When the first Boy Scouts of America (BSA) handbook was published in 1910, “Marksman” was one of the first 14 merit badges introduced. Since that time, the BSA has had a strong relationship with the National Rifle Association (NRA). After all, the NRA’s original mission statement was “Firearms Safety Education, Marksmanship Training, Shooting for Recreation.” It sounds like a great organization for the BSA to have forged a partnership with considering the aim of the BSA was to get young men outdoors and encourage them to learn new skills and hobbies. Since that time, the NRA has provided the training and experience to support the BSA’s shooting sports programs. In 2016 alone, nearly 60,000 Rifle Shooting and Shotgun Shooting merit badges were earned by Boy Scouts and the NRA Foundation has provided millions of dollars to local Boy Scout councils for training, equipment, and facilities.
However, the NRA is no longer solely associated with education, training, and recreation. The NRA changed its mission statement in recent decades to “The Right of the People to Keep and Bear Arms Shall Not Be Infringed.” The NRA has become an organization dedicated not to education and training, but to inciting fear in Americans and paying elected officials to turn their backs on the common good and welfare of American citizens. In 2016, the NRA spent over $54,000,000 on lobbying, campaign expenses, direct contributions to candidates, and contributions to political action committees. The NRA’s most public face is that of fear…that the government is coming to take your guns, that there is a war on the second amendment, that the only way to be a secure country is to require everyone, including children, to handle guns. Watch any recent NRA ad and you can feel the fear and hatred radiating from NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch.
Does that sound like the voice of an educational organization whose aim (pun intended) is to educate people on the safe use of guns and to promote recreational shooting?
So let’s get to the Boy Scouts of America and its position on guns. The BSA has encouraged youth to learn about the safe use of firearms for decades. Programs include BB guns, rifle shooting, shotgun shooting, muzzle loaders, and pistols, as well as archery. Firearms can only be used under strict, trained adult supervision and only on approved ranges. Nobody is allowed to carry firearms around camp or anywhere else or they risk confiscation or removal by law enforcement. Hunting or silhouette targets are not allowed in the BSA since hunting is not an approved activity (except for older youth in Venturing) and the BSA does not want youth conditioned to shoot at human-shaped targets. It sounds like the BSA knows how to tackle the issue of teaching firearm safety and responsibility. It has the safety of youth as top priority. I should also mention that no shooting sports activity or badge is required of any youth in the BSA, contrary to the beliefs of the NRA.
Then why does the BSA still have such a strong relationship with the NRA? Well, the NRA is considered the industry standard for teaching how to properly use a firearm. Having witnessed many shooting sports programs in the BSA personally, I will admit that the instructors and range officers had expert knowledge and vast experience to share. As I mentioned above, the NRA Foundation has provided millions of dollars to local Boy Scout councils to build ranges, train instructors and range officers, and purchase equipment and ammunition. All of that is great and it would be difficult to replace that value.
That being said, sometimes the right decision is also the difficult decision. Regardless of the benefits that association with the NRA has brought to the Boy Scouts of America over the past 108 years, why does the BSA continue associating with an organization that promotes fear and the militarization of society? The BSA has a long history of safety when it comes to shooting sports, has strict rules concerning their use, and encourages their use as a recreational activity. Nowhere does the BSA state that firearms are necessary to live a safe and happy life. So why doesn’t the BSA detach itself from the NRA’s grasp and stand up for what’s right? Why shouldn’t the BSA take hold of the NRA’s original mission of firearms training and education? The NRA is not necessary to teach young people how to handle firearms safely. For example, the BSA has proven that it does not need outside governance when it comes to standards of health, safety, and quality with its camping programs. The BSA established its own standards of governance called the National Camp Accreditation Program and has not needed to submit to outside governance such as the American Camp Association accreditation. Why shouldn’t the BSA use its 110 years of experience and reputation to develop its own training programs outside of NRA influence? What’s stopping that? Sure the local councils will not have the NRA Foundation to lean on for grants but again, I did say this would be a difficult move.
It’s time for the BSA to stop supporting the NRA and lean on one of its most core values, the Scout Law. It will not be an easy path but since when should a Scout be encouraged to choose the easy path?
A Scout is Brave. A Scout can face danger even if he is afraid. He has the courage to stand for what he thinks is right even if others laugh at or threaten him.
The leadership of the Boy Scouts of America has been very brave in recent years by leading the charge in the efforts to eliminate discrimination towards gender, homosexuality, and religion. Let’s ask them to be brave again and disassociate with the National Rifle Association. Shooting sports can be encouraged as a safe and fun hobby and even as a means of protection, but not at the cost of being associated with such a hateful organization.
If you agree, share this post with your friends and sign the petition to the National President of the Boy Scouts of America to cut ties with the National Rifle Association and forge a new future of responsible firearms education, not firearms radicalization.
In no way does the author’s posts or opinions represent the views of the Boy Scouts of America organization.