Strong: A little child shall lead them

“Our goal was to develop a shooting platform that was not only sized correctly and safe, but also looks, feels, and operates just like Mom and Dad’s gun.” 

— Advertisement for the JR-15, a child-sized single-shot mock assault rifle.

From Jan. 17-20, one of the largest gun trade shows in the world was held in Las Vegas. The SHOT Show — Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade – was sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Over 70,000 industry professionals attended the event. It was a very big deal.

The SHOT Show is for commercial buyers and sellers of firearms and related hunting products. It’s where retailers can see the latest products and plan what they will sell in the upcoming year. It demonstrates products designed for the customer demographics gun sellers want to target.

One group gun sellers want to capture is children. The NSSF called children “obvious ‘low-hanging fruit’ in recruitment” and a “large relatively untapped market.” One company creating products aimed at children is Wee 1 Tactical. They manufacture the JR-15.

The JR-15 looks very much like an AR-15, but is lighter and about 20 percent smaller than an AR-15. The goal clearly is to make 10- and 11-year-olds want a rifle that mimics an assault rifle. Later, when they are old enough, they can get the real thing. Talk about grooming!

Most people are horrified at marketing a mock AR-15 to children. They realize how inappropriate and dangerous this is. However, there are some who think the more guns in the hands of children, the safer we’ll all be.

“Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted in support of the (JR-15) firearm last year, suggesting that children at the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, could have defended themselves with the JR-15.” (Business Insider, Jan. 21)

So, arming fourth graders with mock assault rifles will keep schools safer? That thesis was tested on Jan. 6 in Newport News, Va. A 6-year-old brought a Taurus 9 mm semi-automatic pistol to school and showed responsible gun ownership by shooting his teacher. I’m sure the child was a law-abiding citizen, so there shouldn’t have been any objections to his handling such a weapon.

If that sounds ridiculous, that’s because it is. 

“From 2015 through 2020, there were at least 2,070 unintentional shootings by children under 18 in the United States, according to a report from Everytown. Those shootings resulted in 765 deaths and 1,366 injuries.” (CNN, Jan. 24)

Another recent example of a child wielding a gun took place in Beech Grove, Ind., on Jan. 14. A 4-year-old boy, wearing a diaper, was standing in the hallway of his apartment building waving a Smith & Wesson handgun loaded with 15 rounds. A neighbor’s 16-year-old son opened his door, saw the toddler, closed the door and said, “Everybody get out of the living room, there's a baby with a gun.”

When the teen’s mother looked out the door, she saw the child pointing the gun at her. The toddler said, “Look what I got,” and laughed. His father was ultimately arrested. (ABC News, Jan. 19)

So the question becomes, when is a child mature enough to handle such a weapon? Ryan Busse, a former firearms executive, said he has no problem with children shooting guns. His children have rifles and often shoot with him. He says the problem is not guns in general, but the idea of the JR-15.

“One should be very worried that they are taught to do this with a tactical, offensive weapon of war (that is) scaled down,” Busse said. “Lots of other rifles can be purchased and be effective training tools for kids. Why this one?” (Washington Post, Jan. 29)

Who gains by marketing a mock assault rifle to children? Is it OK to imply children are mature enough to handle such a weapon responsibly? As a former high school teacher, I know most are not.

Will the NRA take a stand that there shouldn’t be any age limit for owning a gun? Will they say 6-year-olds should be able to buy any gun they want to? Even for those who want to misinterpret the Second Amendment to say that anyone, anywhere, should be able to acquire any gun they want, at any time, I hope this would be a bridge too far.

If we start grooming children to think that owning an assault rifle is a symbol of adulthood, we are opening the door to more and more horrific violence. Is that really the future we want?

Jeanette Strong, whose column appears every other week, is a Nevada Press Association award-winning columnist. She may be reached at


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