“Start Them Young” – Conclusion and Recommendations

The efforts of the gun industry and gun lobby to put firearms in the hands of young children and teens are the exact opposite of what health experts advise. The American Academy of Pediatrics is emphatic in urging parents not to keep guns in homes with children. Their healthychildren.org website advises parents, “The best way to keep your children safe from injury or death from guns is to NEVER have a gun in the home.” Specifically, the pediatricians’ organization warns parents as follows:123

  • Do not purchase a gun, especially a handgun.
  • Remove all guns present in the home.
  • Remember that young children simply do not understand how dangerous guns can be, despite parents’ warnings.
  • Find out if there are guns in the homes where your children play. If so, talk to the adults in the house about the dangers of guns to their families.

“For those who know of the dangers of guns but still keep a gun in the home,” the site advises:

  • Always keep the gun unloaded and locked up.
  • Lock and store the bullets in a separate place.
  • Make sure to hide the keys to the locked boxes.

As noted, one study found that adolescents who commit suicide most often use the family gun.124 By removing guns from homes where children and teens live, especially depressed adolescents, parents will reduce likelihood of suicide and unintentional death for everyone in the household, but especially for teens.

A common argument is that giving children guns teaches them personal responsibility and other life skills. Typical is the language found on the website of National 4-H Shooting Sports, which promises “Skills for Life — Activity for a Lifetime.” Sponsors of the program include: the National Shooting Sports Foundation; online accessories and ammo vendor MidwayUSA (headed by top NRA donor Larry Potterfield); the ammunition manufacturer Hornady (headed by NRA board member Steve Hornady); and, Hodgdon Powder (headed by one-time NRA board member Bob Hodgdon). In the “Just for Youth” section under the heading “Kids ‘n’ Guns,” the site states:

4-H uses shooting sports to teach youth development. Our programs are valuable for helping young people develop self-confidence, personal discipline, responsibility, teamwork, self esteem and sportsmanship. The discipline and self-control required for responsible firearms use carries over into many other aspects of life.125

In the same section, the question is asked, “Isn’t easy access to firearms one reason for the violent behavior we’ve seen in Columbine and other school shootings?” The response is as predictable as it is disingenuous: “No, access is not the issue. The safest location for a responsible gun owner to store a firearm is the secure environment of his or her home…Firearms should however, be stored so that they are inaccessible to unauthorized users.”

Left unstated is the fact that with the creation of the youth gun culture envisioned by the firearms industry and the gun lobby, the children themselves in the home are all too often the authorized users.

At the same time, the “skills” learned by youth at the foot of today’s gun industry — with its embrace of heightened lethality and increased militarization, combined with the immaturity and limited judgment that define childhood — can be put into action with horrific results.

In addition to urging that homes with children be gun-free, the Violence Policy Center recommends the following:

  • Firearms are an adult product just like tobacco and alcohol and should be treated as such to protect the health and safety of children. Just as our society does not condone the use of alcohol or tobacco by minors even with adult supervision, we should prohibit the acquisition, possession, and use of firearms by children. Current federal law prohibits the transfer of handguns by Federal Firearms License (FFL) holders to anyone under the age of 21. Federal law also prohibits handgun possession by those under the age of 18 with a number of exceptions. Federally licensed dealers are also prohibited from selling long guns (shotguns and rifles) to those under the age of 18. These laws should be revised so that possession standards strictly match sales standards: 18 years old for long guns and 21 years old for handguns.
  • The Federal Trade Commission should investigate whether the firearms industry is inappropriately marketing firearms to children and also whether manufacturers are engaged in product placement of firearms in video games marketed to minors to determine whether such efforts violate applicable advertising standards.
  • Websites for gun manufacturers and vendors of related products (such as ammunition and ammunition magazines) should have the same age restrictions and criteria for access as those for tobacco and alcohol vendors.
  • Congress should repeal the section of the Toxic Substances Control Act prohibiting the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating lead in ammunition.
  • States should review their laws regarding firearm possession by children with the goal of having the age for legal possession at least match that for legal purchase from a Federal Firearms License holder.
  • An effective public education campaign should be developed and implemented to warn parents and youth about the dangers associated with the presence and use of firearms.

To put the gun industry and gun lobby’s child-marketing efforts into perspective, imagine the public outcry if the alcohol industry announced a program targeting grade school children, promoting a line of “youth cocktails.” Or if the tobacco industry urged parents to introduce their second and third grade-age children to the satisfaction and sophistication of smoking with “junior cigarettes.” Or if it was revealed that these industries had a “strategic plan” targeting children to not only “start them young,” but to create a cadre of “youth ambassadors,” whose goal would be to convince their playmates via personal contact and social media to join them in these adult activities. Yet, the firearms industry and gun lobby are today aggressively pursuing just such a campaign targeting America’s youth.

And while the firearms industry and gun lobby consistently work to present this marketing effort in terms of tradition and family, the real impetus lies in profit and political power. Most tragically, the effects of this campaign are all too often measured in unnecessary death and crippling injury.

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