Like a “Shooting Sports” merit badge stitched to a Boy Scout’s sash, gun culture is part of the fabric of American childhood. While parenting experts are torn about whether gunplay is harmful to kids or not, what demand scrutiny are the ways organizations like the Boy Scouts of America promote guns to kids and teens.
It’s no secret that the BSA have a longstanding partnership with the National Rifle Association. In 1911, James E. West, the first chief scout executive of the Boy Scouts, was reluctant to teach Scouts military and marksmanship skills and was quick to dissociate the BSA from hawkish agendas. However, after the U.S. entered World War I, the NRA lobbied the BSA to reinstate shooting programs that would prepare boys for armed combat. The Scouts gave in to the pressure.
Today, the Boy Scouts receive millions from the NRA, according to an AP investigation, and they work with the scouts to provide youth programs that aim to make shooting fun. For instance, their Cowboy Action Shooting Program, taught by NRA instructors who “dress in cowboy attire,” grounds shooting sports not in a serious, present-day context but in a fictional Wild West replete with zany scenarios. Participants shoot “22-caliber pistols, lever action .22-caliber rifles, and 12-gauge or 20-gauge shotguns” while playing “good guys,” according to the program manual.
A sample Cowboy Action scenario describes an effort to stop a gang from holding up Uncle Kev’s trading post. “Bad Bob has a terrible hankerin’ for them slushies that Kev serves up there,” the manual jests, before urging participants to keep him out of the store. Not once does the manual explicitly state the importance of not pointing a gun at a person.
Why the live ammo, when anachronistic slushie thieves could just as easily be defeated with water balloons or “I” statements? According to the Violence Policy Center, Gun lobbyists need the next generation to believe guns have a place in their lives even if getting them to accept this involves sugarcoating. Several years ago, Salon reported that the NRA pushed suppressors, more popularly known as silencers, as a means of winning over children who disliked the bang of a firing weapon.
And the NRA is not the only organization using the Boy Scouts, along with a sprinkling of drama, to push an agenda. Vista Outdoor, which owns the Savage brand of firearms, has been criticized for planning to fund youth programs, like the Boy Scouts, as part of a campaign to attract a new generation of consumers. The Savage website calls the people who use their guns “muscular, no-nonsense engines of high-performance” who “know what winning feels like.”
Such rhetoric risks appealing to the insecurities of kids and teens while sidestepping straight talk about firearms—such as the fact that shootings are the third leading cause of death for U.S. children. Shouldn’t guns, like a pack of cigarettes, come with a sober warning?
Up until recently, Machine Gun America, a shooting attraction in Orlando, Florida, boasted in a spot on their website that they were a “Proud Partner of the Boy Scouts.” Soon after being contacted for comment by Child’s World NEWS, the spot was removed.
The attraction invites visitors to “feel the rush of power” while firing weapons such as UZIs and AK-47s. One available package urges guests to “take control of the room” while earning their “man card.” And while kids must be at least 16 to fire weapons in their automatic setting at MGA, youngsters aged 10 to 12 can fire M4 (.22) and HK MP5 (.22) semiautomatic rifles at zombies in a “chillingly realistic experience.”
A representative of the Boy Scouts denied the relationship to Machine Gun America, stating, “The BSA does not use or promote the use of machine guns or other items regulated by the National Firearms Act.” Still, the BSA’s collaboration with the NRA to inculcate the next generation of gun enthusiasts demands the same critical eye advertisers in other industries have faced.