Oh, you don’t need to call me ma’m, just Jane is fine,” says the visitor from out of state.
“Sit here with me on the porch awhile, Miss Jane, and I will tell you why we speak that way in Texas. Do you take sugar in your iced tea?” I reply, and once again, I began to invest an afternoon explaining to an urbanite how our culture of respect and something known throughout the South as “raisin’,” spreads outwards from households into our communities and influences how we value the lives around us and how our communities reflect our respect and care for each other.
On the weekend of February 15, my son, a shot gun competitor, was entered in the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo Junior Shoot-out. Attending a youth shooting event the day after Nikolas Cruz chose to fatally shoot seventeen of his former classmates in a Florida high school meant opportunity for a lot of reflection on mass murder and guns in our culture.
In the grey light of a foggy February morning, I sat on a metal bench with the dew soaking through the seat of my blue jeans waiting for an orientation meeting to began and pondering what drives children to kill each other and how to stop it.
The American flag rose from mourning the massacre at half-staff to salute the anthem as a pair of teenaged sisters began to sing
Oh Say, can you see
By the dawn’s early light
What so proudly we hailed
At the twilight’s last gleaming?
and I thought back on those front porch explanations of why rural Texas holds certain elements of formal etiquette dear. I looked around at over 800 committed young shooters and thought, “This is the answer; guns and “yes ma’m” can go a long way towards solving our violence issues.”
Yes. I’m talking about more guns in schools. Hang on. Stop your head from exploding until I have explained why I think more school-sponsored shooting programs reduce violence. Let me walk you through how the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo Junior Shoot-out is conducted and how the procedure used in this particular competition is a salute to the broader gun culture in Texas and the values and life-preparation it represents to our kids.
Safety begins at home at every club practice. American kids don’t ride bikes without helmets these days. Safety measures are in place in every facet of their lives. It insulates them from mortality. But place a gun in a child’s hands and they are most decidedly not insulated from mortality by anything except their own discipline and judgement. The daily reminders of safety protocols do two things: it constantly reinforces that a mistake has terrible and irrevocable consequences and we trust them to be capable guardians of that power. Understanding that this activity is very different from a video game and that the consequences are very real and yet adults have confidence in their abilities to make correct and appropriate choices is both chilling and empowering. As parents and leaders we are reminded of the gravity of providing them the correct education to shoulder that responsibility. The message reaches far beyond eye and ear protection.
Message: life is both fragile and valuable and I trust you to make choices that value life.
Shooters need to have joined their FFA or 4-H club and have their entries submitted by December 1 of the previous year to shoot in mid-February, not to mention weekly skill practice and preparing presentations to potential sponsors to help them with the financial burdens of the sport. Organizational skills are learned. Social skills are learned.
Message: plan ahead to achieve your goals.
Orientation and safety meetings begin at eight am. Not 15 seconds past eight. Eight am. Be there or don’t shoot.
Message: plan to be responsible for your destination.
The shooting day begins with students performing the national anthem, the pledge of allegiance, a prayer, the 4H pledge which reads
I pledge my head to clearer thinking,
My heart to greater loyalty,
My hands to larger service,
and my health to better living,
for my club, my community, my country, and my world.
and the Future Farmers of America motto,
Learning to Do,
Doing to Learn,
Earning to Live,
Living to Serve.
Message: you are fulfilled as an individual by service to a Higher Power and a greater community. Focus on what brings us together and reject what divides us.
Life is Invaluable
Life is invaluable. Death is irrevocable. Keep your muzzle pointed down-range. The value of life is obliquely present in safety protocols on the range. There is no room for error.
Message: Act with gravity and discerning judgment.
From courteously expressing gratitude to range judges to signing banners and writing thank-you notes to sponsors, expressions of gratitude are encouraged.
Message: remember to be humble and to appreciate the people who help you.
Effort is rewarded
This shoot is well-sponsored. From $10,000 dollar scholarships to expensive guns and ammo prizes, winners are rewarded for their efforts.
Message: Hard work is rewarded.
I have seen parents grow in these programs, myself included. There just isn’t much room for uncommitted participation. Because of the inherent danger, the responsibility of this sport is hard to foist off on nannies, coaches or grandparents. If you are dropping the ball, someone is probably going to let you know. On the other hand, a kid with desire and no family is likely to find a patron to help them excel failing the presence of a parent.
The sum total of these values is what we refer to as “raisin’”, or displaying the characteristics of character and manners resulting from committed parenting and consistent training in morals, etiquette and responsibility. This is what gun culture is, not the fanatic blood-lust depicted by the anti-gun crowd. Gun culture is a culture of respect and etiquette.
Reports abound on the factors that trigger kids to shoot up schools; video games, desire for power and attention, no value for life, depression, in short the common element in these shooters is they lack “raisin’”. Why is it so hard to think the solution to a tool being used the wrong way is to teach the proper use of that tool?
I am so grateful for the school administrators who have had the courage to support school-sponsored shooting sports and I hope they understand the fantastic results in youth leadership they are producing with their bravery to swim upstream against anti-gun sentiment. I am grateful to people like Bill Ethridge, who conceived the idea for this competition in 2013 and has worked every year since to bring in great sponsors from the firearms industry and the local community to grow the prizes and participation. I am grateful to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department for its promotion of youth shooting sports. I am grateful to untold high school agriculture teachers and 4-H leaders all around the state, who organize practices and entries, hotels, uniforms and countless other chores. I am grateful to all the great companies like Fiocchi and Blaser and countless others who have generously supported youth shooting. Thanks for helping us with “raisin’” them right!