Teaching children gun safety to curb gun violence The number of U.S. children dying from gunshot wounds has climbed in recent years. Keeping guns out of reach is one way to curb the trend — others argue to teach kids to handle guns responsibly.

Amid concerns about kids and guns, some say training is the answer

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A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

What can be done to reduce gun deaths and injuries among kids? Keeping firearms beyond reach, for one. But some people say it may also help to train kids to handle guns responsibly. Here's NPR's Martin Kaste. And a warning - this story does contain the sound of gunfire.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: When is it OK to encourage children to get into guns? If you're a gunmaker, it's never, at least that's what California and Illinois decided in the last couple of years when they banned the marketing of guns to children. California's law was challenged on First Amendment grounds, but the Illinois law is still in effect. It was sponsored by state Senate president Don Harmon.

DON HARMON: We were very concerned with the overt marketing of firearms to children. We had a collection of example advertisements. I'm looking at one right now, the JR-15 - the junior 15.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Lots of new products this year at SHOT Show. I'm at...

KASTE: This is a video of that gun being introduced at a firearms convention in 2022.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Thanks for stopping by.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: So you have a brand-new item to show us, a new product.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We do, we do. So what we have here is a scaled-down .22 long rifle that looks and feels and operates just like mom or dad's gun.

KASTE: To Senator Harmon, this kind of product is egregious.

HARMON: There's no doubt that this is an attempt to indoctrinate children and create a culture where assault weapons are not just for the parents but for the little ones at home, too.

KASTE: Harmon's gun marketing law reflects broader concerns about how kids get into guns. Top of mind lately have been the convictions of Jennifer and James Crumbley in Michigan, who gave their son the handgun that he then used in a school shooting. The Illinois and California laws have inspired some target shooting organizations to now post notices on their websites warning away kids under 18 from those two states. It's similar to the notices on websites for cigarettes or alcohol. Jackson Beard is the director of training at Securite Gun Club in Woodinville, Wash., and he says the groups putting up those warnings are, quote, "over-lawyered."

JACKSON BEARD: I have to take issue with the fact that education is somehow marketing firearms to kids. It demonstrates a misunderstanding or even an irrational fear about firearms as tools.

KASTE: Beard teaches introductory classes for kids as young as 8. The class includes the standard gun safety message for kids that the NRA has preached for decades, with its Eddie the Eagle cartoons about what kids should do if they find a gun.

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UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hey, I learned this song at school.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As Eddie the Eagle, singing) Stop. Don't touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (Singing) Stop. Don't touch.

KASTE: But Beard says a complete gun safety education needs to go further. He says it also means showing the kids, with their parents' permission, how to fire a weapon.

BEARD: If we don't teach our kids that, who will? And the answer is no one. And I would rather raise a responsible generation of gun owners than a generation of gun owners that's never been exposed to the safety message, the respect message, the explanation of how these tools are to be properly used.

KASTE: State laws vary, but it's generally legal for kids to shoot at ranges as long as there's a responsible adult present. And some wholesome American institutions have a long tradition of promoting shooting for juniors, as they're often called.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Pull.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRING)

KASTE: Here's a recent promotional video for 4-H.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: We've got 70 kids out here shooting. It's going to be an amazing day.

(SOUNDBITE OF GUN FIRING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: It should be a whole lot of fun.

KASTE: Ashley Hall is the coordinator of shooting sports for 4-H in Washington state. She says the kids are taught safety first.

ASHLEY HALL: Every single action from picking up a rifle all the way to firing it when they're on the range is very carefully kind of scripted and monitored. And it's like a dance.

KASTE: Hall is aware of the concerns about how guns appeal to kids. She says her shooting sports program is not flashy. She'd never want it to be that.

HALL: But it's also still really cool. So kids come in, and maybe they've never shot a rifle before. You still see the same, like, physical reactions, the anticipation, all these kind of really intense emotions, right?

KASTE: Those intense emotions are something the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now wants to understand better. It's funding research into how kids in rural areas relate to guns. Washington State University associate professor Elizabeth Weybright is part of that effort.

ELIZABETH WEYBRIGHT: The adolescents who we spoke to seemed to understand the rules.

KASTE: But she says even though kids know the rules, they admit that they don't all follow them.

WEYBRIGHT: I would say the two more unacceptable things that emerged were carrying a handgun for neither self-defense or recreation, so really - I don't want to call it aimless, but kind of purposeless carrying, potentially, and then carrying to cause harm or to intimidate.

KASTE: Back at 4-H, Ashley Hall is helping with the CDC's study of kids and guns, and she's eager to see what it finds. In the meantime, her philosophy is one of realism.

HALL: The enthusiasm is already there. They're coming to me already interested in this topic. Firearms, handguns, rifles, hunting, military - all of that stuff exists in this world.

KASTE: And she says her job is to teach them to be adults in the world that they actually live in, not the one she wishes they lived in.

Martin Kaste, NPR News, Seattle.

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