Year 3 students from Kings Norton Primary School in Birmingham were invited to the West Midlands Police firearms training facility in Aston after the children wrote to officers thanking them for keeping people safe during recent terror attacks.
But the visit sparked controversy among some parents after the children, aged between seven and eight, were pictured pretending to shoot fake pistols and machine guns at targets.
Responding to the photo, which West Midlands Police shared on Twitter, one ex Met Police traffic management officer said the image made him “uncomfortable”.
“Engagement is great, but feel uncomfortable seeing this in a firearms training unit,” Simon Wickers wrote. “Guns are a necessity, but not one to celebrate perhaps?”
Other parents also shared their concerns:
One parent named David told the Daily Mail that the exercise “sends out the wrong message”.
“Explaining to children about why there are police carrying guns on the streets is one thing but actually getting them to pose up laughing while pretending to fire these weapons at, who? Terrorists?”
He continued: “The police even put out a press release on the internet, entitled “Ready, aim...smile!” I’m sorry but I don’t see anything remotely cheerful about raising a gun.
“What it does is glamorise guns and makes shooting terrorists nothing more than a game.”
But others praised the force for engaging children and showing them the work police do:
The school’s deputy head teacher Dawn Chapman said the visit was intended to make sure students did not feel scared after seeing police with guns in the wake of the Manchester and London terror attacks.
She continued: “It was a lovely surprise for us to be invited to the police base and the pupils had a fantastic time, especially on the range and using the sirens and flashing lights − as you’d expect the noisy things proved particularly popular!
“Quite a few of the children said how they’d like to be police officers. So who knows, perhaps in the future they may be the ones giving children a guided tour around a police station.”
During the trip, pupils were also given the chance to dress up in riot gear and question officers about what’s its like being in the police force.
In a post on the West Midlands Police website, Sergeant Mike Dunbar said the force wants children “to feel at ease approaching and speaking to our officers”.
“You can see from the photos and from the looks on the kids’ faces on the day that they all had a wonderful time − they were our VIPs for the day and it was a pleasure to host them.
“Hopefully we’ll get chance to say hello to some of them again on patrol soon.”