After we got over our first shock, that there still is a Time magazine, we had the second shock from Mas recommending the article. Then, we got to the article, where the title was Shock Number 3, or maybe in deserves a Super-Bowl size Roman Numeral: Super Shock III. The title:
Letting Kids Shoot Guns Is Good for Them, by Dan Baum. 28 Aug 2014.
Holy Schnikeys. He said what? In Time magazine? That’s the equivalent of T-34s on Unter den Linden, as a marker of victory in the culture war. That’s the title, though. Was it meant sarcastically? Did the deck row it back? It did not, forsooth:
Marksmanship builds concentration, confidence and trust.
Holy — we said that already. But seriously, Baum makes points that we’ve all seen made before, but in The American Rifleman or Shooting Times. The magazine where this column appeared has a long history of bitter and vehement hostility to guns, gun rights, and gun owners, and to read this column was almost disturbing, in its feeling of having escaped its normal place to invade new habitat, like a gator in the Manhattan sewers. But it’s our gator.
Add to that, that Baum writes well, clearly, and persuasively. The occasion of the article was the disaster of a range accident by a child conducting a range experience under the guidance of an instructor who made several fatal errors. You’ve certainly heard of the mishap and heard all the usual arguments about it, but Baum takes a radically different tack for someone in the legacy media. A short taste of his argument near the leading edge of the article:
Shooting a rifle accurately requires children to quiet their minds. Lining up the sights on a distant target takes deep concentration. Children must slow their breathing and tune into the beat of their hearts to be able to squeeze the trigger at precisely the right moment. Holding a rifle steady takes large-motor skills, and touching the trigger correctly takes small motor skills; doing both at once engages the whole brain. Marksmanship is an exercise in a high order of body-hand-eye-mind coordination. It is as far from mindless electronic diversion as can be imagined.
Other activities build skills and concentration, too — archery, calligraphy, photography, painting — but shooting guns is in a class by itself precisely for the reason highlighted by last week’s accident: it can be deadly.
A single-shot .22, while easier to control than an Uzi, can kill you just as dead. So how can such rifles possibly be appropriate for use by children? Again, context is everything. Under proper instruction, shooting is a ritual. You do this for this reason and that for that reason, and you never, ever alter the process, because doing so is a matter of life and death. Learning to slow down and go through such essential steps can be valuable developmentally. The very danger involved gets children’s attention, as it would anybody’s. But there’s an added benefit to teaching children to shoot: it’s a gesture of respect for a group that doesn’t often get any.
It’s not terribly long, so do click over and Read The Whole Thing™. It’s a very insightful and remarkable article — one that may be better to the similar ones we’ve seen in our niche publications, and it will be read by a lot of grey-haired voters who otherwise get their news from the dim light of a TV screen.
It is all the more remarkable in that Baum is not a “gun guy,” and is an opponent of armed self defense and a supporter of gun owners. Here he is on his home ground, in Mother Jones:
The NRA is a catastrophe for the country. It’s a catastrophe for gun owners because the face that the NRA puts on gun owners is an angry, intransigent, male, extremist, frightening scowl. It makes non-gun owners think anyone that owns a gun is that way because they are the only people who speak. It wasn’t always like this. The NRAgot taken over in 1977, and used to be a marksmanship and safety organization. This is a relatively recent phenomenon, and it’s a hideous organization.
Part of it may be an old white guy sense that the world is coming apart because old guys used to run the world and now they feel like they run the world no longer. So they just have to believe the chaos is real, and I think that could well be part of it. I think in many cases the desire to carry the gun comes first and later comes the belief that crime is out of control to justify carrying the gun.
The only thing that’s standing between a bunch of sportsmen together at a range enjoying a nice afternoon pursuing their hobby and a mass killing the whole country will be grieving over is the personal choices of the people at the range.
So you see, he’s neither one of us, nor an ally. He supports registration and licensing, and bans on private manufacture, sales and loans, although he opposes “assault-weapon” and magazine bans; and he opposes armed self defense, even in the home. He himself says he has a, “liberal collectivist worldview.” So the article in Time is even more remarkable, for it’s an argument against all his natural political and media allies. It is an article it took moral courage to write, and you don’t see that every day.
As to the question of the ill-fated instructor Charles Vacca and the 9-year-old with the Mini Uzi, we haven’t addressed it because we think it’s pretty obvious. Mr Vacca made a couple of terrible errors, and died for it. A terrible tragedy for him and his family, and no doubt he never intended such an outcome. Our guess is that the girl will be fine, in the long run. It wasn’t her fault and no decent human, and especially no firearms instructor, could ever say it was. Kids are pretty resilient, if their grown-ups don’t lose their grip. (How many perfectly normal victims of childhood trauma do you know? The answer probably is, “More than you think.”) As to the various people arguing about “Age 9 is too young for…”, what a bizarre, collective argument. Have you no kids? No nephews or nieces? Hell’s bells, no recollections from your own childhood? One child at 9 is physically strong, another feeble and uncoordinated. One is a sensible instruction-follower, another willful and impulsive. Every child is an individual, and has to be treated as one. Sure, some kids hew close to the median, but not on everything. There are many lessons to be learnt from the mishap, but to us the first is: treat every new shooter as an individual, and trust only after you verify.
Not having a gerontologist to go to, we’ll probably never see an issue of Time again. But to see this there was… otherworldly. It was followed by more common Time content: a puff piece about Hillary!, an article following the yoga twists of the Administration’s leading-from-behind Middle East policy, and praising its brilliance with the dewy-eyed fanboy fervor of a Wobbly following Stalin in 1939. So its presence was even more jarring, because it’s not part of an overall change of the tired old rag.