews, visits and references.
Certificates can be revoked if a chief officer is satisfied that the holder can no longer be entrusted with firearms or shotguns.
The figures showed that 396 firearms certificates and 1,349 shotgun certificates were revoked in 2015/16 - both slightly down on the previous year.
The Home Office said there are strict controls on young certificate holders, including supervision by an adult, while they are vetted by police who visit them at home and must be satisfied they want a shotgun for a legitimate purpose such as clay shooting or game shooting.
Policing Minister Mike Penning said: "The UK has some of the toughest gun laws in the world and we are determined to keep it that way.
"The authority to possess firearms is only granted in limited circumstances and is subject to stringent control.
"Before issuing a certificate, the police must be satisfied the applicant is fit to be entrusted with a firearm, will not present a danger to public safety and has a good reason for needing a firearm.
"The police have broad powers to revoke certificates and can do so if the holder becomes a risk to public safety or ceases to have a good reason for possessing a firearm.
"The Government keeps the firearms licensing system under review to safeguard against abuse by criminals and to preserve public safety."