Threatened by long-term declining participation in shooting sports, the firearms industry has poured millions of dollars into a campaign to ensure its future by getting guns into the hands of more, and younger, children.The industry's strategies include giving firearms, ammunition and cash to youth groups; weakening state restrictions on hunting by young children; marketing an affordable military-style rifle for "junior shooters" and sponsoring semiautomatic-handgun competitions for youths; and developing a target-shooting video game that promotes brand-name weapons, with links to the websites of their makers.The pages of Junior Shooters, an industry-supported magazine that seeks to get children involved in the recreational use of firearms, once featured a smiling 15-year-old girl clutching a semiautomatic rifle. At the end of an accompanying article that extolled target shooting with a Bushmaster AR-15 -- an advertisement elsewhere in the magazine directed readers to a coupon for buying one -- the author encouraged youngsters to share the article with a parent. "Who knows?" it said. "Maybe you'll find a Bushmaster AR-15 under your tree some frosty Christmas morning!" (...)Firearms manufacturers and their two primary surrogates, the National Rifle Association of America and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, have long been associated with high-profile battles to fend off efforts at gun control and to widen access to firearms. The public debate over the mass shootings in Newtown, Conn., and elsewhere has focused largely on the availability of guns, along with mental illness and the influence of violent video games.Little attention has been paid, though, to the industry's youth-marketing initiatives. Proponents argue that introducing children to guns can provide a safe and healthy pastime, and critics counter that it is potentially dangerous.The NRA has for decades given grants for youth shooting programs, mostly to Boy Scout councils and 4-H groups. Newer initiatives by other organizations go further, seeking to introduce children to high-powered rifles and handguns while invoking the same rationale of those older programs: that firearms can teach "life skills" like responsibility, ethics and citizenship.Still, some experts in child psychiatry say that encouraging youthful exposure to guns is asking for trouble. Dr. Jess Shatkin, the director of undergraduate studies in child and adolescent mental health at New York University, said that young people's brains "are engineered to take risks," making them ill suited for handling guns. "There are lots of ways to teach responsibility to a kid," Shatkin said. "You don't need a gun to do it."Steve Sanetti, the president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said it was better to instruct children in the safe use of a firearm through hunting and target shooting. The shooting sports foundation, the tax-exempt trade association for the gun industry, is a driving force behind many of the newest youth initiatives. Its national headquarters is in Newtown, just a few miles from Sandy Hook Elementary School, where Adam Lanza, 20, used his mother's Bushmaster AR-15 to kill 20 children and six adults last month. Its $26 million budget is financed mostly by gun companies, associated businesses and the industry's annual trade show, said its latest tax return.
Every gun in the hands of a child must first pass through the hands of an adult.