Dahlia was 3 years old when her parents gave her a gun.

“I like the rifle better. Because it’s bigger.”

Dahlia is five years old. When she turned three, her father Anthony bought her a gun. A rifle. It’s small and purple, but it is a rifle all the same.

Last night, ABC’s Four Corners explored the current relationship between children and guns in the United States. And the image they portrayed is deeply concerning.

You can watch a teaser of the program, in which Dahlia learns how to fire a rifle, below:

Video via ABC

According to Four Corners, approximately 18,000 American children and teenagers are shot each year in the US. And a large portion of those are accidents, brought on by the presence of guns in domestic homes.

Many people in the US justify their right to bear arms and protect themselves and their families, but the reality – as the program revealed – is that guns kept in private homes are 42 times more likely to kill a family member than an intruder.

Anthony believes education and familiarisation is the key to his daughter’s use and ownership of a gun. He teaches Dahlia and her young cousin how to handle their weapons. He asks them what they should do if they see a gun.

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“Tell anybody who is a grown up,” the young boy responds.

“Do you touch it?,” Anthony asks.

“No.”

Lying on the floor with Dahlia’s young cousin, Anthony instructs the children how to hold the weapon, how to look through it’s lens and focus, and how to aim it.

“You never point it at anybody,” Anthony says. “That’s not fun.

“You only point it at things you want to shoot. And you don’t want to shoot people, right?”

Anthony takes his daughter to a shooting range, she looks alarmingly small, wearing an enormous pair of earmuffs and safety goggles that obscure much of her face.

She aims the rifle, her father’s arms around her shoulder.

“I can’t do it.”

She starts to cry. “You don’t have to be an expert,” Anthony says. “We’re just going to see how it feels.”

Dahlia cries harder, and her father, holding his daughter’s hand tightly in his own, pulls the trigger. A man in the background can be heard saying, “I can tell, she’s a shooter.”

Anthon Cole Four Corners Screenshot Feat FB
“I’m proud.” (Image: Screenshot via ABC/Four Corners)

“The first time she shot. She started crying. It wasn’t because she was scared, it was because she didn’t have a target to shoot.”

“She just finished her second magazine…I’m proud and I’m happy.”

Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, also advocates for education around guns. But it’s a very different type of education.

Nine children are shot every day. And shockingly, a recent  poll revealed that for the first time ever, more Americans now believe having a gun makes them safer than not having one.

“You’re not a bad person if you bring a gun into your home with the idea of protecting your family,” says Gross.

“You’re just misinformed.”

The American weapons market is worth billions, and sales of mini rifles- weapons designed specifically for use by children- have increased to 60,000 this year.

Sandy Hook Elementary GETTY Handout
Sandy Hook Elementary School (Image via Getty: Handout)

After the Sandy Hook shooting of 2012, where 20-year-old Adam Lanza shot and killed 20 children aged between six and seven, Executive Vice President of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre said:

“The only way, the only way to stop a monster from killing our kids is to be personally involved in investing in a plan of absolute protection. The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

But is educating children in how to operate these weapons going to stop further incidents?

The 350 serious shootings in the US last year would suggest not. The booming business for bullet proof whiteboards and back-pack inserts in American schools would suggest not.

The 555 children under the age of 12 who have died as a result of gunshot wounds since the Sandy Hook shooting would suggest not.

This episode of Four Corners will be replayed on Tuesday 23rd Feb at 10.00am and Wednesday 24th at 11pm. It can also be seen on ABC News 24 on Saturday at 8.00pm, ABC iview and at abc.net.au/4corners.

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