Images from the website of Keystone Sporting Arms, via MotherJones
Mother Jones recently ran a piece about Keystone Sporting Arms, the company that made and sold the child’s rifle used by a 5-year-old in the accidental shooting of his sister last week. The story is accompanied by images from the company’s “kid’s corner” photo gallery. Children, mostly girls, ranging in age from about 4 months to 14 years are shown posing with their rifles or proudly pointing to paper targets or dead animals.
But when I look at these pictures, I don’t see Future Gun Nuts of America but rather young people who are working to master a skill that takes a challenging amount of responsibility. These kids probably feel very good to be trusted with something potentially deadly– and satisfied when they use it properly. I know this probably a controversial stance but I see teaching an elementary schooler to correctly store, care for, and shoot a rifle as not too far from teaching a 4 year old how to chop carrots (not to mention this 11-month-old using a machete). Giving kids responsibility and challenging them in a safe environment with child-appropriate tools is probably a good thing.
That said, I don’t think it is appropriate to market firearms directly to children. But that is mostly because I don’t think products should be marketed to children at all. In 1980, the Canadian province of Quebec banned advertising aimed at youth under the age of 13 with a 1989 Supreme Court Ruling that “advertising directed at young children is per se manipulative. Such advertising aims to promote products by convincing those who will always believe.” Adult consumers have enough trouble parsing the constant bombardment of ads. I don’t think that most children are adept at separating marketing fiction from fact.
That said, The New York Times‘ coverage of the guns-marketed-to-youth trend is a undeniably chilling. Dr. Jess P. Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, is quoted in the NYT story saying that
young people are naturally impulsive and that their brains “are engineered to take risks,” making them ill suited for handling guns. “There are lots of ways to teach responsibility to a kid,” Dr. Shatkin said. “You don’t need a gun to do it.”