TIME Guns

Gun Control Groups See Future in State Ballot Initiatives

Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York.
Hundreds of demonstrators march across the Brooklyn Bridge to call for tougher gun control laws, Saturday, June 14, 2014, in New York. John Minchillo—AP

A victory in Washington state could be a template for other states in 2016

Despite a Republican takeover of the U.S. Senate, gun control advocates celebrated Wednesday on the heels of a major ballot measure victory in Washington state, which they say offers a new road map for enacting new guns laws around the country.

The new national strategy is to largely bypass Congress, where recent gun control efforts have gotten little traction even in the wake of the 2012 mass shooting in Newtown, Conn. Instead, gun control activists say they are redirecting their attention and money to states—and to voters directly. Although votes are still being counted, it appears that a 2014 ballot initiative in Washington state expanding gun sale background checks will pass with a comfortable margin.

Appealing to voters through ballot initiatives has helped advance other progressive causes in recent years, including minimum wage increases and the legalization of medical marijuana. It’s a lesson gun control advocates have taken to heart. “I think it does represent a subtle shift,” says Adam Winkler, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles who favors gun control. “What we’re seeing is a renewed effort by gun control advocates to take this issue to the voters directly.”

Gun rights groups, including the National Rifle Association, have dominated the state-level battlefield for the last decade, outspending gun control groups and successfully lobbying to block a variety of new gun laws proposed in legislatures, including those that have widespread public support. But that too may be changing. Gun control groups outspent gun rights groups 5-1 in Washington state this year, after the National Rifle Association chose not to invest heavily.

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has committed $50 million to the group that led the effort, Everytown for Gun Safety, a coalition of gun control groups formed in the wake of the Newtown massacre. In addition, a pro-gun control political action committee launched by former Congresswoman Gaby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly, raised some $20 million in the 2014 election cycle. (Giffords was shot in the head during a 2011 shooting in Arizona that left six others dead.) These cash infusions have changed the playing field, says Winkler. “Newtown did not lead to new national gun legislation, but it led to new money being committed to gun control,” he says.

Ballot initiatives, like the one in Washington, are expensive, says Brian Malte, of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, which has been working with Everytown in Washington state. “They require a lot of signature gathering, a plan, a strategy, getting out the vote,” says Malte.

The next test of this news strategy is likely to be in Nevada in 2016, unless the state expands gun sales background checks with legislation in the meantime. “If we can pass it in the legislature, that’s what we’ll do,” says John Feinblatt, president of Everytown. “If we can’t, we will take it to the people.” (The ballot initiative strategy in Washington was launched after efforts to pass expanded background check laws through the state legislature failed.)

This strategy is a throwback to gun control efforts that sprang up in the wake of the 1999 Columbine school shooting in Colorado. The year after the incident, Colorado and Oregon expanded background checks for sales at gun shows by ballot initiative. But in the intervening decade, the strategy was rarely, if ever, used, in part, because gun control groups couldn’t afford it. “The failure of elected officials to do the right thing on this has caused a lot of people in the movement to prevent gun violence to think creatively about how to better match the will of the people to policy outcomes,” says Zach Silk, campaign manager for the background check initiative in Washington.

Of course, a war chest of donations and built-in public support helps make an initiative successful, which is why gun control advocates are starting their new campaign on issues that poll favorably—like expanded background checks, which Gallup surveys have found are favored by as many as 80 to 90 percent of Americans. Restricting or removing the rights of convicted domestic violence abusers is another issue Everytown is already pushing in various state legislatures, along with new laws to regulate ownership of guns by the mentally ill. In the wake of a recent shooting spree in Santa Barbara County, California recently passed a law allowing family members to petition police and courts to take guns away from individuals who may be unstable.

So are gun rights advocates worried? “The difference now is you’ve got [one of the] richest guys in the world on the other side,” says Dave Kopel, a gun rights advocate and associate policy analyst for the Cato Institute, referring to Bloomberg. Unlike efforts to pass laws through Congress or state legislatures, in which politicians may risk their jobs voting for or against gun laws, “You put something on a ballot initiative and you don’t have people worried about displeasing someone else,” says Kopel.

Not all states allow people to vote directly on issues through ballot initiatives or propositions, meaning gun control groups will also have to lobby state legislators to enact their agenda. These days, though, they have the money to do both.

