Gun control is a volatile topic in America today, especially following deadly shootings in 2012 at an elementary school in Connecticut and a movie theater in Colorado.
Recently, the national spotlight focused on southern Kentucky after the accidental shooting death of a two-year-old girl by her 5-year-old brother in neighboring Cumberland County.
In the wake of the tragedy, news reports from CNN and the Associated Press quiped that children in rural areas of Kentucky “get their first guns even before they start first grade.”
While children may have access to guns at a young age, for youngsters like 13-year-old Harrison Rich who has been shooting recreationally since he was nine, safety is on the forefront of his mind.
On Monday at the local sportsmen’s club, Harrison carried two black powder guns wrapped and unloaded in separate cases to the firing range for 4-H shooting club practice.
One of the shooting club rules, and a rule for the Rich family, is that guns remain unloaded up until the moment they are in use. Harrison’s father, Dwight Rich, said his son was brought up learning the responsibilities of handling firearms.
“He always comes and asks me before he handles a gun,” Rich said.
Dwight also shoots firearms recreationally at the club. He said he has always taught his son to treat a gun responsibly. Harrison can quote the rules he has learned.
“Always treat a gun as if it is loaded,” Harrison said. “And make sure it is always pointed away from people.”
LEARNING THE RULES
At the Adair County Sportsmen’s Club, recreational shooters are also focused on safety. Club president Barry Jones and member Kenneth Bennett said safety is stressed on a constant basis.
Jones and other club members keep a close eye on others who are at the ranges and make sure they are practicing proper handling procedures.
“If they are doing something wrong, we let them know in a nice way,” Jones said. “We try to help them.”
Signs are posted throughout the club with different safety rules reminding enthusiasts to keep a gun unloaded until it is in use, always point the gun in a safe direction and keep the finger off the trigger and outside the guard until the person is ready to shoot.
Home storage of firearms is also important. Both Jones and Bennett said it’s important to keep guns locked in a safe with the gun and ammo in separate locations.
One gun owner said their family has their children’s guns in a case with a security alarm that warns of any attempts to open the case without the lock’s combination.
The sportsmen’s club is not only home to the 4-H shooting club but also the Adair County Boy Scouts. Jones said the groups often practice at the club as well as hold meetings and camp outs.
Jones said handling guns properly prevents accidents. One of the rules of the club is to always point the gun in a safe direction.
In addition, new gun users are taught to never shoot a gun over a hill or in an unsafe or uncontrolled direction.
“Always make sure you know where the bullet will end up if you miss your target,” Jones said. The sportsmen’s club ranges have backstops behind the targets.
A HUNTING HERITAGE
One of the longest traditions in many local families is passing down the love of hunting.
Terry Partin remembers his first hunting trip with his grandfather when he was three years old.
“It’s one of my first memories,” Partin said. “Hunting heritage runs deep in my family. My father, my grandfather and most all of my family members enjoy the outdoors and enjoy hunting. It’s been a very important part of my life.”
Partin said gun safety is something all parents should teach their children.
“Just as we take our children to church and we teach them the difference from right or wrong, the parent’s responsibility or the guardian’s responsibility should also include teaching gun safety whether there is a gun in the home or not,” Partin said. “Children will come into contact with firearms with or without adult supervision.”
Some gun owners believe teaching children about firearms helps remove the appeal to “sneak a peak” or hold a gun without supervision.
“Not only are you teaching safe gun handling procedures at an early age you also require the child to take an organized hunter’s safety course in order to be allowed to hunt,” Partin said. “Children are inquisitive. Guns are very dangerous. They should realize and be taught … about firearms–the fact that they are very dangerous.”
Partin often takes his grandchildren, John Luke, 11, and Macy, 10, hunting.
“I really enjoy taking them hunting,” Partin said. “I enjoy taking them hunting and seeing them enjoy doing the sport more than I do myself. They are at the age where they hunt under the supervision of me as an adult.”
When Partin takes them hunting, he stands on the sidelines and monitors what they are doing. He does not hunt himself when they are with him.
“I am the adult that is in charge of making sure we do everything safely,” Partin said. “They don’t carry a loaded firearm.”
Partin was always taught and teaches his grandchildren to treat all guns with respect and as if they are always loaded.
“You always assume they are loaded,” Partin said. “That is something all children need to be taught.”
Partin believes teaching children to hunt provides them with skills beyond bagging wild game. Hunters must follow regulations and must get permission from landowners to hunt, which teaches good citizenship and respect for others.
“My parents always said if you teach your child how to hunt, you don’t have to hunt your child,” Partin said. “You don’t find many children that get into trouble that enjoy hunting and fishing. It’s a clean, wholesome sport. It also puts food on the table.”
Partin’s granddaughter Macy killed her first turkey this year.
“They had a meal together and really enjoyed it and celebrated the fact that Macy had provided wild game for the dinner table,” Partin said.
Tony Bragg also takes his two daughters, Sara and Ashley, hunting.
“They are usually the ones who are begging me to take them hunting,” Bragg said.
Bragg has been hunting since he was “big enough to hold a rifle” and believes that hunting and learning how to handle a gun properly teaches responsibility.
“They realize what a rifle or shotgun is capable of and you learn that if you point it in the wrong direction you could kill or maim something you don’t aim to,” Bragg said.
HUNTER EDUCATION COURSE
Since 1991, hunters born after Jan. 1, 1975 are required to complete a hunter education course provided through the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife. Children under 12 years of age may hunt without a course completion card if they are accompanied by an adult of at least 18 years of age.
John Harris, a local Fish and Wildlife officer, said the course covers different types of weapons, proper handling and the do’s and don’ts of weapons.
Harris said accidents such as the tragedy in Cumberland County last week are rare.
“You just don’t hear of many accidents,” Harris said. “Most of these fathers in our community do a good job teaching their kids.”
Harris said gun safety in the home is just as important as proper handling procedures.
“Anyone that has firearms in the home needs to have them locked up in a safe,” Harris said.
Harris has been with Fish and Wildlife for 16 years and previously served as a city police officer in Columbia for seven years.
The Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife, the local sportsmen’s club and the 4-H Youth and Development organizations offer educational gun safety programs. The local sportsmen’s club hosts events throughout the year, and will sponsor a women’s event this Saturday. To register for the event, call Erik Garland at 864-2608.
For more information on the sportsmen’s club go to www.adairsportsmen.org. For information on Fish and Wildlife, go to www.fw.ky.gov. For information on the 4-H shooting club, contact local 4-H Youth and Development agent Tony Rose at 384-2317.
By Allison Cross