One of the best thing you can do for the hobby, sport, and lifestyle that is being an active gun owner is to, quite literally, make friends. Moreover, what better activity is there than being there for someone who is just learning to shoot?
I'm glad you asked. Ever heard of Roque?
It was sport that was amazingly popular in the late 1890s and early 20th century in the U.S. Basically a chopped up version of croquet, it was invented right here in the states and used rules borrowed from billiards and golf. An Olympic sport at the 1904 games it was for a time the third most popular sport in the country after baseball and football. If you asked someone in 1904 if roque would be forgotten in a century, they would have laughed into their boating hat.
Today roque is practically extinct. In 2004, the American Roque and Croquet Association suspended tournaments because the number of participants at the Nationals had shrunk to single figures. Why? Those who were interested in it just didn't pass it on to their kids, friends and neighbors in a way that they wanted to continue. Then, once those old-school roque fans died out, the sport gasped its last breath with them.
While yes, arguably firearms, personal defensive gun use, and the shooting sports are much more well-known than roque, gun owners and users who are active in the culture are a small enough segment of the population that if we don't pass on our tribal knowledge to others, when we are gone who is left to ensure that by 2114 the NRA doesn't suspend shooting matches or annual meetings because the number of participants wouldn't fill up a double table at Applebee's?
How to approach
Often it comes up in conversation at the office, or at social engagements. The whole, 'what did you do this weekend' or 'what do you like to do for fun'. On other occasions, it's in a conversation on some horrible crime that, if the victim had been better prepared, maybe would have had a different outcome.
This, depending on the atmosphere and what you know about the crowd you are in, can often lead to you talking about going to the range, or a gunshow, or attending a training class, or hunting, or being a reason why you have a ccw -- basically something that mentions that three letter 'gun' word.
"Oh I've always wanted to go shooting," you will hear. "But never seemed to be able to"
That's when you make the offer. Nothing high pressure. Just a little, "Hey why don't you go to the range this weekend with me?"
"But I've never shot a gun before," they may protest. I hear this often. This is how you know the roque light is flashing.
Fifty years ago, between school JROTC, Boy Scouts, 4H, DCM and hunting clubs, almost every young boy in the nation had handled a firearm (and done it well) by the time they reached adulthood. Even then, that small group that had not, still at age 18 faced the prospect of "The Draft" and a year or two working for Uncle Sam wearing a uniform made by the lowest bidder while he learned the ins and outs of a M1, M14 or M16 under the watchful eye of a drill instructor with more hair in his nose than on his head. Let us face it, our fathers and grandfathers knew guns whether they wanted to or not.
"It's OK; I'll show you," is the answer I give to the adult who always wanted to learn to shoot, but never got around to it.
Keep it simple
On that first trip to the range, remember that you have to learn to walk before you run. Don't just pass them your AR with a 100-round Beta mag in it and tell them to get to work.
With that in mind, start with a crawl. Explain the three basic safety rules (All weapons are always loaded, keep your finger off the trigger until ready to fire, and be sure of your target and what is beyond it). Explain the basics of the gun(s) you are going to be shooting that day. How to safely load/unload them. Which end the bullets come out of. What happens when that occurs, and how to be ready for it. Tell them of the basics of marksmanship (stance, grip, sight alignment, trigger squeeze, etc.).
Think of what you wished someone had told you the first time you shot a gun-- and then tell them. If you are not comfortable with them, there is always dry fire, starting with a pellet gun, or recommending they take a class from a certified instructor.
Only after they are good with all the above, do you load the gun and walk them through shooting it.
Now this is important: be sure its a good experience. Most new shooters only have experience with guns through Hollywood and video games, neither of which offers an iota of realism. Explain that there will be recoil, but not to be afraid of it. There will be muzzle blast and, depending on gun and caliber, a momentary fireball of flash, but it will not engulf them or envelope their soul.
Small caliber, long barreled handguns, and rifles are ideal for that first shot to cut down on both recoil and muzzle flash. So stay away from training this person on an uncomfortable gun for comedic value. All this will do is make sure they never do this crap again. Not only that, but they will probably tell other people of their negative experience, furthering the gun control crowdthink.
Then, after they fire those first few rounds-- at close range at a target they selected (remember, you want them to like this experience) -- show them the target and point out those holes.
The only correct thing you can say at that moment is "Good shooting," even if you have seen better groups from a rusty shotgun at 75 feet.
Its all about that first smile and sense of accomplishment. For that shooter, they will never have another first target again. Ask if they want to save it as a memento rather than just trashing it. I can't tell you how long I kept my first target.
Then work on what they could do to improve. Be there for them.
Odds are, you may have a regular shooting buddy by the end of the day.
I'm sure the roque fans of 1904 would have loved to have another regular.