A leading newsagent chain in Britain has placed a ban on selling shooting magazines to children after a successful campaign by animal rights activists.
WH Smith claims it is “part of our commitment to operate our business responsibly,” a company spokesperson said.
WH Smith will now refuse to sell shooting magazines to anyone under 14 years of age, and says the age was chosen because it is the minimum legal age for holding a firearm certificate in the UK.
However, the ban is based on a dubious survey of public opinion. Additionally, the company’s assertion about the age limit for shooters is wrong because in UK law there is no minimum age for shotgun ownership and under-14s can shoot if supervised by an adult.
“In fact, there are many age limits in firearms legislation and 14 is not one of them,” the British Association for Shooting and Conservation said in a statement condemning WH Smith. The BASC will campaign against the newsagency if the ban is not lifted.
WH Smith’s move has outraged shooters, who point out that WH Smith will still sell car magazines to people too young to hold a driving licence and has no limits on selling war magazines portraying the death of humans.
WH Smith’s decision will mean adults cannot use auto-scan checkouts to buy shooting magazines, but will have to go to a manned checkout to have their age verified.
The ban was implemented at the behest of Animal Aid, and organisation that has been targeting shooting magazines for more than a decade. It also campaign against children being allowed to participate in shooting sports.
Animal Aid claimed “the vast majority of the public back our call” and accused shooters of being “out of touch with rational mainstream opinion,” based on the results of a survey it commissioned recently.
The two questions in the survey were weighted to get a desired result:
Q1. Shooting magazines that show and describe the killing of a range of animals – from rabbits and pheasants to lions – are on sale in major high street newsagents and supermarkets. In many shops the magazines are positioned at a height that is accessible to children and toddlers, and there is no agreed age limit on the sale of such publications. Do you agree or disagree that the sale of gun magazines that show and describe the killing of animals for ‘sport’ be moved to the top shelf out of the reach of children?
Q2. Do you agree or disagree that their sale should be restricted to adults aged 18 and over?
As such, 74% agreed with the first question and 84% agreed about the age limit.
Shooters countered Animal Aid’s anti-magazine campaign by pointing out the positive messages about responsibility, safety and lawful behaviour the magazines reinforce – factors that were ignored in the AA survey.
“At the recent party conferences, front-bench spokesmen and Government ministers sang the praises of shooting sports for the sense of responsibility and discipline that they encourage in the children who take them up,” BASC's director of communications, Christopher Graffius, said.
“Yet WH Smith is trying to keep the magazines that encourage that approach out of children’s hands.”
In August, Animal Aid published an article by gun-control proponent Peter Squires calling for a national ban on sales of shooting magazines to anyone younger than 18.
Squires described shooting magazines as “a kind of shooting porn,” an ironic comment in light of the fact that in the UK there is no minimum age for the sale of legally approved pornographic magazines, although WH Smith imposes a limit of 18 in its shops.
As long ago as 2001, Animal Aid attacked the shooting industry for “selling their message through glossy periodicals that portray an image of wealth and stately homes, or through downmarket outlets that more honestly glorify the bloodlust of those who enjoy slaughtering wildlife”.