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All guns blazing as primary parents take issue with 'positive' lessons on firearms

Primary children in the county where a gunman recently went on the rampage killing 12 people are learning about the "positive" aspects of guns, using a controversial new classroom resource.

Pupils at Bassenthwaite Primary in Cumbria are using the "ice-breaker" technique to stimulate conversation in PSHE lessons about everything from uses for a sniper rifle to a Mac 10 machine gun.

The names of the weapons are printed on a ball that is thrown between pupils - they then speak about whichever firearm is covered by their thumbs. The ball is imprinted with 32 gun names, including "high velocity rifle" and "artillery gun", which the makers say encourages "responsible choices in the use of all guns".

But parents' groups have reacted angrily to use of the ball, saying it will encourage children to be interested in weapons and has "no place" in classrooms.

Margaret Morrissey, founder of Parents Out Loud, said the ball was "absolutely, totally unnecessary".

"I feel the same way about this as I do about early drugs education; it only encourages them to be interested in violent games and guns," she said. "It's not something that should be in schools."

The ball, which also includes a range of guns not usually used as offensive weapons, such as glue guns, staples guns and spud guns, has also been endorsed by Chief Superintendent Geoff Feavyour, strategic firearms commander at Leicestershire Constabulary.

He said that the subject of guns was too often "taboo" in schools.

"I can understand the sensitivity, but we are fooling ourselves if we think our kids don't arrive at school without exposure to guns, gun issues and in some cases gun culture," he said.

"I can understand that parents, even teachers, may be concerned that guns should be a taboo subject in an educational environment but talking about things in a controlled educational environment rarely makes things worse."

He added that giving children the knowledge and confidence to make informed decisions could save lives.

Sara Royle, headteacher at Bassenthwaite Primary, near Keswick, said the ball was "taking away the criminalised side of gun use".

She said many pupils had been exposed to gun use because they lived in a rural community. Like everyone in Cumbria, she added, they had also been emotionally affected by the Derrick Bird shootings in June.

"It's about children learning about the choices they make," she said.

Rosie Fey, the businesswoman who developed the ball after a firearms officer visited her shop, which sells PSHE-related learning resources, said it was designed to get across important messages to children "without frightening the hell out of them".

"It's the only product out there that dealing with the issue (guns) in a positive sense," she said. "It's saying if you have the urge to shoot a gun, go and use one on a range, join an association."

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