From gun magazines, to websites, to social media, two things become clear. For some gun owners there is almost a race to the bottom to see how young a child can be to handle, and eventually possess, a gun. At the same time, there’s not infrequently an inverse trend to see how powerful a gun the child can handle.
Writing for Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO) in 2014, JPFO writer contributor Nicki Kenyon explains:
When my son was 4 years old, we decided it was time to introduce him to gun safety. He couldn’t quite tie his shoes yet, but we knew we had guns in the house, and we knew we needed to instill good habits early, because it was literally a matter of life and death. His father was a police officer, and I was active in gun rights, and made it a point to be armed as much as possible. I still do. It’s a matter of life and death….
I can’t remember how old he was, exactly, when he shot his first firearm – I think he was probably 8 years old – but I know he was around 10 when he shot his first machine gun. I remember when he was about 6 years old, I sent him to my bedroom to get some paperwork that was on his father’s night stand. He called down to me and said, ‘Mommy! Daddy’s pistol is sitting on top of the paperwork. Do I have your permission to move it?’ That’s when I knew we taught him well….
My son was lucky. He was legally allowed to handle firearms in Virginia. We took him to the range. He shot a variety of firearms – rifles, pistols, machine guns and shot guns. He has had his own eye and hearing protection since he was in elementary school, and he received his first Mossberg Plinkster when he was approximately 9.17
And while Kenyon describes her child’s climb up the ladder of firepower with equal doses of pride and rationalization, four months later the risks of putting a full-auto machine gun into the hands of a child was illustrated to the nation with horrific clarity. On August 25, 2014, 39-year-old firearms instructor Charles Vacca, a father of four, was shot and killed at the Last Stop gun range when he was teaching a nine-year-old on vacation with her family in Las Vegas how to shoot an UZI submachine gun. The girl lost control of the weapon as the result of the full-auto weapon’s recoil. The gun climbed up out of her control and she unintentionally shot Vacca in the head. The girl then dropped the weapon and ran to her family, who huddled around her as she held her shoulder.18
In the comments section of an online article from the NRA’s American Hunter magazine titled “Choosing Your Child’s First Gun,” readers detailed the ages at which they felt their own sons and daughters were ready for their first gun: five, six, seven, and older. One of the points raised in the article was the fact that the recoil from many guns can hurt child shooters. As a Virginia Beach gunsmith told the author, “The first thing you want to avoid is to not overgun your kid…You try to give an 8-year-old kid a .308 or some blowaway magnum and it’s going to be too much. It will just make the child recoil shy and that’s the worst thing you can do to a kid.” The author added, “Not only will it hamper their ability to become accurate, but it may chase them away from the sport before they’ve even really had the chance to get into it, according to many experts. Every time they shoot, they’ll be thinking, ‘this gun is going to kick the heck out of me,’ and if that thought is on their mind, they’ll never be able to shoot accurately.”19
Photo from NRA’s 2014 Great American Outdoor Show (Sue Roman)
One reader did take issue with the author’s reticence on recommending an AR-15 assault rifle as a first gun for an eight- or 10-year-old child, writing, “If you teach your child proper firearms basics an AR is the perfect way to go. I built my six year old son one and he loves it.”20
For those who don’t want to wait to put an assault rifle in their children’s hands, but do have concerns about recoil and the weight of the weapon, a growing industry-wide trend toward 22 caliber assault rifles, often utilizing plastic resulting in lighter weight, has taken hold and is expanding. An additional frequently cited benefit is the relatively low cost of .22 ammunition, particularly for those who wish to train with the weapon.21 As one author noted in Shooting Sports Retailer in discussing 22 caliber AR-style assault rifles: “these guns bring the coolness and fun of the tactical rifle to kids and less serious shooters….”22 Throughout the industry, 22 caliber versions of higher-caliber assault rifles are increasingly common and frequently cited in the context of marketing guns to children:
- The product description for a .22 Bushmaster AR-15 model at the Gander Mountain Sports website states: “Designed for the indoor range and the youth shooter, this Carbon15 .22 LR Rimfire lightweight is sure to add new dimensions to your Bushmaster shooting pleasure. Operational controls are functionally and ergonomically identical to AR-15 type rifles….”23
- “INTRODUCING THE NEW SIG522 Rifle” says a Sig Sauer ad for a new 22 caliber assault rifle that appeared in the Summer 2011 edition of Junior Shooters. [see later section Junior Shooters: “For Kids By Kids”] Under the headline “DOUBLE TAKE,” the text reads, “It looks like the legendary SIG556, but look again. It’s the SIG522 Rifle firing affordable .22LR. The new SIG522 has the look, feel, and action of the classic military-style SIG556 rifle…yet it costs much less, and fires affordable .22LR rounds. The full-size semi-auto SIG522 features a button rifled barrel with flash suppressor, light weight aluminum receiver with integral Picatinny rail, Swiss-style folding stock, and a 25-round magazine. To find out more about how to get the look, feel, action, and dependability of the SIG556, combined with .22LR caliber affordability, check out the new SIG522 at www.sigsauer.com – on the double!“ [Emphasis in original]24
Junior Shooters, Summer 2011
- An article in Junior Shooters exclaims, “One of the best dedicated AR-type .22 rifles to come out in the last couple of years is Smith & Wesson’s M&P15-22. The M&P15-22 is built with high-strength polymer upper and lower receivers. This creates a reduced-weight rifle that retains the looks and operating features of the standard M&P rifle. Let me tell you, this rifle rocks!”25
- A December 2013 review published on the website of Bill’s Gun Shop & Range promises that the “Beretta ARX 160 in .22 LR is the company’s fun version of their current military carbine that was designed in 2008. The military versions come chambered in 5.56x45mm NATO, 5.45x39mm Soviet, 6.8mm Remington SPC and 7.62x39mm Soviet. Along with the Italian Army it is also being fielded by Albania, Egypt, Kazakhstan, the Mexican Federal Police and Turkmenistan. The U.S. was in the process of evaluating it as a replacement for the M4 before the replacement process of [sic] cancelled.” At the end of the glowing review, the shop concludes, “December is the perfect month for Bill’s to offer this carbine as their Gun of the Month as plenty of kids (both young and old) will have a military replica .22 on their Christmas list. The Beretta ARX 160 is a great choice and the holiday gives you the perfect excuse to buy one and act like it is a gift for your son or daughter. Just be sure to bring them to the range and let them shoot it every once in a while.”26 Surrounded by candy canes, a bow, and ribbon, the assault weapon is the gun dealer’s “December Gun of the Month.”
December “Gun of the Month” from the website of Bill’s Gun Shop and Range
The appeal of the Beretta assault rifle to youth was made clear at the 2014 NRA-sponsored Great American Outdoor Show in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. At the Beretta display at the show, a constant stream of young children, some alone, others accompanied by their parents, were drawn to the models of the gun, as well as other Beretta assault weapons, as these photographs of the Beretta display at the show illustrate.
Photos from the Beretta display at the NRA’s 2014 Great American Outdoor Show (Sue Roman)
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