Kids with guns: Should the armed forces encourage young people to interact with weapons and military vehicles?
Local Quakers in Chester grew concerned about the Armed Forces bringing weapons into the town centre, and children being allowed to play with them, at recruitment events such as ‘Reserves Day’ or at times not particularity coinciding with an event. The Quaker Meeting supported 3 Friends as they worked on this concern on their behalf.
My lasting impression is of a two-year old (or thereabouts) standing on the seat of a land rover, trying to manoeuvre a gun at least twice as long as he was.
Examples of the weapons and military vehicles from 2017 included:
‘On the last occasion I encountered a stand outside the Town Hall there was a military quad bike, a missile launcher that “took out tanks”, a smaller version for easier targets and a soldier in full camouflage (painted face, netting cover and woven in greenery). The occasion before that there was a Jeep with a long range gun mounted on the back. Children were attracted to this military hardware and encouraged to sit on the quad bike and handle the missile launchers’.
On Reserves Day: ‘I was appalled to see the army in Bridge Street today, allowing small children to play with real guns. My lasting impression is of a two-year old (or thereabouts) standing on the seat of a land rover, trying to manoeuvre a gun at least twice as long as he was.’
Chester West and Chester Council have stated that they are ‘keen to support our Armed Forces in promoting the military as a potential career opportunity.’ (correspondence with local Quakers, 2017)
Initially a letter was sent to the company to whom Chester and Cheshire West Council outsource the hiring of public spaces. This company pointed them in the direction of the Armed Forces Champion. A meeting including the council’s Armed Forces Champion and the Armed Forces Covenant Coordinator ended with the Quakers being directed to the Army themselves.
In 2018, they organised a meeting with the Army to discuss children, weapons and public spaces, in which it was informally stated that the Armed Forces Covenant ensures that the council support the armed forces. It was also suggested that because the Army pay for the hire of the public space, they are free to do what they are doing (meaning they only abide by the same conditions of hire as any other group would). Nonetheless, the personnel said that the Quakers would have to contact the government, not the Armed Forces, to continue to challenge this activity.
The group therefore felt discouraged from pursuing the matter with the council. They felt that from the beginning they had been passed from one organisation to another, all of whom were ‘very polite and giving us a chance to be heard, but like street demonstrations – managed with an intent to ignore.’
‘In accordance with policy, no children under the age of 16 years old are permitted to hold a weapon without their parent or guardian’s consent. This is always made clear, immediately prior to the event, to all serving personnel manning stands.’
Letter from Quaker to the Assistant Head of Safeguarding of the DCYP, 02/08/2018
Through the Quaker network, the Chester group then learned of correspondence received in another area of the country. They wrote to the Ministry of Defence’s Directorate of Children and Young People (DCYP), which focuses on issues related to service children and young people, including safeguarding, and received a letter of response from the Army Secretariat. Included in that response was the following: ‘In accordance with policy, no children under the age of 16 years old are permitted to hold a weapon without their parent or guardian’s consent. This is always made clear, immediately prior to the event, to all serving personnel manning stands (letter from Quaker to the Assistant Head of Safeguarding of the DCYP, 2 August 2018).
What had been mentioned at the meeting between Chester Quakers and the Army was that handling weapons was the parents’ or guardian’s responsibility with nothing explicitly said about children whose parent or guardian might not be around at the time, or how the military ensure that parental/guardian consent was given. They were therefore concerned as to whether this policy was being communicated as it should be.
Chester Quakers then wrote to the colonel they had met from the Army seeking to clarify their safeguarding requirements. If the letter was received they did not get a reply.
Chester Quakers also wrote to the Cheshire West and Chester Local Safeguarding Children’s Board. While the Board responded that they did not regard this as a safeguarding issue ‘in the true sense’, they would seek assurance that the armed forces have the right safeguarding policies and practices in place.