“These are high-level clinics, so we don’t want to be just training kids how to draw from a holster,” said Sergeant Michael Buss, one of the organizers. “We are teaching them the fine details that will help them win competitions.”
Even though the children at the clinic are required to be experienced shooters, safety is a priority. On the first day of the clinic, participants are briefed on safety procedures and told when they can and can’t touch their guns, said Harris. “A couple of kids have pulled weapons out of their holsters when they shouldn’t and parents freak out,” she added.
Harris herself began shooting at the age of 13 after her father, who owns a gun range, introduced her to the sport. Now a competitor in practical shooting, she joined the Army in 2014 and was attached to the marksmanship unit.
“I was drawn to practical shooting because it’s such an exciting sport,” Harris said. “It’s a thrilling challenge to walk up to a stage while changing magazines and remembering how many targets you are shooting.”
The clinic is intended to publicize Army careers. “We want to let the kids know that there are opportunities in the military,” Harris said. Many of the children who participate in the clinics hope to one day join the Army Marksmanship Unit, whose members have won six Olympic gold medals. Some of the current members of the unit participated in the clinics when they were children.
Practical shooting’s main governing body in America, the United States Practical Shooting Association, claims its 25,000-person membership is growing. There is no charge for the Army clinic but the association offers scholarships to children who need financial assistance for travel and hotel expenses to participate.
Practical shooting, along with a similar sport called defensive pistol shooting that is also taught at the Army clinics, is practiced at competitions around the country. The International Defensive Pistol Association defines the sport as “the use of practical equipment … to solve simulated ‘real world’ self-defense scenarios.”
The activity has been criticized for promoting violence. “Combat-shooting competitions are built around fantasy scenarios, with humanoid ‘bad guy’ targets to be shot and similar ‘hostage’ targets to be avoided,” according to a report by the Violence Policy Center, a gun-control-advocacy group. The elaborate ‘courses of fire’ feature names such as ‘Carjacked by Gang Members,’ ‘Helicopter Raid,’ and ‘Save the Bank.’ Combat shooters typically begin them with a rapid draw from a holster, and are then timed as they run, crawl, and sometimes climb through the course, all while firing at human-scaled targets.”
Josh Sugarmann, the executive director of the Violence Policy Center, said his group is opposed to children participating in practical shooting because “experts say that children do not have the emotional maturity to know how and when to properly use firearms.”