Photos of young children holding assault rifles as part of a school visit by the Army have caused Education Minister Nikki Kaye to order new guidelines be drawn up on guns in schools.

Pictures of smiling children holding the unloaded weapons appeared in the Manawatu Standard last month.

The Army has started a new programme teaching children about weaponry and leadership, and started it at Whakarongo School near Palmerston North.

Students aged 9 to 13 were able to assemble and fire an assault rifle.

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Kane O'Hara, 11, told the newspaper that he had never held a gun before and "it felt amazing and cool" while deputy principal Lisa Cuff said she did not think the visit would be controversial.

However, opposition MPs raised concerns about the visit, and Kaye said she had asked the New Zealand School Trustees Association and Ministry of Education to draw up guidelines around the taking of guns into schools.

"As a general rule we don't support firearms in schools, but there may be very limited exceptions. For instance, we don't want a situation where the Armed Offenders Squad can't turn up to a school if there's a threat, and also I'm aware we have got an Olympic sport in terms of shooting, so there are some schools that are involved in that."

Kaye said she herself was "conservative" about guns in schools, but it was ultimately up to school boards to allow visits such as the Army's to Whakarongo.

She expected the guidelines to be drawn up in three or four months.

Kaye rejected the suggestion the Army visit was propaganda or designed to eventually recruit children.

"I have huge confidence in our armed services, and there is no evidence to back that up."

Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said he didn't think the visit to Whakarongo School was appropriate.

"I think that schools should be gun-free places. I'm not saying that schools shouldn't have a rifle club like many secondary schools will do.

"But I think the idea that the Army would take semi-automatic weapons into schools and let kids hold them and play with them and so on, I think that's really inappropriate."

Hipkins said he was amazed guidelines didn't exist, and they were needed. He believed the Army had good intentions.