Hawaii Cub Scouts Get to Break the Rules

When we conduct “Camp White Feather” here in the Pacific Northwest, we train dozens of boy scouts to earn their rifle shooting merit badges and we conduct the entire affair with a keen eye on safety, both in the way we conduct the event and how we teach heart-felt safe gun handling habits in the children that participate. We also try very hard not to get the kind of publicity evident in this article.

Enthusiasm for the hands-on event was strong yesterday, as more than 300 boys—mostly ages 7, 8 or 9—participated in what has been an annual tradition for the Cub Scouts and Schofield soldiers since 1968. Other groups were at the half-day camp Tuesday and today.

It's fun to do a shooting camp. I've done so for many years. However, the maturity of seven-year-old boys requires us to be very careful about how we conduct such a camp. We get very few that young, and we trust parents to bring children that are capable of learning and performing the required skills and the required level of skill or safety (from our application form):

Rifle shooting requires Scouts to “concentrate totally and consistently,” block out distractions and “hold the body completely still while firing the shot.” Scouts who have difficulty concentrating, are easily distracted, or have difficulty holding still will have a very difficult time meeting the shooting requirements.

Soldiers, in general, are also held to a very high standard of maturity with firearms when they are being trained. That's why the following pictures from this article surprised me somewhat.

I'm going to use two pictures of the article under “fair use” rules here. They clearly demonstrate unsafe behavior by the scouts and I want to point out why. One of our teaching rules is “never demonstrate an incorrect technique” but these two photos need comment. They were photographed by Cindy Ellen Russell of the Honolulu Star Bulletin and published in the above article.

Kids running with guns, Cindy Ellen Russell, Honolulu Star Bulletin

We try hard to avoid activities that lead to the photos in that article. The top one, clearly showing children running with M-16s, shows rifles pointed in an unsafe direction, and the possibility of a finger or two on a trigger when it's obvious they are not shooting. We do conduct safe gun handling exercises where kids hold guns, and pass them to one another, and never do we see guns pointed in unsafe directions or with little fingers on the trigger.

Kid pointing gun at photographer, Cindy Ellen Russell, Honolulu Star Bulletin

In this picture, it's clear that a kid is point a gun in an unsafe direction, at the camera person! We never allow parents go down range to take pictures like this (and someone always wants to), and we never let kids aim at a person, or a person-like target. We never let anyone go downrange when someone is near a firearm.

When we teach kids how to earn their merit badges we talk about and demonstrate safety for a whole day. Hitting the target and improving skills comes after a demonstrated understanding of the three rules we should always follow when handling firearms:

  • Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction
  • Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot
  • Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use

I understand that most soldiers don't like what they consider to be bureaucratic nonsense and may not understand the single-minded pursuit of shocking imagery common in journalism, but the above two pictures are more damaging to teaching kids how to use firearms responsibly than they are evidence of fun. The soldiers will say that the guns were unloaded, and military discipline on ammunition is pretty good. However, most of the world is not a military camp, and the actions shown above can lead to firearms accidents.

(Hat tip to Alphecca, who pointed to the article here.)

Josh Poulson

Posted Friday, Dec 30 2005 09:33 AM

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There are 3 comments on this entry.

Both of those photos bother me as well. My late father, taught his children young (I was 5 at the time) that guns were not for play. My father grew up in the midwest where it was acceptable to hunt and where gun safety is taught at a young age. He taught that to me and my brother.

Now, I dont have any guns in my home and do not intend to get one anytime soon. My children at this point have not been taught to fire a gun Though my son will be in Scouting in a few years, I know that they do not take them at the age that the boys in the article are taken.

I hope that the attention that this article is bringing, enlightens those who put this activity together, to think better about the age groups allowed. This is clearly inappropriate and further consideration should be given.


Posted Friday, Dec 30 2005 05:00 PM

Playing soldiers is part of boyhood
As soon as I saw the pictures of Cub Scouts having fun playing with the National Guard in last Thursday's paper of the Honolulu Star*bulletin, I knew someone would write a letter complaining about it (Star-Bulletin, Jan. 1). There's nothing immoral about boys pretending to be soldiers protecting our country from the bad guys, and there's nothing immoral about guns in general. The immoral component comes into play when guns are used irresponsibly or for illegal purposes.

Most boys are fascinated with guns, so directing this interest by teaching them the proper use and respect of guns would be the responsible way to deal with this issue. Besides, we should be thankful that boys like guns. These soon-to-be-young-men are more likely than women to become the police officers who protect our communities, and will grow up to register for the draft just in case our country needs them to protect our way of life.

As for now, let boys be boys. The pretend world of childhood, from the magic of Santa Claus to having the super powers of Spider-Man, will fade away once they leave the limitless boundaries of child imagination and enter the adult world of responsibility and the real limits of mortality.

Sophie Martens

Sophie Martens

Posted Sunday, Jan 29 2006 03:51 PM

My wife told me of this site and I placed it on my favorite list. As a father of two boys, I’m glad that there remains clubs where boys can be boys. I’m glad that girls aren’t allowed into the boys scouts. Sexual harassment laws and victims reimbursement rights, boys have to watch what they’re saying.

I recently watched a sexual harassment program shown to my son in elementary which portrays preteen boys as sex crazed idiots who impose themselves on vested virgins with snow white dresses. Even on my son’s baseball team there’s a girl who can hit, catch, or run but is protected by Title IX for harassment if any of the boys should take out their frustrations about her poor skills. After the game the boys play football with a Nerf football, but the girl (7yrs) plays with my youngest son (4 yrs) on the play-gym, and they have a great time chasing each other, until her mother, who’s a baseball coach for one of the high schools on the island, forces her to play football with the boys on her team. The boys who were playing rough and having fun suddenly start walking instead of running, and after she drops the ball a couple of times, she sensed the frustration in the boys who don’t say anything, but continue to play half-heartedly or slowly wonder off the field and eventually all end up on the play-gym. I don’t know what’s sadder, the boys who can’t play Nerf football or the girl who was forced to.

I found this blog because I want my youngest son to join cub scouts as soon as possible, but I had to check for age requirements. Boys need a place where they can be boys. And for some reason, boys like guns and swords. I have friends who teach “guns” or whatever you call it. I haven’t shot a gun since 11th grade, but I want my sons to respect guns and not think of it as only toys. My sons learn from a very young age not to touch bottle under the sink, not to touch the stove even when they know that it’s not hot, and not to cross the street without a grown-up. If they can learn to respect simple safety rules, then they can learn how to respect guns as not being toys.

BTW… My brother is in the Hawaii National Guard, and since many are serving in Iraq, there’s a push to recruit high school graduates. I didn’t get into details but he said that most of the time the kids are running around with empty guns, they don’t let them use the blanks that they use for training. I’m sure steps were taken to ensure safety.

David Martens

Posted Sunday, Jan 29 2006 04:33 PM

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