Tragic lapse in judgment

EDITOR:

This is to the masses that are blaming either guns or current policy for the events in Arizona in which a 9-year-old student fatally shot her firearms instructor.

The complaint that is being circulated is that a child should not be able to handle a firearm until they are 18 years of age. My simple response is: Why would we rely on the government and laws to take the place of parents and good judgement?

We had the same argument here in Michigan about the lowering of the age for Hunters Education and the ability to hunt for youth not long ago.

A good example is my own household. My daughter, Katherine Erickson, pulled her first trigger at age 3. She won her first pistol championship, in the womans division, at age 7. She harvested her first deer when she was 9 years old. She is currently 11 years old and second place in the state of Michigan with a rifle for 4H.

None of this would have been possible if the law said she could not handle a firearm until 18 or if she could not hunt till age 14. She would have missed out on a huge part of her day to day life to this point. I am thankful for the laws the way they are. They allow me as a parent the discretion to do what I see fit. It’s called freedom.

There is no law that says you must have your child shoot and at a specific age. That being said, it is the parents’ responsibility to know when that child is ready. This is something that you can not push. My son is six years old and is not ready yet. I refuse to push this issue or “challenge” him to do more than he is ready for. That is my job as a parent. I do not need the government to confine me to statues that may not be in his or my best interest.

My other responsibility is as a certified firearms instructor. If the judgement of the parents is questionable then it is my job as an instructor to do the right thing. Not only for safety but for the student also. Every parent thinks their child is the next Olympic shooter. They all want their child to run before they walk. I make it a point to start at the beginning and set a foundation of safety first.

Then we progress to fundamentals. Finally we move to performance and the competition aspect of shooting. All the while progressing but always reviewing the foundation of safety. It is my job to know where my student is in that progression.

To allow a 9-year-old who has never shot before to operate a full auto (one trigger pull and the firearm keeps firing until the trigger is released or empty) is not a wise decision. I hate to “Monday-morning quarterback” this issue but most firearms instructors will tell you that when the human body is excited or scared it tenses up. That tensing will cause the hand to grip tighter including the finger that is on the trigger.

For that reason 4H shooting sports mandates that only one round of ammunition is allowed in the firearms at any time. Mandates like that still allow the youth student to learn the skill but also give guidelines to an instructor that may not have the best judgement.

Having a piece of paper that says “certified instructor” does not guarantee that person has any common sense. What we saw in Arizona was a failure of the parents and a failure of the instructor. A true tragedy if you would.

In closing, it may have been a great story to tell. The nine year old was going to go back to school and tell her classmates what she did this past summer. “I shot a full auto Uzi submachine gun while on vacation in Arizona.” For a kid from New Jersey that would be an awesome story to tell considering New Jersey has some of the most restrictive firearms laws in the United States.

Now this poor girl will have to live with the fact that she has taken a human life. She was there for the cast off blood spatter and witnessed the mystery of life right in front of her. She will forever know that someone’s life was cut short and by her hand.

The parents will have to answer to those nightmares that are sure to come. The instructor: He simply had a lapse of judgement. He made a mistake. Sadly in this line of work mistakes are normally paid for with blood or lives.

Please remember just because there is no law against it does not mean it is a good idea. Please put safety first.

Anthony Erickson

Firearms Instructor

Kingsford