How NOT to Bring New Shooters into the Fold

Learning to shoot should never have a foundation of being a joke.

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It should be readily apparent to everyone by now that we need all the supporters of shooting-defensive and recreational-that we can muster for 2019 and beyond. The democrat takeover of the U.S. House of Representatives means that we will see all kinds of ill-advised, unconstitutional, and dangerous laws floating around Capitol Hill and being sent over to the Senate for consideration. While thankfully the Republicans gained an even more solid control of the Senate, nothing is guaranteed since articles of impeachment are already being filed as we speak against President Trump by extremist members of the House-the same people who are also rabidly anti-gun. This activity is certainly going to serve at the minimum as a distraction and at the maximum it may causing wavering among formerly firm Second Amendment including the Senate AND possibly the President. Everyone needs to do their part. But there are right ways and wrong ways to bring new shooters-who will also hopefully become Second Amendment supporters-into the fold.

Right before Christmas, a long-time friend of mine came by with his wife for a visit. Although he had always liked guns and shooting, it wasn't until recently that he had enough free time to really become a shooting enthusiast. He had recently got his concealed carry permit and now regularly packs a compact 9mm pistol. He also has become a fairly serious deer hunter.

As the evening wore on, we began to talk more about guns and shooting in general. Our wives were in the room with us during the conversation. My buddy began to talk about how his wife had enjoyed shooting his Ruger .22 pistol and had become quite proficient with it. She was happy with it as a home defense gun. He said that he wanted her to work up to a bigger, more powerful pistol caliber because a .22 simply wasn't powerful enough for self-defense (like EVERYONE knows that). His wife protested his plan with-and this is absolutely critical- "but I like the .22"!

I pointed out that the .22 is often used in defense, and that if it is what she likes she should use it and the .22 (for her) would be fine. My wife (who doesn't shoot much because she is blind, and who was once anti-gun) chimed in and backed up the "that's what she should shoot if that's what she wants to" argument.

Knowing that he had lost the argument on pistol shooting, my friend doubled down with "honey you really need to try my Mossberg 930 semi-auto (12 gauge) shotgun". I shot back with "that would be a REALLY bad idea" since his wife clearly had no desire to do that. He finally gave up and the evening went on without incident. My wife didn't quite give up as she was still-and rightfully so-grumbling about my friend's concept of being helpful in terms of continuing to develop his wife's interest in shooting after they left. This got me to thinking.

There has been a long and rather disgusting tradition of "teaching people to shoot" by giving the uninitiated heavy recoiling arms to shoot for the first time solely for the amusement of those watching. YouTube is full of "first time shooter" videos of this type of activity, and usually the victim of this prank is female. Right, it's really funny watching someone getting hurt the first time they pull a trigger-which likely ruins them from any interest in shooting at any time in the future. Not only are these macho idiots amused, but they can feel like real tough guys because then can handle that hard-recoiling gun without ill effect.

Now, I am not saying that my friend was in any way intending to do this to his wife for amusement-but the result would have been the same. Pressuring someone to shoot a heavy recoiling handgun or long gun who doesn't want to shoot it is always a bad idea-regardless of their sex.

Bringing people in to the shooting sports-especially folks who may be anti-gun like my late mother once was-should be thought of as a process of conditioning that should only be taken as far as, or as quickly as, the new shooter wants to go. This means starting with an air powered arm, or at the most a .22.

The new shooter should be gradually and gently brought along in the process so that each step is fun, a little challenging, and capable of showing progress. This is why paper targets, rather than tin cans, are the most appropriate training targets. When I ran our police academy firearms program, I showed the cadets a PowerPoint presentation that told them that the goal of academy firearms training was to "take them shooting". The slide had a picture of a father and young son shooting together on a range using .22 rifles. What I wanted-and feel that I successfully accomplished over a 27-year period-was to reduce the fear factor of future departmental qualifications by these prospective police officers. I wanted them to emerge from training ENJOYING shooting handguns and shotguns, and to be confident in doing so. Most of these police cadets-especially the ones that I trained closer to the end of that 27-year period- had never fired any type of firearm (other than those with military experience) and sadly, never had a parent take them shooting. Cadets were prohibited from going out with anyone to "learn to shoot" while they were in our training program. While I didn't start the cadets shooting .22's, I did start them with .38 revolvers firing slowly, then worked them up to 9mm Glock 19's. Shotgun training started with low recoil buckshot and rifled slugs, as well as trap and skeet target loads fired at clay birds thrown from a mechanical thrower. To a person, our cadets ended up enjoying firearms training because of careful, gradual conditioning-that was fun.

There is nothing wrong with taking a new shooter through a graduated experience involving many types of firearms-as long as they are interested in shooting them. If someone is fearful about shooting a .44 Magnum revolver for example, they should never be pushed to that level. I remember a guy telling me about how he had "taught" a friend to shoot his .44 Magnum revolver apparently using the light recoiling .44 Special ammo that he been demonstrating-except that he had mixed in a full power .44 Magnum round. When his friend touched the Magnum off it was a "hilarious" experience, but it wasn't to the shooter.

If you are going to introduce someone to shooting, then be an ambassador for the shooting sports. Take the long view of what you are-or should be doing. You should be creating a person who becomes interested in a lifetime of shooting activity. When I took my mom shooting for the first time, I started her out shooting the family Smith and Wesson .22/.32 Kit gun revolver. After a few cylinders of .22's, she wanted to try the Star PD .45 I was packing as my duty gun on the county drug enforcement unit. It was HER idea. After some careful instruction she fired her first shots. She liked it and decimated the silhouette target she was firing at. A few years later, my mom and dad bought a Glock 17 for her to use. She was never anti-gun after that experience. Mission accomplished. I was really proud of how she did.

Learning to shoot should never have a foundation of being a joke. Trust is destroyed and interest in going any further may be lost. If you going to teach someone to shoot, the "Golden Rule" should apply. In other words, how would you want to be taught? Bring prospective shooters into the fold carefully, and build new shooters and Second Amendment supporters. We need them now more than ever.