It began in the inner cities with school kids telling tales of guns available as close as the nearest street corner. Then the problem spread to the suburbs, and even rural areas. High profile tragedies in Littleton, Colorado, Paducah, Kentucky, Springfield, and Oregon have prompted fed-up parents to organize and call for tougher laws designed to keep guns out of kids' reach. Meanwhile, gun rights advocates led by the National Rifle Association deny that new restrictions will effectively address the problem. And, they say, with proper guidance, exposing kids to guns is appropriate, and even beneficial. Last weekend the NRA opened its annual series of shooting competitions at Camp Perry in Northwest Ohio, where kids compete alongside adults throughout the summer. 90.3 WCPN's Bill Rice reports.
"Ready on the right, ready on the left...commence loading and firing."
Bill Rice- The weather is close to perfect at Camp Perry, a National Guard marksmanship training facility on the shore of Lake Erie. Camp Perry has hosted the NRA's National Matches since its founding in 1907. This weekend it's the muzzleloading competion, where some 60 to 70 competitors will demonstrate their skills with everything from hand-held pistols to 30 lb. bench-mounted guns. 13-year-old Aaron Lavinka feels right at home.
Aaron Lavinka- I'm shootin' a Traditions 50 caliber Hawkins style rifle round ball.
BR- Lavinka has traveled here from Chester, Virginia with his grandfather, who introduced him to firearms when he was nine. Today he owns three 22s, a shot gun, an air rifle, and a muzzle loader.
(to AL) What got you interested in muzzle-loading?
AL- My grandfather mainly, he shoots for the NSSA, the North South Skirmish Association. So I've been growing up and looking at all his guns and I asked him if I could shoot one one day and it just kind of happened.
BR- Like Lavinka, the only other youth competing today is being introduced to guns and gun responsibility through his family. Vicky and Sean Schaefer of Newcastle, Pennsylvania, are mother and son who share an avid interest in firearms. Vicky has been competing annually at the National matches since 1989.
Vicky Schaefer- I've shot all my life, I started competing in probably about '84. I started competing in Lisbon, Ohio at Fort Tuscarawas with open sights and the flintlock.
BR- Nine year old Sean has always accompanied his mother at such events. This year, at Camp Perry, he's a competitor for the first time.
Sean Schaefer- I started shooting last year, but not this particular shoot. I feel comfortable on the firing range and I'm having a good time.
BR- Vicki Schaefer says safety is of paramount importance in Sean's firearms education. At this young age he's not allowed to handle a gun without an adult's supervision. And he's taught to always treat a gun as if it's loaded.
VS- Not just check and see if its loaded or not, but always treat it as if it's loaded that's how we try to raise him and then always, if he picks any gun up, even if we tell him it's not loaded, he has to personally, he's only nine, but he checks for himself to see that it's not loaded, once he asks permission to pick it up.
BR- Schaefer says that applies to Sean's friends as well.
VS- We have friends over cause he is an only child, and we've been really blessed, they all listen and I get their parents permission to start with and then we work on safety from day one, and they know if they happen to see something in my house they know they're not allowed to touch it until they're told they can.
BR- Schaefer adds if classmates of Sean's who do not have firearms backgrounds come over, the guns are left put away. That's a scenario that scares gun control activists. Jennifer Hamilton was the Ohio organizer for the Million Mom March on Washington last Mothers' Day.
Jennifer Hamilton- Hopefully they keep it locked up in a safe where kids do not have access for it. This is a good point to remind all parent that when their kids go to their friends to play, to ask the parents outright "Do you have guns in the house and is it locked up?" Because that is one way where kids can get a hold of guns when they're unsupervised in the house, and terrible accidents happen that way.
BR- The Million Mom March Foundation, headquartered in San Francisco, is pushing for federal legislation that would require gun owners to keep guns locked away from children. The group also wants required licensing of handgun buyers and registration of all handguns. Many activists are calling for mandatory triggerlocks as well. The NRA is patently against these restrictions, says spokesman Bill Powers.
Bill Powers- Issuing drivers licenses doesn't stop people from disobeying the law, or driving recklessly. So it's not the driver's license that protects children from bad drivers. It's parents who teach their children "Look both ways before you cross the street. Hold my hand before you cross the street." And every parent knows that.
BR- These issues are sure to remain contentious during and after this fall's elections. Meanwhile, enthusiasts can look forward to a full summer of firearms competitions at Camp Perry: the pistol championships this coming weekend, the small bore and high-powered rifle championships in future weeks. Officials say those weapons are far more popular with kids than muzzleloaders. Young Sean Schaefer would concur.
SS- I'd rather shoot high powered rifles. It's easier to load cause all you have to do is work a bolt.
BR- At Camp Perry, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.