TIME 2014 Election

Washington Votes on Dueling Gun Control Measures 11 Days After Deadly School Shooting

Washington Marysville Shooting Gun Violence
Students grieve beside a makeshift memorial at Marysville-Pilchuck High School in Marysville, Wash. David Ryder—Getty Images

Gun control is a charged topic in any election, but the issue has taken on extra weight in Washington as voters are being asked to decide on two competing firearms measures on the Nov. 4 ballot just 11 days after a school shooting in the rural city of Marysville left three teenagers dead and three others wounded.

Initiative 594 would expand the state’s background check requirements to cover gun transfers or sales, including those that take place at gun shows or online. The other, Initiative 591, is backed by gun rights advocates and would prohibit the state from requiring background checks that are stricter than those imposed by the federal government. Far more money is behind the measure expanding background checks, and polls show it has more support. Aided by six-figure donations from Bill and Melinda Gates and Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the committees dedicated to passing the expanded background checks initiative have spent more than $10 million promoting it, dwarfing the nearly $2 million spent by groups opposing the measure or pushing the competing one.

A poll conducted by the nonpartisan Elway Research group in early October found that 60 percent of registered voters backed I-594, down from 72 percent in April, while support for the competing measure fell during the same period from 55 percent in April to 39 percent in October. Elway pollsters attributed the declines to voters learning more about the proposals, pointing out that in April 40 percent said they would vote for both measures, which fell to 22 percent in October. (In the unlikely event that both measures pass, effectively canceling each other out, courts would likely decide the final outcome.)

No polls measuring public opinion on the initiatives have been released since the Oct. 24 shooting, but University of Washington political scientist Matt Barreto told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer that the Marysville incident might erode support for the measure that would limit background checks..“The spate of unconscionable school shootings across the country, and now here in Marysville, has left voters ready to take responsible action on gun issues,” Barreto said. “We saw the same thing in 2012-2013 following the Newtown killings.”

Recent high-profile shooting incidents have not always led to tighter gun laws. If anything, getting permission to carry guns in more public spaces is easier than it has been in decades. President Obama’s attempt to harness outrage over the 2012 Newtown, Conn. school massacre into a federal ban on assault weapons went nowhere. States adopted 109 new gun measures in the year after Newtown, according to Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a gun control organization. Seventy of these laws loosened restrictions on guns and gun ownership, in some cases extending the right to carry to school grounds. Such measures were adopted on the belief that more guns in public might prevent future school shootings.

In Washington, supporters of the background check measure acknowledge that the Marysville shooting would likely have happened even if the proposal had been law. Police said the shooter, a 14-year-old high school freshman, used a gun that was legally registered to a family member. But advocates believe that it can help their cause. School shootings, says Zach Silk, the campaign manager for the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, “are very crystalizing for voters. They focus peoples’ minds.”

If so, it’s not clear how many voters will actually be swayed. Residents cast ballots by mail in Washington and many already sent theirs in before the Marysville shooting. “I’m not sure just how much that will have an influence,” says Dave Workman, a spokesman for a citizen’s committee working for the anti-background check measure. “I think we’re just going to see how it shakes out Tuesday night when the ballots come in.”

TIME Law

Supreme Court to Decide Whether Felons Can Sell Their Guns

Case will determine how much "ownership" felons have over their guns

The Supreme Court said Monday that it would decide the case of a convicted felon who attempted to sell his guns or transfer ownership to his wife after he was forced to relinquish them under federal law.

Tony Henderson is a former U.S. Border Patrol Agent who was convicted of felony drug offenses and served six months in prison in 2007. When he was arrested, he gave the FBI his 19 firearms, because felons are not allowed to own weapons. He later attempted to transfer ownership of the guns to his wife or sell them to a third party, which prompted a legal debate as to whether convicted felons relinquish all ownership rights when they turn over their weapons.

A federal judge refused Henderson’s request to transfer ownership, as did an appeals court, which led him to take the case to the Supreme court.

Henderson’s attorney told Reuters that if he doesn’t get the appeal overturned, it would “effectively strip gun owners of their entire ownership interest in significant, lawful household assets following a conviction for an unrelated offense.”

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli, who will argue the government’s case in front of the Supreme Court, says that allowing a felon to sell or transfer ownership of their guns presents a “significant risk” that he or she could still have access to them.

[Reuters]

TIME politics

We Should Treat Gun Violence the Way We Do Cancer and Heart Disease

YouTube / Elliot Rodger

Khawar Siddique, MD, MBA, is a spine surgeon and neurosurgeon.

