Shooting lobby wins fight for under-16s to use firearms

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The Independent Online

The Home Office has backed down over plans to ban children using firearms after the shooting lobby said such a policy would damage Britain's chances of sporting success.

The Home Office has backed down over plans to ban children using firearms after the shooting lobby said such a policy would damage Britain's chances of sporting success.

The retraction of a proposal that had infuriated rural communities already angered by the cost of fuel and the Government's plans to ban foxhunting defies a recommendation by a Commons committee.

The Home Affairs Select Committee had recommended a ban on children under 14 handling firearms. Countryside campaigners said that would lead to mass protests eclipsing those in support of fox-hunting.

But the Home Office minister Charles Clarke said yesterday that shooting organis- ations had persuaded him such a policy could lead to a position "where there was simply not any sporting activity in this area at all". Instead, the Government will allow shooting by children under the age of 16, if they are properly supervised by a gun club or a parent.

The Home Office said: "We believe ... parents should decide the age at which their children should take up shooting sports."

At the Sydney Olympics, Richard Faulds, 23, won a gold medal in double-trap shooting. Enthusiasts feared Faulds, who took up shooting as a child, would be the last British competitor in an Olympic shooting competition.

Mr Clarke said yesterday that Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, had bowed to a request from the British National Rifle Association to allow pistol shooting in the 2002 Commonwealth Games - which Manchester will host - despite Britain's ban on the use of handguns. The competition will be at the National Shooting Centre at Bisley in Surrey, which has high security, and competitors will be allowed to practise before the Games.

The Home Office will not introduce a licensing system for airguns, proposed by the committee. Mr Clarke said it would be "cumbersome, costly and difficult to administer".

The minister agreed gun crime had increased, in spite of the ban on handguns. "The issue of firearms in crime is principally an issue of illegally held firearms," he said.

But shotgun ownership will be tougher. Mr Clarke denied that the new system of licensing, which includes a need for two detailed character references, would be too complex to manage, adding: "Shotguns are dangerous weapons."

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