- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 8, 2000

The metallic sound of someone working the action of a gun is not often equated with the crack of a wooden bat smacking a baseball but it should be. Both are wholesome, long-standing traditions in this country. And, as I along with two other editors of this page learned recently, competitive shooting requires the attitude, composure and focus we all should demand of America's youth.
The National Rifle Association, often demonized as uncaring, irrational and close-minded, opened the doors of its gun-safety training programs to this newspaper. Headed to the NRA's Fairfax headquarters, we hoped to learn more about what the NRA did to promote responsible gun ownership. The experience was eye-opening. Guns can be safer than the batting cage, if you follow three simple rules:
1) Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
2) Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3) Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
In case we forgot, the NRA had these rules printed on the back of the laminated security badges we got before being allowed on the range.
The NRA is often seen as a lobbying group, but its primary focus is on shooting sports. That means encouraging proper gun use. Nationwide, the NRA has certified 35,000 gun safety instructors. Last year, those instructors trained about 700,000 people in gun-safety. The Eddie Eagle program, which tells young children who find a gun not to touch it and to run and tell an adult, had trained more than 13 million students as of May.
The NRA hasn't been shy about spending money on gun safety. Over the last 10 years, the organization spent more than $100 million on all its gun safety programs. This includes courses tailored to rifles, shotguns and pistols as well as black powder and a course geared to gun safety in the home. Out of this sum, the NRA spent $20 million alone on the Eddie Eagle program a program now in danger because many anti-gunners cannot stand the idea of the NRA teaching gun safety to public school students.
The NRA is serious when it comes to gun safety. "Does anyone here have any live ammunition of any sort?" one instructor asked, before we even sat down for the abridged gun safety training program. "We have several guns in this room that we will be handling, and there is to be no live ammunition just these dummy cartridges," he said as he held what appeared to be ammunition painted blazing orange.
Normally, a gun safety course takes at least 14-hours. The NRA certified instructor goes over the first three rules of gun safety (spelled out above) and adds seven more to the list. They range from making sure the gun is undamaged and safe to use to not using alcohol when handling a gun. Other rules include wearing eye and ear protection and storing the guns in a safe location. All these rules sound like common sense, and they are. But the NRA wants gun owners to practice them so they become habitual. In our case the instructors personally went over the safe handling of every type of pistol and long gun (including letting us handle each), then required us to take a written exam before letting us on the range.
"If a gun accident occurs, it is because one of the first three rules were broken," and often many of the other rules as well, the three instructors leading our course repeated at various times.
Proper gun-use courses are nothing new to the NRA; it has been running them since the organization was founded in 1871. In those days several military officials were revolutionizing firearms training. Many officers were shaken by the Civil War and believed the war might have been shorter if Union soldiers had more training before reaching the battlefield. Consequently, the NRA's first courses were for American soldiers in how to care for, clean and shoot a firearm. This also included proper gun safety, for reasons that would be obvious to anyone watching scores of newly minted soldiers bunched up on the firing range.
Guns are a part of American culture. More than 60 million Americans own an estimated 200 million firearms. Thousands of students compete each year in shooting matches, one of the only sports where men and women compete against each other on equal footing. Kelly Mansfield of the University of Alaska Fairbanks beat out several male competitors to win her second national air rifle competition last March. Her teammate Matt Emmons placed second in the small bore rifle category to Nicole Allaire from the University of Nebraska. In a less glorious statistic, firearms are estimated to be used 2.5 million times a year in self-defense; the situations range from attempted rape and assault to common robberies.
If the NRA's attackers succeed in diminishing the role filled by that organization and its 3.8 million members, as well as in purging guns from the proudest corners of the culture, who would step in to teach gun safety to America's gun owners?

Brendan Miniter is an editor for the Commentary pages of The Washington Times.

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