The so-called “gun violence restraining order” recently passed in California is a commonsense policy that balances the need for public health and doesn't tread on the rights of gun owners

As a neurosurgeon and spine surgeon, I have had a front row seat to gun violence. Whether shot by someone else or self-inflicted, a bullet traveling through the brain and spine can cause extraordinary damage. You can’t put a brain back together. If we do succeed at preserving a life, the victim of gun violence is often left with tragic neurologic deficits such as paralysis, speech problems and cognitive issues.

Prevention is the key to improving health outcomes for gun injury victims. We’ve made great strides in diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes by investing in preventative medicine. Our health care system and our citizens have benefited as a result. Gun violence is no different. We need tools to help prevent gun violence and gun suicide.

Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law a bill that will do just that. The so-called “gun violence restraining order” is a commonsense policy that balances the need for public health and safeguards the rights of gun owners. It answers a basic question we ask ourselves after horrific instances of mass violence or suicide: What could we have done to stop this?

AB-1014, now law, is modeled on the concept of domestic violence protection orders. Just as a woman can seek protection from her abuser in the courts, the law allows family members and key members of the community, like law enforcement, to petition a judge to provide temporary firearms prohibitions for those deemed to be in crisis. Whether protecting against suicide or mass violence, it will save lives.

This problem is not theoretical. There are far too many instances where individuals show signs of impending violence but there are no means to prevent them access to firearms. The recent shooting in Isla Vista is an example where limiting access to guns could have saved lives. Now, with the signing of this law, family members and police officers have legal means to prevent a potentially dangerous person from accessing firearms or ammunition.

Gun violence restraining order laws are wholly consistent with the Second Amendment. As a gun owner myself, I know the worst thing that can happen to our rights is to see irresponsible individuals use them to commit crimes. In the case of these new laws, there must be sufficient evidence for a judge to believe that an individual poses a danger to others or oneself before the gun violence restraining order can be issued. In California, the law would penalize anyone who files a petition with false information or uses a gun violence restraining order to harass another person.

You can pass this commonsense law in your state, too. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun violence prevention group headed by former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, retired astronaut Mark Kelly, has toolkits for state legislators and advocates telling you exactly how to get it done. Gun violence restraining orders will help keep guns out of the hands of individuals proven to be a threat to the community or themselves while ensuring due process for all involved. As a physician, a citizen and a gun-owner, I encourage the legislatures and governors from across this great nation to act boldly and with common sense.

Khawar Siddique, MD, MBA, is a spine surgeon and neurosurgeon who resides in Los Angeles.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Guns

Louisiana Restaurant Owner Gives a Discount to Gun Owners

"I just need to see a weapon"

A local restaurant owner in Louisiana will give a 10 percent discount to any customers that show him their guns—and not the arm muscle kind.

Kevin Cox, owner of Bergeron’s Restaurant in Port Allen, is bucking a corporate trend by encouraging, rather than banning, firearms in his Cajun food establishment. Cox said he’s frustrated with chains like Target, which requested in July that customers not bring their weapons into stores, NBC33 reports.

“I keep hearing so much about people banning guns,” Cox told NBC33. “Target’s banning guns and these people are banning guns. Don’t they realize that that’s where people with guns are going to go? I want to take the opposite approach. How can I make my place safer?”

Cox said some 15 to 20 people take him up on the discount offer every day.

“I just need to see a weapon. I need you to be carrying a gun,” he told NBC33.

[NBC33]

TIME 2014 midterm elections

Drugs, Minimum Wage and Gambling: Inside 2014′s $1 Billion-Plus Ballot Initiatives

Demand for marijuana edibles is pushing several Colorado manufacturers to expand their facilities or move to larger quarters.
Steve Herin, Master Grower at Incredibles, works on repotting marijuana plants in the grow facility on Wednesday, August 13, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. Kent Nishimura—Denver Post via Getty Images

Bored with the midterms? There’s a lot of (expensive) drama on the ballot that doesn’t involve candidates

The 2014 elections are shaping up to be the most expensive in history, not for electoral campaigns, but for ballot initiatives. More than $1 billion has already been spent on them, according to the National Institute of Money in State Politics. And all that money could swing some key races.

Studies have shown controversial ballot initiatives can boost turnout as much as 8% in midterm elections, which typically see lower turnout than polling during presidential elections. Since Oregon first kicked off ballot initiatives in the early 1900’s, the practice has grown steadily — that is, until this year. Despite the increase in spending, 2014 actually has the least number of total initiatives — only 155 in 41 states, down from 188 in 2012—since 1988, reflecting state efforts to limit legislating by ballot.

