As a gun owner and 2nd Amendment advocate, I know how important it is to have a strong knowledge of firearm safety. I believe it’s something that should be universal and taught to any age. Growing up in rural southern Iowa, hunting was and still is a lifestyle for me. My dad was and still is to this day an avid hunter. Naturally, being a tomboy, I wanted to go out and hunt with him.
First things first, before I started hunting, I needed a good handle on gun safety. That’s when my sister and I joined 4-H Shooting Sports in Van Buren County, Iowa. My dad became an instructor as well. To become certified, you must take a series of classes and pass, and that is exactly what he did. Many of my Sundays in the summer were spent at shooting sports as result. We met on the first Sunday of every month to learn and work on our skills.
Fast forward to 2021 and the club is still around. According to 4-hshootingsports.org, local 4-H Shooting Sports clubs are open to all youth ages 8 to 18, giving youth a voice in the gun community. The volunteers put their time and energy into teaching these young shooters because they know how important it is to give them the opportunity to learn these things.
I recently had an opportunity to go back and visit with some of my old instructors, and it was a time filled with nostalgia for me. Ray Morris was one of my instructors during my time in the club, and while he has since retired, it was great to catch up with him and pick his brain on youth in the firearm community.
We talked a lot about safety, trust and checking a firearm no matter the circumstance. “We tell the kids when they do hunter safety, I don’t care if the game warden hands it to you, it’s loaded. I don’t care if your dad gives you the gun, it’s loaded until you personally verify it’s not,” said Morris. That is firearms 101 for most of us, but to kids, it may not always be at the forefront of their minds. That’s why it’s important to teach them and continue to reiterate it; one day they will thank you.
Mike Mitchell, who was another instructor of mine who helped start the club with Morris, said “We thought that there was a need for the kids to get out more and start off with the right skills.” He also went on to say, “Once you start the right habits to begin with, you’ve got them for life. We want to get them started and be safe right from the get-go.”
It’s so important to teach people right the first time because bad habits can be really hard to break. I know I remember what my instructors taught me in those early days every time I handle a gun.
After visiting with some of my past mentors — my father included, who is still close to the club even now that I’m grown — I went to a club meeting and was able to speak with some of the kids who are now in the group and find out why they love 4-H Shooting Sports. When I arrived, some were shooting clays with rifles and others were at the archery station.
Doug Zollars, an instructor said, “We have shotgun, archery, rifle and we do have muzzleloader every once in a while.” They also have a section for wildlife classification if they want to branch out. Zollars said his favorite part is, “Just teaching the kids.” Everyone there seemed to enjoy being there, as smiles were plentiful.
After watching them for a while, I sat down with a few of them and asked why they joined. Dane Brecount, a 15-year-old Van Buren High School student, joined because it was “just something to do.” But he quickly learned it was more than that; he has a safe space to shoot guns, which is his favorite part. There are many legacy students and teachers that are a part of the club, ensuring generations of knowledge are being shared and passed down.
We all start somewhere. We all have a story. We remember the people who helped shape us and taught us the things we know today. This is just like how the youth now will remember us and what we taught them. It’s so important to be involved. Whether it be 4-H or some other youth shooting sports group, these kids need good mentors to help them learn. They will be the ones ensuring the 2nd Amendment continues to be exercised well into the future.
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