Parents Argue Teaching Young Kids to Shoot Prevents Gun Accidents

VIDEO: Diane Sawyer discusses her unsettling special on children and guns.
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As two adults stood next to him to help hold his shoulder, Charlie Doxey, then 4 years old, took aim with a machine gun that was longer than he is tall, and fired.

"Is that fun, Charlie?" an adult nearby asked him, as the little boy smiled.

Charlie was one of several children at a family get-together hosted outside of Atlanta, where young kids can learn how to shoot while their parents look on -- and this was not Charlie's first time.

"I knew that he was safe," said Charlie's mother Jennifer Doxey. "Guns don't have to be bad. They're good, they're fun, you can have family fun with them."

Georgia law allows fully automatic rifles in the state as long as they were obtained before 1986.

While some parents say keeping guns hidden from children protects them, others, like the Doxeys, believe that putting firearms into children's hands is part of the solution to ending shooting accidents because it takes away the mystery and helps diminish their curiosity.

Charlie's father Latham Doxey, who owns Rusty's Rags, a gun accessory and cleaning business in Douglasville, Ga., hosts these shooting get-togethers for families. He argues that these events are safe and that demystifying the gun is the answer to protecting kids from getting hurt.

"There are a lot of accidents that happen because kids aren't properly trained to use guns," Latham Doxey said. "So it's either education or ignorance, is the way we look at it… I would rather be the one to show our kids the proper way to use guns."

Doxey couldn't provide numbers about whether allowing young children to shoot really removed curiosity later when parents aren't around to monitor them. But he was adamant that the children at all of his gun events have never had an accident at home.

Katie Francis, 14, who lives on a farm in Missouri, said she fired her first gun when she was in kindergarten. Now she is one of the top teenage shooters in the country. She can she can hit 40 targets in just over one minute seconds, out-shooting men 20 to 30 years older than her.

Her 4-year-old sister Sagel just recently started shooting for the first time.

Chad and Julie Francis understand why other parents might be outraged at the fact they allow their daughters to take up shooting at such a young age, but they stand by their decision.

"You can't wrap your kids in bubble wrap. You can make them wear a seatbelt every time they get into a car and they still may die in a car accident," Chad Francis said.

The Francis family said they lock up their guns now that Sagel is learning to shoot because they fear she is still too curious.

"You have to teach them responsibility with a weapon," he continued. "If you don't they're going to be curious and they're going to find it, and they watch TV, they know how to put their finger on the trigger and squeeze."

But even for all the families who say they did teach their children the dangers of guns early, there are still those parents mourning the loss of a child.

Travis Taylor is one of those parents. On the family's farm in Ohio, Taylor's eight sons were taught how to shoot at a young age and he thought their curiosity about guns was gone.

"They had been hunting since they had really been able to walk with me," Taylor said. "I taught them all from a young age, you don't mess with guns no matter what, you know, no matter what, if you see a gun, you treat it like it's loaded all the time."

One day while he was outside working and his sons, Cole, then 8 years old, and Dalton, then 10, were in the family's garage when Taylor said he heard a shot. Dalton had been hit and died. His seven brothers were shattered.

Travis Taylor said they now keep their guns at a friend's house.

"I don't know if I'll ever be able to bring them back, 'til my kids leave the house," he said. "I'm serious. I just, I don't know, I don't think I can."

But Kyle Coplen, the founder of the Armed Citizens Project, a program in Texas where single women get free training and shotguns, had a daughter who is almost 3 years old and he said she will learn how to shoot. He believes that as long as children are properly trained in the seriousness of gun dangers, then they won't go looking for them.

"The children that have been properly trained and know how serious firearms are, are not going to be kids that are going into their parent's room and playing with their firearms," Coplen said. "You kill the curiosity before the curiosity kills the kid."

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