Upstate Parents Get Guns For Children, Teach Firearm Safety -

Upstate Parents Get Guns For Children, Teach Firearm Safety

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If you visit Allen Arms firing range in Greenville on a Tuesday night this spring, you won't find your typical target practice. The group of eager participants lined up to shoot at paper targets are also not your typical students. Ten year old Kaitlyn Griffith is one of them. "I was just curious about it," Griffith says. While most fourth graders might be more interested in dolls or dress up, Griffith has her aim on a different hobby: shooting. "The first time I shot, I was a little nervous because the gun was a little heavy for me, so my dad had to help me hold it up," she remembers. Rob Griffith, Kaitlyn's father, is an avid hunter who remembers his daughter first showing an interest in guns and shooting when she was just five years old. "I've shot for years," he says. "And my daughter is really responsible, so she started at a pretty young age, kinda knowing the safety side of things."

The Griffith's are far from alone. At gun shops like the Firing Line in Spartanburg, owner Johnny Horton says parents come in weekly inquiring about purchasing guns for their children. Horton says they're serious about introducing their kids to the sport of shooting. "They're coming in, wanting to buy shotguns, rifles for their kids," says Horton.

In Kaitlyn Griffith's case, she has some help in that quest to learn more about shooting. Mark Bilicki, a longtime firearms instructor, has been teaching his youth gun class for more than a decade. "I find it shocking everybody doesn't do it," says Bilicki. "Because our school systems have a zero tolerance for firearms, they teach them about all these other things, like drugs, drinking, even sex and everything else, but they stay away from the topic of guns."

Bilicki begins with kids as young as age nine, teaching everything from how to handle a gun to sharp shooting skills. Many of his students have gone on to win state and national titles in shooting. But he says the number one focus is, and will always be, safety. It's a lesson plenty of parents are lining up their parents to hear. In Bilicki's tenure, more than 1,400 local children have enrolled in the youth gun course. Kirk Westervelt is just one of many parents who believes in the program. He brought his nine year old son, Jared, to Bilicki's class. "Guns aren't bad and guns aren't dangerous," says Westervelt. "By introducing them to the sport at an early age, obviously they're going to be able to enjoy it as they grow older with confidence and safety always in mind."

Still, Seven on your Side asked: is there a danger in giving guns a try at such a young age? Greenville child psychologist Dr. Martha Durham says it's asking for trouble. "There is such a thing as too young," says Durham. Durham claims that early education does not always prevent curiosity and might only make some children more fascinated with weapons. "Children are impulsive and their frontal lobes aren't hooked up," she says. "There's some research that shows that kids that have early gun safety training do all the same things that kids that don't have the training do. They pick up a gun and they try to shoot it."

Even so, Mark Bilicki believes it's up to every parent to decide when their child is ready to fire. He says the lessons they pick up in his course could stop a tragedy down the road. "It's all about safety, and if they're getting that out of this 9 week program, then they're buying what we're selling."

As for 10 year old Kaitlyn Griffith, she's sold on the safety lesson, but still knows there's much more to learn. "It's nice to know if you find a gun in a closet at a friend's house, you know what to do with it. You don't have to be scared."

For more on the gun laws in South Carolina, and those that pertain to children, click here.

You can learn more about Bilicki's instruction for children here.

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