When it comes to how we look at our children, we live in two different United States of America. Let’s take a closer look at each one of these “worlds” and see how they compare.

In one America children are viewed as fragile beings, incapable of dealing with or understanding the realities of life. In this world, kids need to be sheltered and sequestered from any object or activity that may be “dangerous” or “risky.” Not just physical risk, but emotional risk as well. Playing sports without keeping score and passing grades based on “effort” instead of merit come immediately to mind.

In world “A,” the parents of these children not only see it as their responsibility to shelter their children, but often and to a greater extent see it as the responsibility of the government to remove or restrict any activity that could, when taken to the extreme, be potentially harmful to the child. As a convenient byproduct, children in this world become props and stage dressing for politicians wishing to pass questionable legislation. If a bill or proposal is out of line with the U.S. Constitution, it is said to be for the “safety of the children.” This naked and contemptible ploy has at its core an attempt to neutralize any legitimate opposition. To the politician, children aren’t people, but notional characters and convenient excuses for unconstitutional behavior.

In the year 2013 and for the previous several years, we have seen the fruits of the first America. Children, who did not remain prepubescent angels but grew up, are now adult age. Having been sheltered, not just from danger or risk, but from responsibility and consequences, they are incapable of dealing with adversity. Having been raised in an era of equalized fairness, one where sports teams don’t keep score and passing grades are given to every child who shows up, these young adults are shocked when inevitable adversity and life challenges arise. They have been slapped in the face by the cold reality that how they “feel” about this or that has no bearing on their ability to get a job or keep one.

Many of these grown children become the basement-dwelling adult kids still living with their parents. Also, having discovered that the “mean-spirited” and “uncaring” corporate world has absolutely no concern for their self-esteem or feelings of entitlement, they look to an omnipotent government to make all things right in their world.

In the other United States of America, we perceive our children not as fragile beings, but “adults in training.” The parents in this world do their very best to protect their children from the worldly hazards of fire, poison, drowning, and sharp objects. Rather than remove the stove from their house because the children might burn themselves, these parents teach the children that stoves and fire are hot and are not to be played with, ditto for sharp objects and power tools.

Adults in training need not be coddled and sheltered but educated and taught the consequences of personal choice. Poor decisions have consequences, while good decisions come with rewards. Genuine self-esteem cannot be given to a child, the child must earn it. Once earned it cannot be arbitrarily taken away.

4-H Shooting Sports–more than guns and bows

In the spring of 2000, I attended my first-ever 4-H Shooting Sports Adult Instructor weekend held in Jackson, Ohio. Of the many lessons that the trainers offered, one of the most poignant was that the focus of the 4-H Shooting Sports program was not guns and bows, the focus and primary motivation was and is youth development.

Through the organized shooting sports disciplines, be they rifle, pistol, shotgun, muzzle-loading or archery, young people (or adults in training) are guided and aided in the development of life skills that will serve them far beyond the rifle range or trap field.

Unlike other sports or fields of physical endeavor, the shooting sports allow any and all children to participate, regardless of their size or strength, male or female. While they might technically compete against one another, their primary goal is to seek measureable self-improvement. The target does not carry about their feelings or a desire for fairness. The only way for a young person to consistently hit the “X-ring,” break the clay target, or stick an arrow in the bull’s-eye is to both physically and mentally discipline themselves. The target doesn’t know “fair.”

Through the close guidance and personal attention given by trained 4H adult volunteers, young people learn to safely and effectively use firearms and archery gear. These are not toys, but serious sporting equipment. When they learn to master the rifle, the shotgun, or the pistol, these adults in training are in turn learning to master their own lives. They are transitioning from the helpless babe to the productive adult citizen.

Unlike the sheltered basement dwellers of group “A,” 4-H shooting sports alumnus have grown to be responsible adults. The fruits of the 4-H program have already matured and been harvested. Young people who were once my “4-H camp kids” are now responsible adults with careers and spouses. They are starting families and rearing their own adults in training.

As more physically mature members of our society, we have a choice to make. We can choose to shelter our children from all risks both real and imagined. We can ensure that they are mentally fragile and allow them to be used as props for opportunist politicians. Conversely, we can acknowledge that the world is indeed a dangerous and risky place. With that acknowledgment we can deliberately prepare our Adults in Training, not to hide from these risks, but be prepared to face whatever life has in store for them.

More information can be found at www.4-Hshootingsports.org.

About the author: Paul Markel has been a firearms industry writer for twenty years and is the author of the new book Student of the Gun; A beginner once, a student for life. Paul hosts and produces Student of the Gun, a show dedicated to education, experience, and enjoyment of firearms.  Episodes of SOTG can be viewed by simply going to www.studentofthegun.com and clicking the “play” icon.

Images courtesy Paul Markel

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One thought on “Kids and Guns: Two Worlds

  1. Enjoyed this story! Once upon a time all kids grew up in the agricultural industry or in the rural areas of this country. They grew up, not wanting to have to work 18 hour days and moved to big cities to work a 9 to 5 job. They forgot the life they once had. Three generations or so later, a lot of children are “city slickers” and in the rush of things never had the opportunities that the rural children of today have. So proud of the 4-H Shooting Sports program and proud of the parent’s of those children who see the education found in that sport. Let’s all keep America strong by supporting youth programs that can and will make a difference!

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