Shooting sports for children? I'm sure the idea sends a shockwave through some people's bodies that convulses into a mental smattering of Columbine High School, or something like that. And I understand that perspective.
Though many people's first memory of seeing a gun pointed at a human was a gun held by a cowboy fighting in a shoot-out in a high plains, Western town, I think the reality of gun sensitivity in American culture is grounded in an urban setting.
In the city, aside from the random Ernest Hemingway "wanna be," guns are held by police officers and criminals and have only one purpose. For the peace-loving residents who own a gun in the city and don't hunt, aside from the possible enjoyment they might find in firing it at a range, the gun is usually for protection against violence.
If that's all anyone knew about guns, then the only rational conclusion is to find a way to get rid of all guns.
That perspective looks ethnocentric in Routt County, where the Western culture seeps out of the wooden sidewalks. In the rural West, there is no better place to understand that a rifle is plainly a hunting tool, in the right hands.
But rifles are dangerous. That's why a 4-H shooting club is a good thing, especially with the guys running the club here in Routt County. The instructors go out of their way to ensure that each shooter is trained in gun safety.
Plus, from what I've seen, these kids take this seriously. They know that guns are dangerous and I believe they are empowered by being given the responsibility to shoot a rifle. That builds character and self-security.
Furthermore, guns are present in the United States, no matter how you feel about it. And they will be for a long time because I don't see the government scrapping its weapons, and I don't know many American citizens who would let someone with guns take their rifles away.
Sometime in every child's life, they will be handed a gun, or have a friend handed a gun, by someone other than the child's parent.
As shooting coach Lou Gabos explained, the child who is trained in gun safety can recognize a potentially dangerous situation.
They can recognize if the action is cocked and if the gun is loaded. They know it isn't cool to point a gun at a person, even if it isn't loaded.
They know if the safety mechanism is on; they know not to put their finger on the trigger; and they recognize when someone else is not trained in gun safety.
And as south Routt shooting coach Bernerd Knott explained, they also know that a gun isn't an evil, terrible thing.