Some of the millions already spent were intended to keep certain measures off the ballot. In Alaska, for example, oil and gas companies spent $170 per voter to block a bid to raise oil and gas taxes. In Colorado, energy companies also spent millions to keep fracking initiatives off the ticket. Also not making the cut this year: gay marriage and a push to break California into six states that, while strange, gained a lot of attention early on.

Perhaps the main issue on ballots nationwide this cycle is marijuana. Two states — Oregon and Alaska — plus the District of Columbia have initiatives to follow Colorado and Washington in legalizing recreational marijuana. But it’s a push to make Florida the 24th state to legalize medical marijuana that could impact an electoral race. Former Democratic Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s bid to get his old gubernatorial seat back could see a boost from the measure, as left-leaning voters tend to support marijuana reform. Crist allies have already spent $4 million on the initiative with opponents, including incumbent Florida Gov. Republican Rick Scott and Sheldon Adelson, spending $2.5 million to defeat it thus far.

Another big issue is minimum wage, with four red states—Arkansas, Alaska, Nebraska and South Dakota—considering raising the minimum wage. Since 2002, all 10 ballot initiatives to raise state minimum wages have passed, and polling shows these initiatives look like they have good shots at approval as well. The pushes could help embattled Democratic incumbent Senators Mark Pryor in Arkansas and Mark Begich in Alaska.

Colorado Sen. Mark Udall, another Democratic incumbent fighting to keep his seat, is hoping that a personhood amendment —which defines life as beginning from the moment of conception — will help him stick around. His opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, also opposes the amendment, but has voiced support for personhood initiatives in the past, creating an opening Udall has been exploiting. North Dakota has a similar initiative on the ballot, and Tennessee has a measure that would allow the state legislature to amend the state constitution to strip out abortion rights.

However, some of the most expensive ballot issues are not national ones. In California, two initiatives — one to increase the limit of non-economic malpractice damages from $250,000 to $1.1 million and another requiring state approval of changes in insurance rates — could see as much as $100 million in combined spending to sway voters. And Oregon and Colorado have controversial initiatives mandating the labeling of certain foods that contain genetically modified organisms. Last year, companies like Pepsi, Coca Cola and Monsanto spent $22 million defeating a similar push in Washington where proponents spent $9 million trying to pass it.

Oregon also has a controversial immigration initiative that would uphold a law allowing four-year driver’s licenses for those who cannot prove legal presence in the U.S. Another big-spending item is a spate of gambling initiatives in seven states expected to draw more than $100 million, including a hard-fought initiative in Massachusetts that would repeal a 2011 law allowing gambling resorts that would halt construction on sites.

A gun rights conundrum could happen in Washington, which looks poised to pass two initiatives that countermand one another. One would require universal background checks for all guns, and another forbids more extensive background checks than those required at the federal level. Officials say such a situation has never happened before, and no one is sure what would happen if both pass. Also on guns, Alabama is also looking to become the third state after Louisiana and Missouri to pass a “fundamental right to bear arms,” making it harder to restrict firearm access.

Alabama is also seeking to become the eighth state to forbid state’s recognition of laws violating its policies, including all foreign law. This measure is a follow up to a bill introduced by state Sen. Gerald Allen last year that specifically references Sharia law.

Missouri and Connecticut are looking to joining 33 other states and the District of Columbia in early voting.

And, finally, Maine is looking to ban bear baiting, trapping or the use of dogs to hunt bears. Long live Smokey.

TIME politics

How Little Has Changed on Gun Control Since 1967

Lyndon Johnson
President Lyndon Johnson speaks to members of his advisory commission on civil disorders at the group's first meeting on July 29, 1967 at the White House in Washington. WX/AP

Two arguments from Lyndon Johnson and Barack Obama for limitations on gun purchasing, five decades apart

If you want a reminder of how little some things change in American politics, look no further than the modern discussion about gun control. On this day, Sept. 15, all the way back in 1967, President Johnson released a letter to Congress urging both houses to take quick action on gun control. Comparing Johnson’s letter to a more recent presidential text with the same topic — President Obama’s speech last April after Congress failed to pass the post-Sandy Hook gun control bill — reveals how much has stayed the same in how politicians talk about guns during the past five decades.

