I have been an avid shooter since my first bb gun at age 8, and began shooting firearms at 13 with my first .22 rifle purchased by my father and learned from one of my Dad’s friends, Bill Lake. At 16 I began competing in local handgun events with a Ruger revolver at the Palm Springs Gun Club and became an NRA instructor for rifle, pistol, shotgun and home firearms safety as a condition of membership. Shooting has been a way for me to challenge myself and to relax through controlled breathing and self-discipline for over 30 years.
“Unless a rifle is handled incorrectly or recklessly, it is not dangerous. A rifle, like any other precision instrument, is manufactured to perform a specific task and can do so at no risk to the user or others. By earning this badge, Scouts can develop their shooting skills while learning safe practices.” – Boy Scouts of America Requirements for the Rifle.
Since the founding of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, the shooting sports have been an exciting part of the Scouting experience. In fact, “Marksman” was one of the first 14 Badges of Merit offered in the original Scout Handbook. An estimated 20,000 Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting badges are earned every year by Scouts across America. Further, Cub Scouts as young as 6 in the Tiger Dens can earn a shooting belt loop at camp with BB guns. The Scouts have always been about teaching responsibility and respect in a safe environment for children.
Certainly our nation has changed dramatically since the days when I was in high school and on the rifle team as a member of the California Cadet Corps. This program run by the State of California is similar to the J/ROTC program more people are familiar with. Even more certainly it has changed since 1942, when this image of two high school girls demonstrating marksmanship training as part of the Victory Corps appeared in The Atlantic. These days, images of young men and women learning the disciplines of marksmanship tend to invoke responses of fear and distrust.
"Training in marksmanship helps girls ... develop into responsible women." - The Atlantic
But is marksmanship training, as some allege, “military brainwashing” or “dangerous” or does it create murderous, trained killers? No to all of the above; with the provision that safety is stressed to minimize any potential dangers long before a firearm is picked up. Learning marksmanship does, to paraphrase, help boys and girls develop into responsible men and women.
The Civilian Marksmanship Program (CMP) is a national organization dedicated to training and educating U.S. citizens in responsible uses of firearms and airguns through gun safety training, marksmanship training and competitions. The CMP is a federally chartered 501(c)(3) corporation that places its highest priority on serving youth through gun safety and marksmanship activities that encourage personal growth and build life skills. A Federal law enacted in 1996 (Title 36 U. S. Code, 0701-40733) that created the Corporation for the Promotion of Rifle Practice and Firearms Safety, Inc. (CPRPFS, the formal legal name of the CMP) mandates these key functions for the corporation:
(1) To instruct citizens of the United States in marksmanship;
(2) To promote practice and safety in the use of firearms;
(3) To conduct competitions in the use of firearms and to award trophies, prizes, badges, and other insignia to competitors.
“In carrying out the Civilian Marksmanship Program, the corporation shall give priority to activities that benefit firearms safety, training, and competition for youth and that reach as many youth participants as possible.”
For those who decry the sport without knowledge, allow me to share these with you:
- Riflery is one of the safest of all youth sports. In 2003, the CMP implemented new safety standards for all rifle shooting activities. Since those changes, there have been zero gun accidents in all supervised youth shooting sport activities in the USA.
- Because of Camp Riflery’s outstanding safety record, Riflery has little or no impact on camp liability insurance costs.
- Gender, size, strength, speed, and physical ability are not important factors in determining success in the shooting sports.
- Anyone can be a successful shooting sports participant if they are willing to practice.
- Shooting sports teach life skills — discipline, responsibility, the rewards of hard work, self-control and respect for others.
- Shooting is an Olympic sport. Shooting is an NCAA college sport. Shooting is a varsity or club sport in many high schools.
- It’s Fun!
(emphases are mine)
Those life skills mentioned above; discipline, responsibility, self-control and respect for others are all major factors in reducing violence. The anti-gun lobby would have people believe that banning guns would reduce violence, but that is not the case. Learning the valuable life skills taught in an organized shooting activity do reduce violence and produce better citizens who are more confident in themselves and their abilities.
Parents and teachers alike encourage participation in sport and shooting is a fine sport. It is competitive without the trash-talk. Participants compete against their own personal best while trying to be better than the next shooter. Shooting does not discriminate based on gender, it is truly a co-ed sport; in fact females tend to shoot better than males. I held the high school record as a senior in 1983 and was eventually beaten in 1985 by a girl I had taught how to shoot.
For schools on tight sports budgets, shooting sports require little equipment especially if given access to a local range. Airguns can be used on school grounds with little additional equipment necessary. Eye and ear protection is relatively inexpensive and can be provided by the shooters or through a bulk team purchase.
For those whose schools do not, or will not, introduce a shooting sports program there is also the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe program designed to teach firearms safety to children. Thus far 18 million children across the US have participated in the GunSafe program and learned the key safety warning "If you see a gun, STOP! Don't Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult." I highly recommend this to anyone who has children and a firearm as an excellent way to teach them about safety.
As I teach my children safety and marksmanship with our airguns, and prepare to move them onto handguns, I hear too many parents saying that what I am doing is unsafe. Parents who have never experienced the joy of shooting sports and who, because of the anti-gun propaganda out there, will not even try the sport. One friend was forbidden by his wife from going to the range with me to see what shooting a .22 pistol was about. In her words, “guns kill people” and she did not want her husband killed by a gun.
That sort of rhetoric, baseless and uneducated comments, can only harm our sport. It is up to each shooter to encourage people to try, to learn and likely to join our sport. I have never taken anyone to a range who did not want to return again, even devout anti-gun types before engaging in the sport.
Because our sport teaches those key tenets that decrease violence and improve social behaviours, we need to encourage our children, our schools and scouting programs, to include shooting sports in their programs. By do so we may succeed in reducing violence in our schools and in society because our children are more disciplined and self-confident. We may succeed where the anti-gun lobby fails by encouraging shooting sports among our youth.