Published on 12/04/08

BB gun safety

By Sharon Dowdy
University of Georgia

In the movie “A Christmas Story,” Ralphie Parker wants only one thing for Christmas: a Red Ryder BB gun. He gets it, too. If your child is as determined as Ralphie, make sure he’s armed with the proper safety training, says a Georgia 4-H target sports safety expert.

“As parents, we would never send our kids out to play in a little league football game without the proper protective equipment,” said Mark Zeigler, the Georgia 4-H Shooting Awareness, Fun and Education program coordinator. “Target sports also require the proper protective gear, and the most important part of that gear is sound safety education.”

Training thousands

The SAFE program’s certified coaches, who are trained in shooting education and youth development, teach more than 3,500 students in the program across the state.

Although he didn’t have a BB gun has a child, Zeigler doesn’t discourage parents from buying one for their child.

“It can be an appropriate Christmas gift when used under the supervision of an adult and if the child is taught basic firearm safety,” he said. “It’s paramount that children are properly educated first. I just can’t stress that enough.”

Improves concentration

In the area of target sports, Georgia 4-H aims to “help young people interested in shooting sports learn to safely and responsibly enjoy the sport,” Zeigler said. “We promote the highest standards of safety, sportsmanship and ethical behavior.”

The SAFE program helps teach safety, but Zeigler says the most important thing students learn has nothing to do with sports.

“Studies have shown that participating in shooting sports helps kids improve their concentration levels and their grades,” he said. “And it’s the lowest-injury-rate sport. In 4-H, we teach firearms safety mirrored with youth development standards and principles.”

4-H'ers use Daisy 499 model

In the 1983 movie, Ralphie wants “an official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, Range Model air rifle with a compass on the stock and this thing which tells time.”

In the real world, Georgia 4-H’ers are taught to shoot the Daisy 499 model. It can’t be bought in stores and is specifically designed for shooters who compete in international BB championship matches.

Zeigler doesn’t allow his four-year-old son to have toy guns. “We have the Real McCoy at our house. I don’t want to confuse him,” he said. “When he’s old enough, he’ll probably have a competition-based BB gun.”

He also personally doesn’t support paintball or laser tag. “With these activities, you’re being taught to point something that resembles a firearm at someone else,” he said. “I just can’t support that.”

National title holders

Like most 4-H activities, target sports offer students a chance to compete on the regional, state and national levels. “Although competition isn’t the goal of the program, when used correctly, competition can help young people develop life skills and positive habits they can carry through life,” Zeigler said.

Georgia 4-H teams currently hold the national titles in archery and National Rifle Association Junior Air Rifle. Georgia 4-H’ers have also used the skills they learned in the SAFE Program to participate in the Summer Olympics, serve in the Army Marksmanship Program and win college scholarships, he said.

The Georgia 4-H SAFE program is open to fifth- through eighth-grade students for BB and through high school for other shooting sports like archery.

Training essential

In addition to Georgia 4-H, safety training is available through Boy Scouts, Ducks Unlimited, NRA, Department of Natural Resources and National Wild Turkey Federation, Zeigler said.

For more information on the SAFE program, contact your local University of Georgia Cooperative Extension office at 1-800-ASK-UGA1.

Sharon Dowdy is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.