The most obvious similarity may be, to modern observers, the most surprising. Mass school shootings, like the one that took place in Newtown, Conn., in December of 2012, are often discussed as a tragedy of our time. Video games are blamed, for example, and few accounts refer to events earlier than 1999′s Columbine massacre. But they’re not actually a 21st-century tragedy: on Aug. 1, 1966, Charles Whitman — who appeared on the cover of TIME two weeks later — brought several guns with him to the observation deck of a 307-foot tower at the University of Texas, where he was a student. He killed 13 people and wounded 31 before being shot by police; later, police discovered the bodies of his wife and mother, whom he had killed before coming to campus. The Whitman shooting was the context for Johnson’s urgency when writing to Congress, and that’s the information with which he began his letter.

Then Johnson, like Obama would decades later, clarified that the people the bill in question would affect are people whom nobody wants armed. “There is no excuse,” Johnson wrote, for selling guns to “hardened criminals” and “mental defectives.” Likewise, “we’re talking about convicted felons, people convicted of domestic violence, people with severe mental illness,” Obama said.

Furthermore, both stressed that the bill wouldn’t even change all that much. Here’s Johnson in 1967: “[The bill's] basic approach is to limit out-of-state purchases and interstate mail order sales of firearms.” Here’s Obama in 2013, with a modern take on mail-order problems: “All [the bill] did was extend the same background check rules that already apply to guns purchased from a dealer to guns purchased at gun shows or over the Internet.” (There was one big change here: while both are concerned with gun-buying by mail, Johnson’s bill was much stricter and would have stopped interstate mail order sales altogether.)

Then, both appeal to the law-abiding gun owners. “The measure now before Congress is aimed solely at keeping deadly weapons out of the wrong hands. It interferes neither with sportsmen nor law-abiding citizens with a legitimate need. This legislation will impose no real inconvenience on gun buyers,” in 1967, and “Nobody could honestly claim that [the bill] infringed on our Second Amendment rights,” in 2013.

Finally, both end with an appeal to the safety of “the American people” and a call for Congress to act. And for Johnson, at least, it worked: a Gun Control Act passed in 1968.

Read TIME’s 1968 cover story about guns here, in the archive: The Gun in America

TIME

A Tale of Two 9-Year-Olds: The One on the Playground, and the One With an Uzi

An UZI assault pistol
An UZI assault pistol Terry Ashe—Getty Images

You should be absolutely terrified that a 9-year-old’s constitutional right to fire an Uzi trumps your right to decide at what age your kids can play at the park unsupervised

Parents who allow their 9-year-old to play unsupervised at a playground can be arrested, but handing a nine-year-old an Uzi is perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, that’s not hyperbole. It’s just the sad state of affairs in which we find ourselves, after a 9-year-old New Jersey girl accidentally shot and killed her instructor at a firing range in Arizona. The girl’s parents paid for her to fire a fully automatic machine gun, but she lost control of the weapon and shot her instructor, Charles Vacca, killing the military veteran.

The chilling ordeal was caught on tape, courtesy of the girl’s parents, but Arizona police officials have said no charges will be filed or arrests made. The Mohave County Sheriff’s Office concluded the incident was an “industrial accident,” and have contacted the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to investigate, according to published reports.

Let’s compare that to a story from earlier this summer, regarding a different 9-year-old, one in South Carolina.

Debra Harrell is a working mother who faces a common problem for parents when school lets out for the summer: finding affordable child care. The McDonald’s employee couldn’t afford to have someone watch her 9-year-old daughter, so the girl was playing on her laptop in the restaurant during her mother’s shifts. However, when that laptop was stolen from their home, Harrell armed her daughter with a cell phone in case of an emergency and let her go unsupervised to an area playground. Another parent noticed the girl there alone and contacted the police, at which point Harrell was arrested and charged with child neglect. If convicted, she faces up to 10 years behind bars.

Is anyone else absolutely scared to death of the horrendous message we’re sending to parents?

Regarding the incident in Arizona, we’re talking about two parents who willingly paid $200 to put a fully automatic weapon in the hands of their 9-year-old daughter. This poor girl, who should’ve been learning to shoot with a .22 rifle or some other weapon she could handle (if indeed she had to learn to fire a gun) was given an Uzi capable of firing up to 600 rounds per minute—creating a recoil difficult for some adults to handle.

And the scariest part? The firing range has a minimum age of eight years old to fire such weapons – one year younger than the girl who is now surely scarred for life. The terrible judgment of the New Jersey parents (combined with the operators of the firing range to allow kids that young to fire Uzis) directly contributed to a man’s death. That stands in stark contrast to Harrell’s troubles in South Carolina.

