Inner-city pupils take shooting lessons

Schoolchildren from south London are taught how to handle shotguns as guests of Countryside Alliance

Take a bunch of inner-city school children. Break out the shotguns and let them take turns. What sounds like a recipe for disaster is actually a novel plan aimed at giving urban children a taste of rural living.

A group of 11-year-olds from Stockwell, south London, invited to a range at West Kent Shooting School in Tonbridge, Kent, by the Countryside Alliance, are learning about shooting – an Olympic event – as a sport.

Their day starts with a talk about responsible gun use. "Treat every gun as if it is loaded and with respect," instructor Mick Megg tells the 30 youngsters. "It's very important with guns that you wear safety glasses and, of course, hearing protection."

The children, nonplussed by his description of shotguns, cartridges and clay pigeons, have had a different experience of firearms. Around their school, Durand Academy, residents occasionally hear gunshots, but no clays are involved.

Fortunately, the only place these pupils have seen or heard guns is in films or computer games. And as they file out of the shooting school one child declares: "I've never been to the countryside before."

At the firing range, the children stuff foam plugs in their ears and watch as the first pint-sized pupil, Tai, steps up to take a shot.

Looking distinctly queasy and overwhelmed, he accepts the shotgun handed to him. "Don't shoot until I say 'Bang'," orders Mick, helping him to lift the weapon and aim it at a circular target some metres away. Tai laughs weakly and then pulls the trigger. Everyone jumps at the sound of gunfire. Some of the girls scream and Tai looks more than a little startled.

One by one, the children come forward to take aim at their first clay targets, known as rabbits. "Imagine it has feet and aim for the feet." Mick cries as the clays exit the trap at speed and shuttle along the ground.

Samantha, in a pink coat and matching hairband, seems petrified, but assures me after handing the gun back: "It was hard, but I enjoyed it."

In contrast, her tall friend Jennifer has a look of steely determination as she fixes her gaze down the barrel and smashes two clays with relative ease.

"I've never done anything like this before, but it's a lot more fun than being in class," says Jennifer, who lives with her family in Brixton, south London, once considered one of the capital's most crime-ridden areas.

Tiny Aisha struggles to handle the gun, but with help from Mick she hits at least one clay and walks away with a beatific smile.

Meanwhile, the boys – Precious and Kamil – are apprehensive, but have a good success rate. Tai, now an old hand, is ready for another go.

By the end of the hour's practice the children have shot clay rabbits, teals, magpies, crows and doves. Their nervousness is a distant memory.

"It was so exciting," said Samantha of the shooting practice. "And it's so different here to where I live. There are less people and it's much quieter."

The Countryside Alliance know the scheme is likely to attract controversy, but shooting campaign manager David Taylor defends it, saying: "People get very scared – especially when you talk about children and guns. But there's a big difference between people waltzing around the streets shooting people illegally and what we are doing here.

"We're trying to target people who wouldn't normally go shooting. The idea is to open it out to everyone because sometimes people think it's a posh sport."

Reflecting on the event, Mick Megg adds: "The most important things on a day like today is that they don't get hurt and they hit a clay. It leaves them buzzing with confidence because they find out something like this is not beyond them."