SALT LAKE CITY (ABC 4 News) - Embedded in the hot debate over guns is the question whether children should be taught to shoot.
All too often, there are tragic results when kids and guns are combined.
From Columbine to Sandy Hook, we have seen the horrible images of what guns do when in the wrong hands. No less tragic are the occasional accidents where a child finds a gun and thinks it is a plaything.
But there are also other images of kids and guns. These images are different. They come from gun ranges where parents and even grandparents are teaching kids how to properly handle and shoot a weapon.
Other images are of families taking a Hunter Safety Course offered by the state of Utah. Successful completion of such a course is required before a young hunter can get a license or hunt small game.
On one evening, we found Kirk Barton and two of his granddaughters, Cienna and Chambrae, at a class at the Lee Kay Public Shooting Range. "I've been practicing shooting up at my grandparents cabin," said Chambrae. "And he wants to get us more gun safe." 12 year old Cienna added, "More kids need to learn about safety so there are less accidents."
Coursework takes 12 hours and emphasizes safety. It also includes shooting on the range. In fact, to receive a certificate, the young hunter must pass a both written and shooting tests.
Utah has no minimum age requirement for hunters. It is left to parents to decide when and if a child should be introduced to shooting sports.
But is it right for every child? Douglas Goldsmith, Ph.D. and Executive Director of the Salt Lake Children's Center, warns a gun should not be put in the hands of every child. "We don't have a way to predict those 5,6 or 10 kids in that group who are going to struggle with that in a different way -- who are already struggling with aggression," Goldsmith said.
And for those who are taught to shoot, Goldsmith recommends that instruction not end with the shooting range. Kids should also hunt. He explained, "When children go hunting, they are exposed to the realities of what a gun can do. They're exposed to seeing an animal bleeding and they gain therefore a respect for that gun."
Kirk Barton is comfortable with that. He hunted as a child, and hopes now to pass along the skill to another generation. Even so, he is the first to admit that that most of his grandkids have shown little interest in guns - only Cienna and Chambrae.
Beyond their classroom experience, Kirk is teaching his granddaughters how to care for the weapon and sharpen their shootings skills.
And he wants to teach them respect.
Respect for a weapon that is part of our western culture.
Respect for a weapon that in the wrong hands can do much harm.