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.