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The sturm und drang has been flowing freely since Charles Vacca met an untimely end earlier this week after allowing a 9-year-old girl to fire an Uzi with the giggle switch engaged. Reactions have fallen somewhere on the spectrum between ‘you deserve to be dead, you moron‘ to ‘all gun owners should be imprisoned and their children taken away.’ But taking a more measured view of the value of teaching children to shoot is Dan Baum, author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip. He’s out with a piece at time.com today, ‘Letting Kids Shoot Guns is Good for Them,” in which he extolls the virtues and benefits of teaching kids to shoot . . .

OMG! Advocating young ‘uns pull triggers only days after the tragedy in Lake Havasu? As a matter of fact, yes. Can you think of a better time?

Shooting a rifle accurately requires children to quiet their minds. Lining up the sights on a distant target takes deep concentration. Children must slow their breathing and tune into the beat of their hearts to be able to squeeze the trigger at precisely the right moment. Holding a rifle steady takes large-motor skills, and touching the trigger correctly takes small motor skills; doing both at once engages the whole brain. Marksmanship is an exercise in a high order of body-hand-eye-mind coordination. It is as far from mindless electronic diversion as can be imagined.

All true enough. And time well spent with your progeny. But there’s more than that, as Dan sees it.

Invite a child to learn how to shoot and the message is: I trust your ability to listen and learn. I trust your ability to concentrate. I welcome you into a dangerous adult activity because you are sensible and trustworthy. For young people accustomed to being constrained, belittled, ignored and told “no,” hearing an adult call them to their higher selves can be enormously empowering. Children come away from properly conducted shooting lessons as different people, taller in their shoes and more willing to tune into what adults say.

While traveling around the country talking to gun owners, I met several who told me that when their teenage sons or daughters were going “off the rails” — drinking, experimenting with drugs and getting poor grades — they started taking them shooting. The very counterintuitive nature of the invitation — giving guns to druggies? — snapped the children into focus. The chance to do something as forbidden and grownup as shooting overcame their resistance to spending time with dad or mom. The discipline and focus that marksmanship required, combined with its potential lethality, not only brought these adolescents back from self-destructive habits but deepened the bonds of trust between them and their parents.

So inviting children into the community of those who shoot is a lesson in responsibility. Something that can (and should) be taught as long as the wee bairn is big enough to handle the firearm and understand safety and manual of arms instructions.

Does that mean putting a difficult-to-control, full-auto bullet hose in the hands of a kid with arms only slightly thinker than her shoelaces is a good idea? No, no it does not. But the implicit message here is that in spite of the recklessness that sometimes happens at places like Bullets and Burgers, tens of thousand of children can and do benefit greatly from managed, responsible instruction in shooting guns. But you probably already knew that.

36 Responses to Dan Baum: Shooting is Good for Kids

  1. Yes, we knew that.

    In fact we just got back from a range where we’ve (besides other things) introduced a teenage young lady (a friend’s friend) to firearms.

    Nobody died and the worst injury of the day was a small knife cut and the guy who cut himself didn’t even notice until I’ve told him he’s bleeding onto my rifle. Half an inch wide strip of band-aid later he was good to go.

  2. None of my kids got into shooting, just wasn’t their thing. The main thing is to keep them involved and around adults. But I agree, shooting is a fine sport and completely appropriate. Safer than other sports too.

  3. If the Uzi had be .22lr or mounted to keep it roughly downrange, I’d not object to almost anyone shooting it.

  4. The simple truth of the matter is guns are a part of the American way of life. Introducing firearms to children in a responsible approach educates. It takes the mystic of firearms away from the young minds at a formative point in life and can instill life long safe handling techniques at an early stage of weapon handling.
    Education is key for everyone, not just children. Accidents with firearms happen. Around six kids are killed everyday in the US in auto accidents. 440,000 die each year from tobacco related causes.

  5. What these pundits are failing to consider is the trauma that the poor girl has suffered and how that’s going to affect her. I was glad to see that the family of the deceased is reaching out to her in order to try and help her cope.

  6. I generally hate drawing comparisons to cars or driving when debating firearms for several reasons, but I see this story and have to wonder if the outrage media will be calling for the head of the Lamborghini owner, or the heads of the parents?

    • I read that earlier, and if you read some of the comments on the News12 website you see some people who are friends of the deceased defending him. Doesn’t matter why he was driving, but to do that much damage to a Lambo you HAVE to be going fast.

