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Guns are a fact of life for young people growing up in the United States. They are found in homes?for protection, sport, and hunting. Guns are also on the street?for defense and security, and in gang-related uses. Guns can cause accidents, and even deaths, while they can also nurture self-esteem and athletic abilities. The impact of guns on young people's lives is undebatable?and often dramatic.
S. Beth Atkin's evocative photographs and candid interviews share the remarkable ...
Guns are a fact of life for young people growing up in the United States. They are found in homes—for protection, sport, and hunting. Guns are also on the street—for defense and security, and in gang-related uses. Guns can cause accidents, and even deaths, while they can also nurture self-esteem and athletic abilities. The impact of guns on young people's lives is undebatable—and often dramatic.
S. Beth Atkin's evocative photographs and candid interviews share the remarkable stories—told in their own voices—of an array of young people's life-changing experiences with guns.
The shooting sports often give young people a sense of purpose and an identity. They also can give girls and young women a feeling of safety and equality. While developing certain skills, young people can find that learning to shoot helps them in other areas of their lives.
Meredith Briski, twenty-one, is Caucasian and grew up in Hamilton, Ohio. She has been involved in the shooting sports and competitions for at least ten years and is now a certified shooting instructor.
My name is Merry Briski. I go to Bowling Green State University. I'm an English major, so I might go to grad school and hope to do something like publishing or teaching. I think I'm a very empowered person because my family has brought me up that way. But also shooting has empowered me, and I think learning to shoot has had a very strong impact on my life. I had never been good at anything competitive or athletic. It got to the point that I was so sure of losing and feeling bad about myself that I was shy even about flipping a coin. When I found that I was good at shooting a rifle, I felt validated. I finally had something that I could work hard at and prove myself.
I thinkthe first time I ever remember seeing a gun, I was about seven. My dad and I shot an air rifle in our basement. I was in third grade or fourth grade when my father bought an air pistol, and then shortly after that he bought a .22 pistol. [An air rifle is not a firearm. It uses compressed air to launch its projectiles, which are generally BBs or other small pellets.] We used to go to the Cincinnati Revolver Club and shoot that occasionally. I started out shooting once a week when I joined the 4-H Club, and then I joined the Junior NRA [National Rifle Association] League as well. So I was shooting on Monday and Wednesday nights, and then we started going on Saturdays so I could practice. My dad was with me every time I shot.
The 4-H Club was definitely more male, but I think the girls were treated rather specially because there weren't many of us and the advisors really liked us. They used to give us sort of preferential treatment, teased us, and treated us like daughters. They were really proud when we beat the boys. It is a lot of fun to beat them, and I was the best shot in our club for a couple of years, and that's a really, really good feeling. So shooting has made me feel I had the capability and the potential to excel in an atmosphere that's not necessarily feminine or someplace that women are traditionally accepted.
It's also been nice to have shooting in common with my younger sister, Jackie. We're very different people. I'm all dreamy and flowery and love good books, dresses, ballet, and stuff like baking and sewing. Jackie loves the military and search-and-rescue operations and cars and fishing and wants to be a Marine. But we both love shooting. I am proud of her. She's a fine shot, probably better than I am now. I'd say that going to camp every summer and shooting together at the 4-H Club kept our relationship from ever getting too distant, the way some of my friends' relationships with their siblings were. I'd say the people I currently like to shoot with the most are Jackie and, most of all, my dad. We have so much fun doing something together that we both like.
My dad loves to spend time with our family, but shooting was an activity that we had in common. I think we might have found other things, but the shooting sports demand so much time, energy, and focus. There were times when I felt like my dad and I were a team working toward the goal of my shooting better. So that really improved our relationship. The first time I shot better target than he did, I was a little horrified. But he was so proud of me that I began to enjoy it. I think our roles sort of shifted a little then. We were on equal terms in something for the first time. And I think we'll have shooting in common even as I get older. The thing about shooting is that it doesn't stop when you lose your athletic capabilities. I know men that are in their eighties, and they are some of the best shots out there. So it's a lifelong sport.
The first thing I think that the shooting sports taught me is a drive for excellence, and I guess it gave me confidence. Or at least, if I already had those in me, then it pulled them out and strengthened them. And shooting competitively helped me develop determination. I might have been able to develop determination and problem-solving skills through another sport or activity, but shooting was the activity that I was both good at and enjoyed.
My teachers -- like Hal and Roger, who coached me at summer camp and on the rifle team -- they've played the role of mentor and friend. I've learned from them how to attain the life that I want to live. They've taught me to be happy and to be an upright citizen, and they taught me problem-solving skills. I actually had a chance to put them into practice on the shooting range and solve my own problems. Once I learned this, I suddenly saw obstacles as less powerful than myself. I remember having that realization, and it was like flying. I felt so confident. Nothing could get me down. I really think that ability transferred over into my schoolwork at college. I was taking hard classes and sometimes it was discouraging. But I had already learned to react to challenges with determination and to find solutions to problems. So I was able to find success.
Excerpted from Gunstories by S. Atkin Copyright © 2006 by S. Atkin. Excerpted by permission.
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