The first rule of taking a stand is make sure you are on firm ground. So Britain's biggest newsagent, WH Smith, should have done its homework before deciding to ban under-14s from buying shooting magazines. The company's justification for the move is reportedly that young people cannot hold a firearms certificate if they are under 14. There is just one problem – that is simply not true. There is no lower age limit for holding a certificate for a shotgun, although under-18s cannot buy or own a gun themselves and the under-14s must be supervised by an adult if they are using one.
But even if it were the case that under-14s could not legally use a gun, why would that prevent youngsters from buying magazines about shooting sports? Presumably WH Smith has no problem selling Top Gear or other motoring titles to children, yet no one can learn to drive until he or she is 17. The logic of a ban on sales of shooting titles simply does not stand up to scrutiny.
It only starts to make any kind of sense if you think back to the campaign launched earlier in the year by the anti-shooting, anti-meat-eating, anti-leather-wearing organisation Animal Aid and its report: Gunning for Children: How the gun lobby recruits young blood. That urged all newsagents to put shooting magazines on the top shelf and refuse to sell them – like pornography – to anyone who was under 18. Has WH Smith caved in to pressure from this extremist organisation?
Whatever its reasons for taking this step it was wrong to do so. Already it has been reported that the audible bleeper that goes off at the till when shooting publications are scanned has left some adult customers embarrassed. There is no doubt that putting an age restriction on these magazines creates a stigma for which there is absolutely no justification.
Shooting, like many other rural past times, is a legitimate, legal activity that does much good in the countryside, contributes significant sums to the rural economy and is widely accepted as being beneficial to the environment. Stars of shooting sports, like Westcountry based Olympic gold medal winner Peter Wilson, have inspired many to take them up. The British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Countryside Alliance successfully promote shooting sports – both of live quarry and targets – to the young.
There is strong evidence to suggest learning to shoot and taking part in the sport gives children and young people a greater sense of responsibility, a respect for wild creatures and knowledge of the countryside – to say nothing of getting them into the open air away from the television and computer games. There is much in society, in printed publications and online, that many might consider far less suitable for children than magazines about shooting, the countryside and wildlife management. Any sensible person considering this ban for just a few moments will conclude it is illogical. It should be reversed.