Thousand of kids with guns descend on Alexandria: No one harmed
Tuesday, July 01, 2014 3:51 AM
Thousands of armed teenagers (mostly boys) descended upon Alexandria, Minn., earlier this month for five days, June 6 to 10. It sounded like something out of "The Wild Ones" or worse. Since my liberal friends and the media always say that boys and guns are a bad mix, I figured I'd check it out.
While I know my way around firearms, I usually leave this sort of situation to my distant Texas "Uncle" Cordell. He's pretty much world-class when it comes to stopping a riot (he was a Texas Ranger). But there was no cause for alarm. I found myself at the Alexandria Shooting Park on a beautiful Minnesota late spring day. It was the site of the 2014 Minnesota State High School Clay Target League (MSHSCTL) championship.
You may not have heard anything about it (the league hasn't gotten much major media coverage), but trapshooting is the fastest growing high school sport in Minnesota. A group of dedicated volunteers started informally with three schools and 30 athletes in 2001. MSHSCTL was formed in 2009 with six schools and 60 athletes. This spring saw 185 teams from 275 schools composed of 6,100 student athletes. New schools and hundreds of students had to be turned away due to a lack of practice facilities this year.
I was told this makes the Clay Target League larger in terms of student participation than high school hockey in Minnesota! So I guess Minnesota can be the "State of Shooting"? This is the only Minnesota high school sport where both genders and the handicapped can participate on an equal footing on their high school team. Students can earn high school letters at most of the participating schools. And this may be the only high school sport that has never had an injury or accident.
The Minnesota State High School League tournament was held on June 14 at the Minneapolis Gun Club. This was the first and only trapshooting tournament in the country sponsored by a state high school athletic association. Minnesota's diversity was displayed as teams ranged from smaller towns in Greater Minnesota to tony suburban metro high schools like Orono, Edina, Benilde, Mahtomedi and St. Thomas Academy.
I guess this was just too much diversity (or too politically incorrect) for some schools which were absent (paging Blake and Breck!). Some of the kids wore boots that had seen duty on dairy or corn farms and shot what must have been Grandpa's old Browning Humpback 12-gauge with worn bluing. Other teams had fancy uniforms and many nice new Benellis and Berettas. Can you guess the school of the shooter in seersucker shorts and top-siders?
You knew it was an election year when Gov. Mark Dayton showed up on the first day of the championship. He bragged about signing a bill that allocates $2 million in grants to expand trapshooting facilities around the state. I guess he wanted the parents in attendance to feel grateful they got something out of the blow-out spending that happened this legislative session. One parent did mention, with some disgust, that the $2 million was about 2 percent of the cost of the new Senate office building and he wasn't feeling very grateful as his taxes had gone up.
The governor also fired a fancy trap gun that was being auctioned off to raise money for MSHSCTL. If you won the gun, you even got a certificate signed by Gov. Dayton attesting to his having fired it. This also resulted in some humor as two parents I chatted with independently asked me if I thought his signature increased or decreased the value of the shotgun.
After a flag-raising and the singing of the National Anthem - and a short speech about the event and the need for safety first, last and always - the 19 trap fields were filled with high school students toting shotguns. About 4,000 student athletes were on hand representing high schools from across Minnesota over the five days. In fact, this was the world's largest youth trapshooting tournament. The gunfire started early and lasted late into the day. A few hundred thousand orange clay birds were obliterated but a few got away.
The shooters and their parents were more focused on flying orange clays and camaraderie than on the politics I mentioned earlier. It was an outstanding day of safety, shooting and sportsmanship. I was glad I didn't have to shoot as I'd have been completely outclassed by almost every high school shooter present.
As I drove home, I came to a few conclusions:
Guns, like any tool, do nothing without a human being involved and being responsible for his or her actions.
Kids and guns can mix if adults teach them responsibility and a proper "gun culture."
This League proves the old saying "there are no gun accidents, only gun negligence."
Dedicated volunteers make a difference in our communities and the formation of the MSHSCTL is a great example of that fact.
1,800 volunteers, mostly parents, serve as coaches and they pass on that safe and responsible "gun culture" while having fun with their young adults.
So, as Mitch Pearlstein (the founder of Center of the American Experiment) has said for years, parents and culture matter.
The media in Minnesota have ignored this league and these kids in the past because they don't fit their narrative of kids and guns. A more "balanced" and in-depth analysis of youth gun crime and the very different culture that spawns it would be welcome from our media outlets. The coverage of this year's event was a start. We'll see what happens in a non-election year next year.
"Cash Walker" is the nom de plume of American Experiment's roving Wealth and Prosperity correspondent. Center of the American Experiment is a nonpartisan, tax-exempt, public policy and educational institution committed to building a culture of prosperity for Minnesota and the nation.