Date published: 17 September 2012
Animal Aid logo
An overwhelming majority of people want gun magazines that show animals being killed for sport consigned to newsagents' top shelves alongside pornography, according to a new public opinion poll. An even higher proportion want the sale of such publications restricted to people over the age of 18.
Eight-four per cent of respondents to the NOP poll, which was commissioned by Animal Aid, favour a ban on the sale of gun magazines to children. Seventy-four per cent want them banished to top shelves.
The results come in the wake of the publication of a new Animal Aid report, called Gunning For Children: How the gun lobby recruits young blood. It describes the considerable resources Britain's gun lobby - composed of well-connected groups such as the British Association for Shooting and Conservation and the Countryside Alliance - devotes towards encouraging children to take up guns at a young age. Gun magazines, the report argues, serve as front-line propagandists for this recruitment effort.
Across the country, in high street newsagents such as WHSmith and on supermarket shelves, children have easy access to publications such as Shooting Times, Sporting Gun, Shooting Sports and Sporting Rifle - magazines that encourage and even celebrate the killing of animals for ‘sport'. Shooters are featured posing boastfully alongside animals they have just slaughtered. Grinning young children are shown holding up or standing over shot pheasants, rabbits, foxes and pigeons.
A recent edition of one of these magazines features 20 freshly shot foxes laid out in neat rows by a young boy and his father. The caption reads: ‘Happy Shooters'. In another publication, the victims are 327 pigeons - killed in six hours by two triumphant young men from Suffolk. The Summer 2012 edition of Sporting Rifle carried a two-page article on a man who went to South Africa and, aided by specialist commercial hunters, lured a male lion with bait and shot him twice through the lungs and once through the heart. The man was reported to be exultant, his ‘dream fulfilled'.
News of the NOP poll results will come as a hard blow to shooting lobbyists, who are desperate to draw in more youngsters to counter declining support. Government figures show that the number of shotgun certificate holders in England and Wales has fallen at a significant rate for more than 20 years. And the Countryside Alliance's (CA) own research demonstrates that if people do not learn to shoot by the age of 14, the chances of them subsequently getting involved rapidly decrease.
The same CA survey revealed that, for 76 per cent of young shooters, ‘public opinion' is the biggest barrier to more of their peers taking up guns. The new NOP poll results are likely to reinforce their concerns about public perception.
Backing for Animal Aid's campaign to keep gun magazines out of the hands of children comes from Peter Squires, Professor of Criminology and Public Policy at the University of Brighton. He describes their content as ‘a kind of shooting porn' and declares: ‘Fostering healthy and environmentally conscious attitudes to nature and wildlife conservation is fundamentally inconsistent with deriving pleasure and enjoyment from shooting animals for fun.
Another supporter is Jeffrey Masson, bestselling author of nine books on the emotional lives of animals, including When Elephants Weep. Masson trained as a Freudian analyst and was the Project Director of the Sigmund Freud Archives. He told us: ‘I find the whole idea of encouraging young people to shoot animals for pleasure completely insane and, believe me, I rarely use the word insane.'
A major focus of Animal Aid's ‘top shelf' campaign will be high street newsagent WHSmith, which has so far rejected the national campaign group's written request for a ban on gun magazine sales to under-18s. The company claims it operates an ‘age prompt of 14 years or over on our tills for shooting titles'. After receiving that assurance on July 30, Animal Aid sent five young researchers - aged 11 and 12 - into WHSmith branches in different parts of the country. Each bought a copy of Shooting Times without difficulty.
High Street leafleting outside WHSmith branches will begin soon in earnest.
Says Animal Aid Director Andrew Tyler: "Since launching our call for a ban on the sale of gun magazines to children, shooting lobbyists have characterised us as "crazy" and "extremists". They can see now that the vast majority of the public back our call, and that it is they who are out of touch with rational mainstream opinion."