The first time Buck Holly can remember shooting a gun, he was three years old.
He and his family are around firearms on a daily basis; it’s quite literally the family business. They build guns and teach classes on the range. Professional shooting is a family tradition. Firearms safety is a daily reality that preserves all of their hard work, so it’s drilled into them early in life.
“They’ve all been taught to shoot at a young age because I was taught to shoot at a young age,” he told me. “[W]e’re around guns all the time. I’m also in law enforcement. So, there’s always a gun laying around our house. And there was at my parents’ house too. And it wasn’t ever written in stone that this is how you should do it, but we were always exposed to firearms and we were always taught that until mom or dad or grandpa give you the blessing to go off and hunt on your own, you don’t touch them unless an adult is around.”
That is the most imperative law in the Holly household, and it is reinforced constantly. He’s even created a reward system for the youngest in his family.
“As our kids are growing up, if they see a firearm… they come and tell an adult real quick, and then they get a jellybean… we’ve turned it into a game,” he told me. The reward for following the rules? Getting a chance to handle and shoot a firearm, under strict adult supervision, in a controlled environment.
“Shooting at a young age is… we treat it a little bit of a reward for not playing with guns and not playing with knives,” Buck said. “They are curious about them, so we let them shoot them every once in a while.”
Isn’t 5 too young?
One day when Buck was on the range with his youngest daughter of five, his wife took video of her shooting a weapon that he was supporting for her. They posted it online, and, four weeks later, it had been seen by over 30 million people. That many eyes come with a lot of different opinions.
“95 to 98 percent of it is positive,” Buck said of the feedback on the video. The remaining percentage of comments were aghast at such a young child handling a firearm or being exposed at all to a gun. The issue for Buck lies in the perception of that firearm; to him, under a supervised and controlled environment, it is no more dangerous than any other activity for children.
“The people who say they’re too young, I ask these people, ‘Well, are they too young to go in the swimming pool?’ No. ‘Are they too young to ride their bicycle down the street?’ No. That’s ok. Your kid can ride their bicycle down the street and get run over by a car! Kids know, kids intuitively know what’s dangerous and what’s not starting at like 2 and 3 years old. Kids don’t touch the stove because they know it’s hot… the dissenting people do not give kids enough credit for how smart they actually are. And if you get into their heads early enough, you can’t start teaching firearms safety too young,” he said.
The key to instructing and enforcing that safety, for Buck, is to never treat a gun like something it’s not. Even if it’s not a real firearm, it’s still not something you brandish and run around with. A toy gun is still a gun.
“If you give a kid that little thing, he runs around the house pointing it at people, pretending to shoot them! They’re teaching them bad habits,” he said, bringing up toys specially designed to look like cowboy pistols or other firearms. “In our house, we don’t even shoot nerf guns at each other… we don’t let them shoot people. You can shoot targets on the wall. A gun is a gun is a gun. If you can teach a 4 or 5-year-old not to point a nerf gun at somebody, they’ll carry that over into real firearms.”
“We’re not at soccer practice.”
“I see kids come out of our courses learning responsibility… They’re learning to follow orders and direction. We’re not at soccer practice… when you’re on the range, you demand their attention, you have to have their attention, and if you can’t keep their attention or they won’t give you their attention, you can make them go home,” he said.
He is also adamant that the best way to reinforce the rules is to demonstrate the consequences of not following them.
“We take a piece of fruit, a watermelon or a coconut or something. And we put it on a pole at 25 yards, and somebody shoots it with a .22 and it explodes. The kids think it’s really cool, until you inform them, ‘Hey, if you use a gun, and you’re not respectful with it, and you point it at somebody and it goes off, that’s what could happen to your little buddy’s head.’ It’s dramatic, but you get their attention,” he explained. “I firmly believe that if you show them the consequences, it has more of an effect.”
Buck is also encouraged by the feedback he receives from parents. Many have been astonished at their child’s new ability to focus and follow direction. Others have seen the fun that their child is having, and decide to join in. His advice to parents that are doubtful about bringing their kids?
“Before you make a final judgment, I would ask that you come out and try it. Just come out to the range and experience it. Look at the ages of the kids, watch how they perform. I think it would change their minds.”