Atheist Scruples: how old should a kid be before killing something?

When I was in junior high school or thereabouts, my eldest cousin was down visiting and his kids and I were playing upstairs at my Grandpa’s. The boy was 4 or so at the time and poking around in the closet. He found one of my uncle’s rifles that had been stashed up there and started swinging it around. His sister and I scrambled into a spare room and held the door shut while hollering at the top of our lungs for my cousin to get up there and rescue us from doom. The boy was adamant: “But there’s no bombs in it!” but there was no way to know for sure until my cousin and uncle could get the .22 away from him and check. I don’t know if he tried to pull the trigger. I don’t think my uncle was the type to leave loaded weapons around the house but being a farm, it may have seemed sensible to keep something close to hand. Only my uncle and grandfather lived on the land by that point and might have also forgotten the gun was up there.

Today’s question is somewhat timely — but only because rarely a day goes by between stories of a kid killing someone with a gun he or she didn’t know how to use and maybe shouldn’t have been touching in the first place.

Your father-in-law wishes to take your 12-year-old son hunting. Do you permit it?

Yes, because my father-in-law is a rational man who uses a bow and would make damned sure his grandson wasn’t stupid with it. He may not even be allowed to use it, but instead be forced to stay behind everyone that does until he’s taken a proper class in how to use one.

And the Man and I would also go – not so we can kill things, but because I haven’t used a bow and arrow since high school and I’ve been wanting to try it again in a target practice scenario. I recall it was pretty fun to aim carefully and let loose. Memory may fail me, I think I was pretty good at the time. All of the three times I tried it…

More recent story in mind here: the nine year old girl who shot her gun instructor with an Uzi. The children of the dead man released a video recently urging her to move on with her life and not let it cripple her future.

“You are only 9 years old,” Tyler, one of Vacca’s sons, says in the video. “We think about you. We are worried about you. We pray for you. And we wish you peace. Our dad would want the same thing.”

The 9-year-old girl dropped the gun after the fatal shot was fired, telling her mother that “the gun was too much for her,” according to a report released by the Mohave County Sheriff’s Department.

Time Magazine weighed in on this, taking the “kids should use guns” side.

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.

Points for improving concentration but you know what? They could also take up darts or bowling or golf and also improve concentration and marksmanship. It ain’t that easy to get a triple twenty, a perfect game or a hole in one.

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.

Let kids shoot tiny missiles traveling 2,500 feet per second but take away the lawn darts before anyone else gets killed. There seems to be something of a safety disconnect going on.

What’s the push for gun use at a young age really about? That’s the question I’d want to ask.

I don’t really think it’s about concentration and letting kids feel grown up. That’s what Solitaire and Han Solo are for. What games and imagination are for.

I don’t think kids that young should be allowed to use real guns. 12, like the age in the question, may be old enough but it’s going to also depend on the maturity level of the kid at that age. Some kids at 18 shouldn’t be handed a loaded weapon either.

The Daily Beast points to other news reports lately that illustrate how common it is for people to get shot on gun ranges – especially adults who are supposedly sensible and trustworthy and fully able to concentrate. And I quote…

Since the incident with the 9-year-old that attracted so much media attention, there have been at least five shootings at gun ranges—three accidental and two intentional—that resulted in three deaths and three injuries. In the last two weeks alone, a 65-year-old man accidentally shot and killed himself at a Massachusetts range; a 67-year-old man accidentally shot himself in the hand at a Maine range; Timothy Ramsuer Jr., 29, committed suicide with a gunshot to the head in front of witnesses at a Virginia range; two men were shot and injured at a Florida range during a failed attempt to unjam a 9-millimeter semiautomatic handgun; and a Georgia man fled to a gun range where he shot and killed himself after fatally stabbing his ex-wife.

There’s more in the article, and many links to these and other news stories along these lines.

Thoughts? Where do you sit on this issue?

(edited to add: People posting pictures of their kids with guns – what’s up with that?)

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