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Kids and Guns: The Real Story of 4-H Shooting Sports

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Some might be surprised to hear it, but the 4-H Shooting Sports program is not about guns and targets.

(Image: LIFE/TIME)

Kids and guns: The mere mention of those two words in the same sentence can cause many of the soft-bellied citizens of this nation to get a fright. The mainstream media tends to only use the words “guns” and “kids” together after some heinous act or criminal villainy.

When we consider kids or young people, we need to accept that they indeed grow up. I was a kid once and was taught how to shoot and respect firearms and I grew up never having negligently harmed a soul.

It is the upbringing, not the object that makes the biggest difference.

In the winter of the year 2000, I was introduced to the 4-H Club Shooting Sports program. Being a lifelong student of the gun as well as a 4-H alumnus I knew immediately that I needed to get myself and my children involved.

(Image: LIFE/TIME) (Image: LIFE/TIME)

In order to work with young people, all of the 4-H Shooting Sports adult volunteers must successfully complete an Instructor Training Workshop as well as meet with their local county 4-H Extension agent. The Shooting Sports program is meticulous and thorough when it comes to adults working with young people.

Although it has been nearly 15 years, I distinctly remember something that was said to the new adult volunteers on the first night of our workshop. The Instructor Trainer stood in front of us and asked, “Who can tell me what 4-H Shooting Sports is all about?”

After a moment the speaker answered his rhetorical question.

“4-H Shooting Sports is not about guns, it is about youth development. We use the various shooting disciplines as a way to reach young people and help prepare them to be productive adults.”

That youth development theme stuck with me as I have mentored young people over the last two decades.

Kids and guns are a logical and rational combination. Young people have a natural curiosity about firearms. They seek them out. Whether or not you allow firearms in your home, you cannot be with your child 24 hours a day, seven days a week. When your child first encounters a firearm, do you want them to treat it like a toy because they are ignorant or would you rather them treat it with respect based on education?

In addition to organized county 4-H clubs, the Ohio 4-H Shooting Sports program has been holding a Shooting Education Camp for 17 years running. In 1998, a small group of dedicated instructors and a few dozen young people participated in a pilot program to see if they could put on a weeklong camp centered on the various shooting disciplines of archery, muzzle-loading, pistol and rifle shooting and the shotgun sports.

A young archer takes aim at success at the 4H Shooting Eduction Camp. Photo Credit: Paul Markel A young archer takes aim at success at the 4H Shooting Eduction Camp. Photo Credit: Paul Markel

Since then, each year Canters Cave 4-H Camp, outside of Jackson, Ohio, hosts the Shooting Education Camps. The program has grown from a handful of instructors and kids to over 60 volunteer instructors and nearly 200 young people in this year’s senior camp.

Originally a single camp for young people aged 11 to 18; in 2008 they split the program into junior and senior camps to accommodate more young people without unduly taxing the facility.

It is not a mystery; young people are drawn to the shooting sports and once they have been educated by a corps of dedicated adult instructors they are hooked. In Ohio, the Shooting Sports program has been the fastest growing area of the overall 4-H organization for over a decade. This fact is based upon both the adult volunteer and youth numbers

Shotgun sports, action pistol and action rifle all provide instant feedback and thus gratification for the young shooters. You either hit the orange clay target as it is flying through the air or you don’t. Your reward for success is instant and the kids love it.

Let’s face it: Young people today need something tangible. Most of our modern young people live in an artificial world. Their music doesn’t come from physical objects like record albums but digital files. They communicate via text or IM without ever having to dial the phone and talk.

Video games provide only artificial stimulation and all they have to do is hit the “reset” button and start over when they make a mistake. The shooting sports provide a very real and tangible avenue of hands-on achievement.

Hitting your target requires both mental and physical discipline. The success is real, not digital or virtual. Young people in the 4-H Shooting Sports are taught to respect firearms and handle them responsibly; they aren’t toys. They also learn life skills such as leadership, sportsmanship, and social skills. At no other time in our nation’s history is such an organization more needed. The value provided is nearly immeasurable.

Some might ask, “Isn’t it dangerous to have young people and firearms in the same place?” Though absolute “safety” is an unachievable goal, the 4-H Shooting Sports program mitigates risk by employing only trained and educated adult instructors and require a strict adherence to educational guidelines. When compared to traditional sports such as football and basketball the 4-H Shooting Sports record is enviable.

Kids don’t stay kids forever. Attempting to shelter them and hide them away from the real world only turns them into weak and immature adults. Our goal instead should be to help young people grow into well-rounded, emotionally mature, productive adults.

The 4-H Shooting Sports is a not-for-profit organization and survives on volunteers and support from the shooting sports industry. If you’d like to support them please go to www.4-hshootingsports.org or www.ohio4hshootingsports.org.

For the past three decades Paul Markel has had the privilege to study with some of the finest instructors the US Military and Law Enforcement world have to offer. Visit www.studentofthegun.com

TheBlaze contributor channel supports an open discourse on a range of views. The opinions expressed in this channel are solely those of each individual author.

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