The minimum age at which people can apply for a gun licence should be lowered from 14 to 10, Britain's most senior firearms officer has suggested.
Assistant Chief Constable Adrian Whiting, the firearms spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said that the age at which children can legally apply for a firearms certificate should be brought down to the same age at which they can apply for a shotgun licence – currently 10.
Mr Whiting told the Home Affairs Select Committee hearing that 26 10-year-olds in England and Wales have shotgun certificates. They must be supervised by a licence holder over the age of 21 when they shoot.
The difference in ages between firearms licences – which apply to rifles and pistols – and shotgun licences is an "anomaly", he said. Asked by Keith Vaz, the committee chairman, what he thought the age limit should be, he replied: "The minimum age would be 10."
"Because children as young as 10 have been able to shoot perfectly safely with a shotgun certificate, there is no reason to interrupt that. The evidence in relation to young people shooting does not give any cause for concern."
Mr Whiting later said that the current minimum age of 14 can be circumvented in some instances – such as for pest control – so some children younger than 10 can legally shoot rifles and pistols. His suggested minimum age of 10 would have no exceptions.
Mr Whiting's comments were condemned by anti-gun campaigners. Lucy Cope, the founder of Mothers Against Guns, said: "I'm thoroughly disappointed with this senior police officer. I don't think a 10-year-old is responsible enough to have a firearm."
The committee also asked questions of other senior firearms officers, including Assistant Chief Constable Sue Fish, the Acpo spokeswoman for gun crime. She was questioned about the influence of violent computer games on violence among young people. Ms Fish said: "The two are not incompatible. My sense is that I find [such games] extremely distasteful, and I cannot help but feel that they cannot help the situation."