Politics & Policy

Against Abstinence-Only Gun Education

(Houston Chronicle Photo/Johnny Hanson)
For the enemies of the right to bear arms, there is no correct age to learn about guns.

Yesterday, the front page of the Houston Chronicle boasted a photograph of a five-year-old boy who attended the National Rifle Association’s annual convention with his family. In the photograph, the boy, Tate, is holding a plastic gun, “using a video-game at an exhibit booth.” “Focus for day: Child safety,” declared the Chronicle’s headline. The sub: “Families taking practical advice and positive memories home.” Tate’s mother, Rebecca, is both practical and positive: She wishes to make “sure [her children] know the proper way to be around [guns] and not to be afraid.”

The New York Daily News remains censorious. Lambasting the event’s “Youth Day,” which featured an air-gun range at which children could compete to win multicolored marksmanship ribbons, the paper printed a series of pictures of children holding firearms. The captions read “SCARY SIGHT,” “FRIGHTENING,” and “SICK!”

Subtle the Daily News is not. Bill Hutchinson, author of the piece, complained that “some of the attendees were the age of the Newtown massacre victims, others too young to know the difference between a toy gun and a real one.”

This is astonishingly dishonest. How, pray, are children supposed to “know the difference between a toy gun and a real one” if they aren’t shown that difference? And what better way could there be of showing them that difference than to offer them instruction from a professional, as the NRA did, or — even better — having conscientious parents who are open about it? Love them or hate them, guns do exist — there are 360 million of them in the United States. Are we to pretend that this is not true?

The Left is fond of pointing to unpleasant Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics that show, inter alia, that the number of children under the age of 13 who die from firearms in the United States is 25 times that of the combined under-13 casualties of the next 25 industrialized nations. This is a terrible, terrible thing. But progressive thinking as to how America might deal with that terrible thing is typically confused. Denouncing the NRA’s “Eddie the Eagle” program, which encourages K–6 children to “Stop. Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult” if they see a gun, Nancy Hwa from the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence told ABC News:

The Eddie Eagle program tends to glamorize guns by making them seem like something you can only do when you’re an adult — just like drinking and smoking. You know what happens when you tell a child something like that. They want to do it more than ever.

If this is true, then what accounts for the widespread horror among Hwa’s fellow travelers at pictures of children holding guns? What explains the recent advertising campaign from advocacy group “Moms Demand Action,” which aims to shock by showing schoolchildren holding firearms? If Eddie the Eagle’s making guns “seem like something you can only do when you’re an adult” is so roundly destructive, then what’s the quarrel with those who would make it clear that it’s something you can do — safely — when you’re a child? My suspicion is that if one were to apply the New York Daily News’s principle to, say, sex education, those who are ostensibly so vexed would come down firmly on the side of open discussion.

Take the U.S. Concealed Carry Association’s view of the matter:

When it comes to kids and guns, you have two choices: Ignorance or education. But here’s the reality — if you take the ignorance approach, your kids will get their firearms “education” from movies, video games, or, from their friends.

Sound familiar? “Abstinence only” is widely mocked on the Left on precisely these grounds; why should abstinence-only gun education be excluded from the derision? Surely it couldn’t be because Eddie the Eagle is an employee of the hated NRA . . . ?

One man, quoted in the Daily News’s story, offered a downright silly view:

“They shouldn’t be teaching kids how to use guns. What happens when they get older? They might become like that Connecticut killer,” said Cal Castille, 24, of Houston, referring to Newtown gunman Adam Lanza.

They might, I suppose. But there’s no evidence whatsoever that they will. Discussing gun safety with one’s children was once the norm, and not just in that lost Ruritanian past to which the president likes to imagine conservatives are desperate to return. As late as the 1980s, gun clubs remained ubiquitous across America, having been installed as standard into high-school basements in the first half of the 20th century. And, as George Mason’s Walter E. Williams has documented, prior to the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act, “private transfers of guns to juveniles were unrestricted. Often a youngster’s 12th or 14th birthday present was a shiny new .22-caliber rifle, given to him by his father.”

Critics of more muscular defenses of the right to bear arms like to assure the public that they have no problem with hunting and do not wish to undermine longstanding American traditions. What they are after, they say, is “commonsense” and “sane” regulation. With this putative affection for “common sense” in mind, one might ask them: “At what age should a child first be taken hunting?” What is a “commonsense” time to tell your child about guns? At 18, perhaps? Or maybe at 21, to accompany one’s first drink?

The truth of the matter? For the enemies of the right to keep and bear arms there is no correct age. Bill Hutchinson and his ilk consider guns to be a negative thing per se. They don’t want you becoming familiar with weapons in the same way that, regardless of your age, they don’t want you becoming familiar with 50,000 volts of electricity. Weapons, in their view, are inherently destructive. They may pay lip service to hunters and to tradition, but this is no more than a smart tactical ploy. “The photos from the event speak for themselves,” Politic365’s Lauren Victoria Burke wrote this weekend.

The photos from the event “speak for themselves” for me, too. In them, I see supervised kids being taught marksmanship and gun safety by professionals and by their parents; I see children being freed from fear and prepared for life in the real world; most important of all, I see America’s children being instructed by one of the country’s foremost “little platoons” — and in an education system dominated by centralized orthodoxy and stolid progressivism, I can think of little that is more exhilarating.

— Charles C. W. Cooke is an editorial associate at National Review.


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