Shooting and fishing:’The argument was that shooting magazines encourage children to kill animals’

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WITH pre-tax profits of £89 million, newsagent WH Smith is hardly relying on the sale of a few gun magazines to keep up its share price. So its decision to ban sales of shooting magazines to under-14-year-olds can only have been a bit of politically correct kow-towing to the animal rights lobby.

That, or some misguided belief that allowing children to buy Airgun Shooter will produce a generation of psychopathic killers. But it certainly looks as if the firm, once dubbed WH Smug by Private Eye, took fright when Animal Aid supporters started picketing stores following the publication of the organisation’s report, “Gunning For Children: How the gun lobby recruits young blood.”

Animal Aid’s argument was that shooting magazines encourage children to kill animals and the magazines should be, if not banned then at the very least, relegated to the “top shelf”. Soon afterwards the British Association for Shooting and Conservation started getting reports that buyers of shooting magazines were being questioned by WH Smith staff. The problem appeared to be most noticeable in those stores with self-scanning checkouts. The scanner, unable to distinguish between a 14-year-old and a 40-year-old automatically flagged up a pre-installed “prompt” which summoned staff to check the buyer’s age.

So BASC was soon getting complaints from a shooting public which feels under constant threat of creeping legislation driven by the class warriors of the anti-brigade. There appears to have been no rhyme or reason to the publications being “prompted”. Why for instance should Sporting Gun attract a prompt but not Sporting Rifle? WH Smith initially justified a ban by saying you must be 14 to have a firearms (rifle) certificate – in other words you mustn’t read about shooting till you have a certificate. But it seems to have missed the fact that anyone of any age can have a shotgun certificate.

The shop then tried to make out that they were only really worried about “cover mounts” – free gifts stuck to the magazines. It was these that triggered the prompts. Really. Goodness knows what these might be... An AK47? Free tracer bullets? Now the shop is trying to say that prompts have been in use for years although for which types of magazine it doesn’t say.

If I was looking for a conspiracy I might wonder about the company secretary whose last job was solicitor for the RSPCA, more an animal rights than welfare organisation these days. In truth it all smells of low-grade managerial cock-up, rather than boardroom policy. They’ll be banning Commando comics next.