Children as young as nine should be taught how to shoot at school, MPs have been told. Familiarity with target-shooting helps to induce a calm atmosphere among pupils, particularly those who are "restless under normal school discipline". It also teaches responsibility and concern for others.
These were the conclusions of a presentation to the House of Commons all-party group on shooting and conservation by Mary Eveleigh, head of shooting at the private Mostyn House School, Wirral in Cheshire.
They were immediately criticised by the League Against Cruel Sports. Barry Hugill, a spokesman, said: "Most parents would be totally horrified at the prospect of their child using a gun. There's not a shred of evidence that giving pupils access to guns makes them more responsible citizens. You only have to look at the United States to see how flawed that argument is."
The comments come only months after gunmen ran amok at Virginia Tech University in America and at Jokela High School in eastern Finland.
Mrs Eveleigh told the group that shooting did suffer from "disadvantages" from the school perspective. Some parents did not agree with exposing their children to guns; the school needed access to a specialised shooting range; and some children who could not behave safely would have to be barred.
However, Mrs Eveleigh, who is also the school nurse and is a former policewoman, said: "If you weigh these against the benefits of shooting I know which will win." Shooting, she said, helped teach self-discipline, determination and patience, while appealing to pupils who did not relish team sports.
"A common concern among parents who do not know the sport is that familiarity with firearms may lead to a militaristic or aggressive attitude," she said. "In our experience the reverse is true. The discipline induces a calm atmosphere and it demythologises guns."
Judith Howell, political and policy officer of the British Association for Shooting and Conservation, said all target-shooting took place in a controlled environment with guns locked away when not in use.
In May, the association and the League Against Cruel Sports clashed after the BASC urged its members to join parent teacher associations to combat anti-shooting views in schools.