SHOOTING and hunting magazines which carry graphic images of dead animals have been compared to pornography by animal rights activists, who are calling for a ban against selling them to under-18s.

Charity Animal Aid is also campaigning for newsagents, supermarkets and other retailers to restrict their display to the top shelf, as they would for porn magazines.

Andrew Tyler, director of the animal rights group, said images of youngsters taking pride in killing foxes, pheasants and rabbits amounted to "gun porn".

Loading article content

He said: "We've looked at these magazines for some time and the ones we highlight feature photographs not just of animals being shot, but the people who have killed them, and they're quite often kids – young kids – looking absolutely triumphant and delighted. To communicate that message to adults or children is a very warped and unhealthy message.

"We are at the point where most people, I would have thought, recognise that what remains of our indigenous wildlife has to be cherished and protected, so to render animals as targets and to take visible and explicit pleasure in killing them and then parading their dead bodies triumphantly is sick. They are porn – they're gun porn.

"Our campaign presses for a ban on the sale of gun magazines that celebrate the killing of animals for sport, a ban on the sale of such magazines to under 18s, and for all of them in any case to be confined to the top shelf."

Tyler cited magazines including Shooting Times, Sporting Gun, Shooting Sports and Sporting Rifle as the worst offenders.

The charity is urging supporters to send Animal Aid's postcards to leading high-street newsagents and to the Secretary of State for Education, Michael Gove MP.

A poll commissioned by Animal Aid found that 84% of the general public backed a ban on the sale of gun magazines to under 18s, while 74% were in favour of moving such material to the top shelf.

Tyler said limiting children's access to hunting magazines would help "starve the shooting lobby of fresh blood" by making it less socially acceptable.

He said: "Government statistics show that over the past 20 years, the number of shotgun licence holders has been going down, so there is something of a crisis.

"Their constituency is ageing - Unless young people get introduced and start taking up gun use by the age of 14 or 15, they're not going to, and the reason for them or their peers being put off is public opinion."

However, the charity's campaign was branded "completely unwarranted" by the Scottish Countryside Alliance. Almost one in 10 of its members are under 25.

SCA director Jamie Stewart said: "There are many, many magazines on shelves accessible to young children that are certainly more inappropriate than hunting and shooting magazines.

"By and large the magazines are aimed at a market that participate, and they are full of informational and educational material – there is no gratuitous violence.

"The biggest percentage of our work in terms of our youth members is to instil safety and respect for those animals. Education is top of our agenda.

"Of course we try to encourage young people into the sport and a close association with a family member is primed to that, but we don't see recruitment through magazines on shop shelves."

Stewart added that field and country sports generated about £240 million a year for the Scottish economy and provides 11,000 full-time jobs.

A spokeswoman for the National Federation of Retail Newsagents in Scotland said it was still considering its position on the issue.

However, the Professional Publishers Association – the body which represents business and consumer magazine publishers – has rejected the move.

A PPA spokesman said: "Country and field sports magazines are specialist interest titles that are published responsibly for a targeted audience.

"As such, there is no requirement for these magazines to be subject to legal restrictions regarding how they are displayed at retail."

WH Smith, the UK's largest high-street magazine retailer, said it aimed to "strike the right balance for all customers, who often have strongly opposing views", while at the same time not "acting as a censor".

A spokesman for the chain added: "We therefore aim to display these magazines where they are accessible to those who want to buy them, but do not offend those who do not, consistent with other magazine retailers and industry practice."