More than 300 under-13s have access to guns

Double Barrelled 12 Bore Shotgun

More than 300 children aged 13 and under have legal access to shotguns in England and Wales, figures show.

In total, 3,541 children were in possession of shotgun certificates last year, of which 327 were 13 or younger.

There is no minimum age for applying for a certificate, but the law bans children from using them without adult supervision until they are 15.

The police force with the largest number of children having access to guns was Devon and Cornwall.

It issued 206 shotgun certificates, the Home Office figures for 2016/17 show.

Overall, 580,658 children and adults were authorised to use guns last year through a shotgun or firearms certificate - a reduction of 7,023 compared with 2015/16.

Previous Freedom of Information answers from the Home Office have shown children as young as seven to be in possession of a shotgun certificate.

Youngsters generally use shotguns for target and country shooting.

Three London licences

Children aged under 18 can use a shotgun under supervision, but are banned from purchasing or hiring any firearm or ammunition.

Across all ages, Devon and Cornwall has the highest number of firearms certificates - which cover guns other than shotguns - with 11,144, followed by Sussex (6,934) and North Yorkshire (6,734).

City of London Police issued only three licences, while Merseyside and Cleveland were the forces with the next lowest number of certificates - 1,029 and 1,125 respectively.

Applications for certificates 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 of the local force is satisfied the holder can no longer be entrusted with guns.

The figures showed that 358 firearms certificates and 1,216 shotgun certificates were revoked in 2016/17, with both numbers falling by 10% on the previous year.

'Strict controls'

The UK is seen as having some of the toughest gun control laws in the world.

A Home Office spokesman said there are "very strict controls on young certificate-holders, including around their tight supervision".

He added the Policing and Crime Act 2017 had strengthened firearms legislation by closing legal loopholes that had been exploited by criminals.

Peter Glenser, chairman of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said teaching children to use firearms safely and responsibly "removes the myths that surround firearms, and teaches both self-control and responsibility towards others".

He added: "Shooting has many aspects - from pest control through to Olympic and Commonwealth Games clay shooting - and it is vital that anyone wanting to compete at these top levels gets an early start in life," he added.

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