It was 30 years ago when I first took firearms safety as a 12-year old. Notice how I mentioned I FIRST took firearms safety. That’s right…during the years since I first stepped into a firearms safety class as a youth, I have voluntarily refreshed the class as recently as 12 years ago as an adult. Why? Because the fact is you are never too old or too experienced handling guns to forget the all-important lessons learned from this class.
Today I was reminded of that experience when a good friend of mine, John Maki, stopped by to visit me in my office. You see, John is one of the local volunteer firearms safety instructors and for the past two years I have donated a plaque recognizing an outstanding youngster from his most recent training class. While the award certainly recognizes a youngster and their classroom achievement…it also gives the local sportsman’s club a chance to get some valuable publicity in promoting this vital community training.
After John left my office I started to think about all these tireless volunteers from around the country who spend their free time passing on these critical and very necessary gun skills. To many kids, this is the first introduction they will have to conservation practices as well as to the proper handling of firearms. These instructors are burdened with the awesome responsibility of inspiring the youth of today into becoming the safe, gun-handling adults of tomorrow. For most people, it may be their first and the last time they are ever exposed to formal education in the proper handling techniques of firearms. Indeed, it takes a special instructor to impact a person’s life so effectively that they recognize and maintain these important lessons over a lifetime.
I pay tribute to John because 30 years ago he was also one of my firearms safety instructors. I can vividly remember sitting in his class as if it happened just yesterday with him talking about compound bows and the many wonders of hunting with archery equipment. I dare say there are few other classes from school I can recall with the same mental clarity…but when it came to the fun lessons of becoming a responsible youth learning about the outdoors and the equipment hunters use…I was all eyes and ears for the lessons he taught. John’s message not only captured my attention, but the skills he was carefully promoting also captured my imagination for how I saw myself developing as a sportsman hunter.
Even though many kudos can certainly be paid to folks like John and thousands of dedicated instructors like him from across the country…this message is not solely about his individual efforts. Instead, I want to emphasize how the hunting community as a whole owes this special fraternity of volunteer firearms safety instructors a debt of gratitude for doing the work we often take for granted. Firearms safety training, from the perspective of the instructor, takes a patience and skill in relating to youth that is nothing short of commendable, as far as I’m concerned.
When you consider how the typical instructor touches hundreds, if not thousands, of students over their teaching career…it becomes an awesome responsibility. In many ways, this person is the gatekeeper of continuing our unique outdoor heritage. If we fail to introduce the youth of today to the proper handling and understanding of the “tools of the trade,” they can never be expected to fully appreciate and respect the skills necessary to become a safe sportsman.
I might suggest that if you don’t personally know who teaches firearms safety in your community you should make an effort to get to know this person. Offer to be a resource person willing to assist as needed. Even sitting in on the classes when you don’t have to sends a message showing these young, impressionable minds how important firearms safety is no matter at what stage you are at in your hunting career.
No doubt about it 30 years ago when John described his passion for bowhunting he planted a seed in my mind on that day that continues to grow even as of today. I doubt he fully realized it at the time…and probably doesn’t comprehend just how important that effort was even today. But every budding sportsman needs a good mentor as a role model…and I believe for most youth it begins with the very capable instructors in the firearms safety class…and then later it continues with the family and the friends who must constantly reinforce each of those safety lessons once learned.
FOR MORE INFORMATION
International Hunter Education Association (features links to all state programs)
© 2005 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction Without Prior Permission.