The following editorial on recruiting new gun owners was written by Mark Oliva of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
One of the reasons gun owners enjoy their sport is that we get to enjoy it together. It helps to have other marksmen offer advice on improving our shot. Making a competition of our skills is an incentive for improving and makes us more safety conscious. It’s also just plain enjoyable to share the experience with those who enjoy it as much as we do.
So, how do we make sure that a trip to the range is more than just drill and shooting a course of fire? Invite someone to go with you. Even better, invite someone who has never shot a firearm before or who hasn’t shot in some time.
Make It Less Intimidating
Let’s be honest. Shooting a firearm can be intimidating to the uninitiated. The range is loud, the guns can feel heavy, the recoil jarring and the rules deadly serious— for a reason. What people need is a friendly invite, a guide into the mysterious world and a little welcome advice to take their own shot at the shooting sports.
Here’s the added benefit. When you invite someone to shoot, you’re inviting them into your world. You’re introducing them into the gun culture. That’s what we’re trying to do at NSSF. That means we’re reaching out to those who might not have considered shooting before and asking them to challenge their own views and beliefs to find out who we are as members of the firearms industry and as gun owners.
We recently had the unique chance to work with several professional 3-gun competition shooters from The D.C. Project and teamed them up with journalists, including Elizabeth MacBride from Forbes magazine. Elizabeth covers the firearms business for Forbes.com, but like most mainstream media these days has little up-close familiarity with firearms. I asked her to join us on the range so she could find out that more and more gun owners don’t quite look like me — a 45-year-old white man sporting a retired-military beard.
Changing Views Starts with Talking
We didn’t change the world on the range that day, but we opened this writer’s views of who makes up the gun industry. She’s learned that, despite her anticipation, we’re fairly open-minded and willing to talk — even about the tough issues. Dianna Muller began The D.C. Project with the notion of starting a conversation with lawmakers who might disagree with her own view on firearms. Dianna shows we can even do that in a way that doesn’t denigrate the concerns of non-gun owners or those who advocate for gun control.
Elizabeth learned that, like the rest of America, gun owners come in all shapes and sizes. And we’re passionate about sharing our sport. She spoke with Kim Condon, who decided that she needed to take responsibility for her own safety when she was already a grandmother. That led to her thriving firearms instruction business in Mississippi.
Changing minds on firearms doesn’t need to be complicated. Jeff Winkler tackled this topic for NBC, when he wrote, “The issue of gun control and rights is complicated. Less complicated is just giving the actual shooting a shot.” That’s where it starts. That responsibility falls on today’s gun owners to make the first step.
Be Brave. Take a Chance.
So how do you get started? First, take the advice my dad gave me when I wanted to take the blonde-haired, blue-eyed stunner in pigtailed-braids to the junior high dance. Just ask.
August is National Shooting Sports Month, when NSSF is working with all segments of the industry — from manufacturers to retailers to ranges — to raise awareness of the month-long campaign. We’re encouraging the creation of fun events and promotions to increase participating and attract newcomers and reactivating lapsed participants. Avid recreational shooters can help make National Shooting Sports Month a success by taking someone new to a range near you this August.
Know the reasons why people are shy about getting into the sport and find ways to alleviate their concerns. Be an ambassador. You started somewhere and someone showed you the ropes. Do the same for someone else.
Get some resources. Look to your reliable firearms publications for tips. Athlon Outdoors’ Personal Defense World just published a special issue called GUN PRIMER to give gun owners a reference to us and share with new gun owners. You can find other examples.
Shifting the needle on how America views gun ownership is a lot like that trigger. Slow and steady while focused on the front sight. Let it surprise you. You might just love the result. Let’s go shooting.
About the Author
Mark Oliva is Manager, Public Affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms and ammunition and industries. He is a retired Marine Master Gunnery Sergeant with 25 years of service, including tours in Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Albania and Zaire.