  7. Good post.

    As a matter of safety, all shooters (regardless of age) should be taught (and taught again) that any semi-auto mechanism (sear or disconnector) in a semi-auto firearm can fail with dirt, dried grease, or breakage. The gun can double, triple or empty the magazine. It doesn’t happen often, but especially with handguns, could result in tragedy. Especially with a heavy recoil of a Colt 1911 type pistol, the recoil can cause the pistol to rise and rotate upward in the hand as it unexpectedly continues to fire toward the ceiling, and could continues until it fires back toward the shooter..

    A light cartridge, such as .32 auto, can be really interesting to fire when the sear fails. You can keep all those rounds directed downrange. But .45 ACP is a different story.

    • Bob,

      That is a really good point about a semi-auto sear failure leading to defective, full-auto firing. I will definitely take that forward and share that with everyone. Thank you.

  8. Some people who grew up in modern urban bubbles are amazed that it’s common to teach children to shoot and always has been. Some bubble dwellers think the presence of children at the range is a new and sinister invention of the oogabooga NRA. Summer camps and youth groups like Boy Scouts and 4H have taught kids to shoot for decades. People who don’t know this need to to get out more and meet a more diverse group of people.

    • I loved going to Camp Alexander and being able to shoot. My Dad had already trained me, so I knew the drill. Some kids came to camp with no firearms experience and fell in love with shooting. Only good memories.

    • Exactly. That’s how I learned how to shoot: earning a merit badge on the rifle range at Scout camp, 30 years ago.

      Beyond that, urban/suburban dwellers tend to forget that in vast swaths of the US there are no shooting ranges as such — just open land where people set up targets and have fun. I can go either to an indoor range in a medium-sized town 45 minutes away or to a lonely patch of National Forest land the same distance in the opposite direction. Guess which one I choose every weekend?

      Millions of gun owners across the country are responsible enough to go shooting without waiting for official permission or paying a professional range officer to oversee them.

    • First firearm that I ever fired was an M16 off the deck of a battleship. I was 10. Living overseas on a military base and being a Cub Scout had its benefits. This was in the ’80s. Doubt the Marines have that set-up for the kids when the Navy ships visit Okinawa nowadays.

    • What really blows their minds is when I tell them of the background checks I have to go through – again and again and again – to work with kids in 4-H, or to have a CCW license.

      Every 4-H which which I’ve been involved puts my SSN, name and a 10-card through the FBI and state databases. Doesn’t matter that I’ve got a CCW that took a NCIC check. They’re not going to allow anyone with a criminal background near kids, period.

      So I ask the bubble-dwelling parents “So…. how much background checking do the people around your kids go through?”

      Silence. Often bewilderment.

      And then you see the two Volvo-driving, NPR-listening parents look at each other and you see that the gun conversation you were just having with them has completely stopped as they ponder the question before them.

  9. I started my daughter shooting a little younger than 9. She understood the 4 rules immediately and practiced them. Became a crack shot in spite of my non expert instruction.
    In the video it seemed to me he was a little ahead and over the girl, poor positioning and in harms way of a climbing machine gun.
    Everyone lost on this mistake. RIP Mr. Vacca. My heart goes out to the youngster.

    • In my experience, girls make better students of shooting at earlier ages because they listen to the Four Rules, they put them into practice, and then they listen to the guidelines I give them on how to hit targets.

      Boys under 15 or so want to bounce off the limits of the whole experience, testing boundaries and trying things – much of which we more experienced shootists know a priori simply won’t work (mostly because we’ve been there, done that, seen the results).

      Later in life, the roles reverse: By the late teens, girls who aren’t already into shooting will often not want to get into it as readily as they would have at ages 8 to 12, and boys are ready to settle down and become serious, often quite serious, about their shooting ability.

  10. A number of moms & dads bring their daughters to Ladies Shooting League, kids usually 10 to 12 yr. old. Our facilitator will be right there with child with parent observing. The child learns to index trigger finger on frame, safe direction to point the gun at all times etc.
    Child is always started with a ,22lr pistol. Have I been muzzle swiped by a kid, yip but since finger was not on trigger, wasn’t freaked about it and her instructor corrected her immediately. By the end of range session the kid was doing everything correctly (and safely) and most of them hitting the target.
    I cannot image what possessed a person to put full auto Uzi in a newbies hands, much less a frail kid.
    Children can learn to shoot and should. The look on their faces when they hit center of target is priceless. And for parents and the grown women on the line, it is a pretty special moment as well.

