The blogosphere, forums and general interwebs have been a-buzzing in the past week over news that a nine year old girl accidentally shot her Instructor whilst shooting an Uzi set to fully automatic in Texas.

This has instantly spurred the usual outpourings from both of the highly-polarised American lobby brigades, on one side asking what sort of idiot gives a nine year old an Uzi, and on the other stressing that this is highly unusual. Of course here in the UK you can’t have an Uzi, or even a pistol – bar the Long Barrelled Free Pistols, converted Buckmarks and the Black Powder and Muzzle Loaders.

So does that mean we having nothing to learn from it? That this is an isolated American incident that could only happen at a place called “Bullets and Burgers”?

I don’t believe so. As someone who shot at University I enjoyed the experience of the Fresher’s Fayre, in which some 5000 fresh faced new students poured past our Rifle Club’s stand over the course of 8 hours, which means you meet a lot of people.

Some didn’t like shooting, some did. An amazing number had shot at some point in their past, whether that was Air Rifle with the Scouts, Air Pistol with the Pony Club, Cadet Shooting, shooting at home – perhaps on the farm, or target shooting ran in the family, whether Rifle or Clays. One year I even met a young lady from Surrey who had spent her childhood summers working as a target marker at Bisley. She wasn’t too interested in seeing life from the noisy end. Fair enough.

One recurring theme however was the number of people who had tried it, and didn’t like it. Of those who I managed to engage for more than a second, the overwhelming story seemed to be that they had been given a 12 bore shotgun and been scared off, frequently with a big bruise on their shoulder.

This is not an attack on shotgun shooters. There are far more SGC holders than FAC holders, and many more shotguns in “informal” settings – farmers with a clay pigeon trap for practice and leisure who offer to give friends a go, so naturally more people will be introduced to shooting through shotguns than through rifle or pistol, but conversely there is risk for inadvertant harm.

 

In the case of the girl in Texas, the Uzi itself, or the power of the cartridge was not the problem. Had she been shooting the Uzi from a sandbag in the Prone position, or even a .50calibre machine gun on a tripod no particular risk would have been posed. Prone on a sandbag is a nice controlled position whatever you’re doing, and even a heavy machinegun becomes manageable when the weight and recoil are taken by a supporting frame, with limiting stops that prevent it swivelling from anywhere other than downrange. You can debate whether it is appropriate, but it would have been safe, and unlikely to scar the participant either mentally or physically.

Similarly I have seen a 5 year old shooting his first clays. His father had acquired a tiny .410 single barrel shotgun which offered no appreciable recoil, and helped him hold and aim it. This is a far cry from taking a 14 year old out and handing them a 12-bore with the instruction not to point it at anyone and explaining how to shoot safely, but neglecting the importance of how to mount and shoulder the gun properly. And inevitably the first shot bites them, leaving a beautiful bruise to develop across half their chest. Hopefully only one barrel has been loaded so that when they drop the gun, or swing around in shock, there isn’t still a live one up the spout.

 

Of course shotgun shooters will cry in horror, but I’m not singling them out. In my experience however, well-intentioned but misguided introductions to clay shooting are the recurring story, no doubt because there are so many more shotguns about than rifles, and the laws make casual shotgun shooting much more accesible than casual rifle shooting. Doubtless people have been put behind centre-fire rifles before they’re ready and had a scare – that’s the reason Cadets don’t get to shoot centre-fire until they’re 14 – younger cadets being started on air and/or rimfire. But shotguns are the story people keep telling me.

So let’s bear that in mind when a nephew or niece tugs on our sleeve to have a go. I’m not suggesting you say no, but lets give them a very careful look up and down, and have a good long think about whether we need to ask Dave about borrowing his .410 or 20-bore for the weekend rather than going straight to the big 12-bore. It’s very funny to watch a novice being handed a Desert Eagle and watching it fly out their hands after the first shot, but if you’re trying to introduce someone to shooting with the intention of them sticking at it, sometimes a more measured introduction is appropriate.