As I have said in past columns, I have been around guns all my life. We did not have any pistols or shotguns in the house when I was growing up, but we did have some rifles. Dad kept one loaded for home protection; and up to age 11 or so, I was sternly told never to go near them.
I was nine-years-old when I got the opportunity to shoot a real gun for the first time.
It was on Thanksgiving Day of 1953. We were visiting family in Mason County for dinner, and my late Uncle Ralph wanted to take dad and another adult cousin from Ohio out to a private shooting range to sight in his deer rifle. Naturally, their son, who is my age, and I wanted to go along.
Uncle Ralph was always a very cautious person. He had been an officer in the Army during World War II and served in Europe under Gen. George S. Patton. He was quick to say that it was too dangerous. However, we agreed to stay behind the firing line and just watch so we got to go.
In addition to the centerfire rifle, Ralph also brought along a double- barrel shotgun and a pistol.
After the adults got finished shooting, Ralph asked me if I would like to shoot the shotgun.
My cousin, David said, "That thing will knock you down." I still wanted to shoot the gun so I bravely stepped up to the firing line.
Dad chimed in and said, "hold it tight against your shoulder."
I followed dad's instructions and fired the shotgun from a standing position. It did not knock me down, but I did take a step backwards. That one-minute experience got me hooked on shooting.
Today, there are many people, most of whom have never fired a gun, who are strongly opposed to teaching children the way to handle guns. While I support a parent's right to their opinions, I feel that teaching children to proper ways to handle (or not handle) a firearm is important. Children who are interested in guns need to be taught how to shoot under responsible adult supervision.
There are programs, such as Eddie Eagle, designed by the National Rifle Association, to teach young children to stay away from guns.
For older children, the West Virginia Hunter's Safety Course teaches hunting safety and the proper way to handle guns.
From my own observation, children who are taught the proper way to respect firearms are far less likely to commit gun-related crimes as compared to other children. Having access to lawful guns as the child gets older does not increase the child's likelihood of committing gun-related violence. Instead, the opposite is true.
The United States Department of Justice found that "boys who own legal firearms have much lower rates of delinquency and drug use than non-owners of guns."
Making guns into mystique-filled objects often encourages children to abuse them the same way children abuse drugs and/or alcohol.
The proper age to teach a child how to shoot depends upon the individual maturity of the child.
The gun owner needs to realize that it is his responsibility to make a positive impression on the one he is teaching how to shoot.
They need to set a good example for young people to follow. They need to use this opportunity to demonstrate proper gun safety and usage.
In other words, a gun is only as dangerous as the person who is holding it. The same can be said for any person driving a motor vehicle.
While there is nothing anyone can do to gun-proof all children, the same can also be said for certain adults. We as responsible adults or gun owners must use reason and logic, not hysteria or false information, when training an adolescent in the proper way to handle and use firearms.