Photo taken by Paula Faraci
The well-intended but bluntly written laws responding to school shootings and the grassroots fear of "mixing" kids and guns are a significant problem for the future of hunting. Our numbers are in a slow decline, and there is tons of evidence that to sustain our hunting heritage, we have to bring kids into hunting and shooting, and the younger, the better. This is not to dismiss the very encouraging trend of "Adult Onset Hunters", many driven by a desire for environmentally-friendly and healthy food and an active lifestyle. However, to maintain our hunting culture, it is clear that a key strategy is that it has to be done as it was for thousands of years: a skill passed through families, from older generations to the next. In today's society, where outside forces often overwhelm families, hunting families are going to need to have a support network among youth, in schools and other institutions. That is going to mean kids learning to shoot guns.
Focusing only on the serious negatives, and foolishly ignoring the health, family, and environmental benefits of kids being involved with hunting, the American Academy of Pediatrics still recommends to not have guns in the home at all if you have children under eighteen. This is in spite of the fact one JAMA study showed safe storage methods decreased the rate of accidental and suicide deaths by youth dramatically, and concluded safe storage was a viable alternative to asking families to get rid of their guns.
A new, progressive program of advancing youth shooting sports participation needs to be advanced. It would involve policies that encourage kids to start shooting guns at an early age, with proper controls. Some combination of safe storage legislation, broad based school and other institutional support for youth shooting needs to be enacted. Government-sponsored education campaigns should include the benefits of kids being involved in shooting sports, as well as the clear dangers of youth suicides, accidental shootings, and use of firearms in crime. In a large majority of suicides, there are warning signs, but the decision to commit suicide is impulsive, and the solid majority of those that attempt suicide unsuccessfully don't do so again. Access to lethal means matters greatly, most of those that attempt suicide with a firearm are successful. The lessons that hunters learn in firearms safety, "you can't retrieve a bullet", or "once you pull the trigger, you can't undo the outcome", are very relevant here.
Enacting youth shooting sports programs are going to take a lot of effort. We'll need to both confront the NRA and educate and convince a lot of parents, school administrators, and legislators about the value of kids hunting and shooting. Public health officials concerned about gun violence, the AAP, and gun control groups will need to show strong support for youth participation in shooting sports. But ultimately, it's going to be concerned hunters who are concerned about the future of our tradition who can make it happen. We know the value of private gun ownership, and the serious responsibility it is as well.