  11. I would not simply let a child use an SMG, simply because I know how difficult they can be to handle. However, the first time I shot was a 12 Guage at scout camp at nine years old. I missed the clay, I bruised my shoulder and never missed another the whole day. That was one of the best days of my life. I do believe that there are age/skill appropriate decisions to make as it comes to children. One of the better shooters I know went shooting with me and his father at 10. Kid was popping soda cans off a watermelon at 300 yards with a semi auto 308 in quick succession. Not too shabby.

  12. I started shooting at 11, on an old Winchester single-shot bolt action 22, the kind that you had to cock after you loaded the chamber and closed the bolt. At 13 I was shooting my dad’s old 38 Colt Auto, the model 1903 pocket model, and learned first hand what “hammer bite” was.
    Three years later I had my own Remington 700 in 6mm, and the year after that I got a Remington Rand Model 1911A1. They have just kept coming ever since.
    I taught my two sons and my daughter to shoot at about the same age as I started; my daughter was shooting my Ruger Redhawk 44 magnum at 11 (one round in the cylinder, dad standing behind.) She is now my best shooter, and has her own 45 auto. Last year she and her boyfriend went to see his friend in Florida, who owns an AR-15; Greg took them to the local range. My daughter had never even seen one before, yet she proceeded to spank the pants off both her boyfriend and the gun owner. That’s my girl!

  13. Shooting is a great way to teach children patience and how to develop skills. They don’t have to work up a sweat or do anything unpleasant for a young child and have lots of fun in the process.
    For that reason I laugh at the people who say nine years old is too young to shoot. Many people here were taught at even younger ages, some possibly 4-6 years old.

    With the UZI incident, the instructor made multiple safety errors and paid the price. That doesn’t mean the child was incapable, but rather that she was unprepared.

    • Yes, my dad took me shooting at 9. In LA! In a canyon just outside the city limits near Griffith Park. Was legal in those days.

  14. Who just shared out Dan’s Time column out on FB? This guy!

    … It increases his readership, which only helps us get our word out there 😉

    • I shared Dan’s article to the MDA Fakebook site yesterday, Saturday, and I see that its gone now, Sunday.
      As did the two comments I made, respectfully on the Mom with 4 kids, NRA instructor post, one inquiring why there was only one mildly disagreeing post, among the 120 agree-ing…

      I see that I am not able to post or share there now.
      I guess I made their enemy list.

      Silly Soviet agitprop.
      I notice on their insight page that 47% of the views come from NY in the 47 to 64 age group.
      So much for “real” moms…

    • Being of evil mind, I was thinking the same thing: Shooting is good for some children, but there ARE some that do not deserve being shot, and others for which shooting is not enough.

      There was, at one time, in a not-so-nice neighbourhood in which I worked, a thing called “Youth Shooting Appreciation Day” sponsored by the NRA and the local community watch program. I was disappointed to find out that no youths were actually BEING shot, but instead were being taught TO shoot. It’s all on where you place the punctuation, I guess.

  15. Is it any different that an 18 year old driving a family friends Lamborghini dies in an accident where excessive speed may have been involved. So where is the outrage that the parents let this happen. Oh, and the family friend was in the car at the time, range instructor, driving instructor, parents!!!!!!

  16. Great post. I too am this article made it past the PC filter at Time. Must be that old liberal Dan Baum’s inside connections…:)

    Great writing Dan. Perfect timing too.
    Was this in response to the UZI outrage, or just coincidentally in the pipeline there?

    • Time actually approached me and asked for the piece. No liberal connections needed. I save those for when I want to manipulate the economy or deny citizens their freedoms , silly.

  17. I brought my daughter to an indoor range at age 12 (she’s now 33). Hearing/eye protection, lecture, range safety.
    We did this a few times and had good fun as a father/daughter activity. She was a pretty good shooter.

    She learned how to shoot, but most importantly learned respect for firearms. I heard from my wife that our daughter left a “party” at age 17, when she observed one of the party kids was packing a handgun.

  18. Looking for a way to connect with my son who was into playing video games. Took him to the range at 16. I surf and he never really got into it. He’s an accomplished snowboarder, but that was about all he and I did together as an activity. Shooting added another activity between dad and son. And surprise, his older sister wanted to go too! She started going with friends without me. I think the maturity required and dead seriousness about using firearms improved our relationship and understanding. And teaching gun safety improves their safety.

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