Instead of a loaded weapon, Harrell armed her daughter with a phone, and sent her to a playground with lots of other kids and adults. The only shooting that took place was the cool water from a splash pad and some hoops on the basketball courts. There were even volunteers who came by the playground with free snacks. While perhaps not ideal since Harrell was at work, she sent her daughter to a family-friendly place with an environment geared toward fun and summertime frivolity. The same kind of place I routinely rode my bike to at the age of nine.

Yet Harrell is the one arrested. Who lost her job. Who spent 17 days in jail, temporarily lost custody of her daughter, and faces 10 years in prison.

So, when considering charges for the neglect of a child, playgrounds seem to be a greater threat in the eyes of the law than guns. And that is a travesty.

Wherever you fall in this country’s ongoing debate about guns and gun control, this should upset you. It should infuriate you. It should alert you to our disturbingly warped gun culture, and should be more than enough proof that change is desperately needed. And parents, let me state this unequivocally: It is never acceptable to let your 9-year-old fire an Uzi. Never. Under any circumstances.

Harrell’s detractors claim someone could’ve kidnapped her daughter at the playground, which is true. But while there is a low risk of child abduction at a public playground in broad daylight, it pales in comparison to the risks involved with letting a 9-year-old fire a machine gun. So please stop referencing the 2nd amendment, because I’m certain our Founding Fathers weren’t contemplating the benefits of letting children fire hundreds of rounds per minute when they drafted the right to bear arms.

If you’re a parent, you should be absolutely terrified that a 9-year-old’s constitutional right to fire an Uzi trumps your right to decide at what age your kids can play at the park unsupervised.

Something has to change. Now.

Aaron Gouveia is a husband, father of two boys, and writes for his site, The Daddy Files.

TIME U.S.

Letting Kids Shoot Guns Is Good for Them

170144639
kali9—Getty Images

Marksmanship builds concentration, confidence and trust

It’s a terrible time to say this, right after a 9-year-old girl killed her instructor with an Uzi, but shooting guns can be great for kids.

Of course, there’s shooting and there’s shooting. Handing a loaded submachine gun to a small child is patently crazy. Sadly, Charles Vacca, the instructor in Arizona, both paid for that mistake with his life and inflicted on the unnamed girl a life sentence of horror and regret. Lest anybody think that the gun-owning and gun-rights communities are defending Vacca’s judgment, rest assured that they’re not. I watch the gun blogosphere as part of my work, and even the most hard-core gunnies are appalled and infuriated.

What the shooting community worries about is that people will conflate this tragedy with proper marksmanship training for children. A lot happens in a good shooting class before a kid touches a gun. The first class often involves nothing but drilling on the rules of gun safety. When it comes time to shoot, that’s done prone, for stability, and the guns are long-barreled, single-shot .22s with minimal recoil. Kids are given one cartridge at a time, and any deviation from the rules — a muzzle moving in the wrong direction, a finger on the trigger too early — stops the whole class for more drilling. Compare that to an unschooled 9-year-old in standing position with a short-barreled, full-auto gun and a magazine holding 32 rounds of powerful, 9mm ammunition. It’s the difference between leading a child in circles on the back of a docile pony and sending her alone around a track on the back of a thoroughbred.

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.

Invite a child to learn how to shoot and the message is: I trust your ability to listen and learn. I trust your ability to concentrate. I welcome you into a dangerous adult activity because you are sensible and trustworthy. For young people accustomed to being constrained, belittled, ignored and told “no,” hearing an adult call them to their higher selves can be enormously empowering. Children come away from properly conducted shooting lessons as different people, taller in their shoes and more willing to tune into what adults say.

While traveling around the country talking to gun owners, I met several who told me that when their teenage sons or daughters were going “off the rails” — drinking, experimenting with drugs and getting poor grades — they started taking them shooting. The very counterintuitive nature of the invitation — giving guns to druggies? — snapped the children into focus. The chance to do something as forbidden and grownup as shooting overcame their resistance to spending time with dad or mom. The discipline and focus that marksmanship required, combined with its potential lethality, not only brought these adolescents back from self-destructive habits but deepened the bonds of trust between them and their parents.

Again, it has to be done right. You don’t buy a girl a rifle and let her keep it in her room; you keep it locked up and let her use it only under supervision. You don’t let a boy new to shooting touch a gun until he’s been well schooled in the safety rules. You don’t ever let people shoot guns they can’t handle. But when done right, marksmanship training can be just what a young mind and spirit needs.

Dan Baum is the author, most recently, of Gun Guys: A Road Trip.

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