I've seen some things in the last few weeks that have really caused to me to think about the future of the shooting sports. Some have been very positive and some, not so much.
The emergence of the Scholastic Clays Program in schools across the U.S. has certainly been a very bright spot. Literally thousands of young boys and girls now participate in that program. Many adults have stepped up and volunteered to coach these young people. That means a real commitment of time, energy and in many cases their own money. As far as I know, none of these programs get any monetary support from school systems.
Some major gun manufacturers and ammo companies have also been major contributors to the clays program and have furnished both guns and shotshells to some of these young shooters.
So, all over the U.S. young people who are fortunate enough to have support are having an opportunity to learn to shoot and to enjoy what many of us have been doing for most of our lives. What about the rest of the young people who will one day become the workforce, the business leaders, the governors, the judges and the legislators, who will write our laws. How do they feel about guns, recreational shooting and hunting?
What are our youth hearing in their schools? I recently had a conversation with a lady who is president of her school's PTA. I've known her for years and she knows that I'm a shooter and hunter. She asked me what I thought schools could do to be safer from gun violence.
Her school already has a police officer who randomly visits the school and patrols around it. The kids have been drilled and trained in the proper procedures to take if a shooter comes to their school. Her question was, what else can we do?
A few weeks ago on a Sunday morning Doris and I were in church and the children's message was being delivered. The Pastor's asked, “When should you be quiet?” One 6 year old quickly responded, “When a shooter comes to the school and we're hiding in our room.”
I recently visited a local bank to make some changes to an account. The young lady who was helping me noticed that I had a shirt on with the name of a gun manufacturer. She recognized the name and asked if I worked for the company. She said that she did not allow her sons to have guns of any kind and that included toy guns.
She went on to say that she and her husband disagreed about toy guns and that he was more permissive that she was. She also stated that lately she'd been looking at some of the video games her sons played and saw that they were very gory and had gratuitous violence. She and her husband disagreed about that too but for now, they were still playing the games.
Switching gears just a bit, let's try to think about that vast group of school age young people who are undecided about guns. They aren't pro or anti gun and it's not the most important subject to them. They are of course saddened by the school shootings and they may listen as the mainstream media interviews stricken parents and anti-gun politicians. They also wonder just what would happen if a shooter came to their school. They wonder how they'd react.
There is another huge group of young people, the largest single generation we've had in this country, approximately 80 million Millennials (Echo Boomers) born between 1982 and 1995. That generation stretches from recent high school graduates to just marrieds and many others in between. They've been influenced by their families, their schools, their peers, television and of course by the Internet. They have tremendous buying power and are accustomed to change and even embrace it. How do they feel about guns and the shooting sports?
As a young person I had older brothers who taught me to shoot. They let me tag along when they went hunting. A Sunday afternoon visit might include shooting a .22 and Thanksgiving always included a morning hunt. Shooting and hunting were just a part of our lives and I was given my first gun, a Winchester Model 67-A for my 12th birthday.
Fortunately, we have parts of the country where that lifestyle is sill prevalent but there are vast areas where it's not. How do we reach those folks? By reach, I don't necessarily mean get them to shoot or even provide them a place to shoot, while those would be good goals. I mean how do we show them that guns and rhw shooting sports are fun and wholesome activities?
We as a people like to have fun. We generally like to participate with others in activities that are fun and like to be spectators to activities in which others are having fun. We admire top athletes and we really like it when we see them celebrate a great score or express their joy about the sport in which they are participating. So, how do we convey to young people out there the fun that can be involved in the shooting sports?
The joy and fun of the shooting sports probably won't be conveyed to young people by older folks like me. Conventional clays sports like trap and skeet, while very challenging to the participants, are probably not really an appealing spectator sport to most younger people. Even sporting clays while much more lively and exciting in its presentations, does not make exciting grandstand viewing.
What kind of shooting sport will it take to attract and hold the attention of younger people? Who will that young spokesperson be? What will it take to grab the attention of the younger generation, in a positive manner, to make them want to try recreational shooting?
I wish I had the answers to these questions but frankly I don't. I do believe however that the questions deserve some consideration by all of us, whatever our age if we want to see the continuation of the shooting sports.