Teenage girls are taking up arms, and proving a better shot than the boys
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Teenage girls are taking up arms, and proving a better shot than the boys
Jacques Steenkamp, Jun 09 2019 (Photo credit of MURRAY WILSON/STUFF)
More than 7500 teenagers between the ages of 16 and 18 have obtained their full firearm licences in the past five years. But are they competent enough, or should we be worried? Jacques Steenkamp reports.
Tenneile Crump-Conchie slowly raises the .260 Remington rifle.
The 18-year-old checks her breathing and matches the rhythm of her heartbeat to the movement of the firearm to ensure the crosshairs are locked on her target and not moving too much.
In the distance, an old billy goat is unaware that its life is about to end.
Minutes before, the animal came out of hiding to graze in the safety of the setting sun as dusk descends on the surrounding hillside.
Crump-Conchie, hunting on her own, had carried the gun several kilometres across paddocks. As the last rays of daylight glint off an object a few kilometres away, she smiles, interpreting it as a sign that she's safe.
She's one of the approximately 8000 teenagers who are legally allowed to carry firearms without supervision in New Zealand.
During the drive to her favourite hunting spot near Alton in rural Taranaki, Crump-Conchie's dad, 69-year-old Vern Conchie, asked her what her plan was for today.
Like her famous great-uncle Barry, Crump-Conchie has had a lifelong passion with the great outdoors. From the age of nine, her father began teaching her everything he knew about hunting and firearms.
Conchie usually wants to know what she intended to hunt for, how she would approach her target and how long she'd take.
Crump-Conchie, who has legally been allowed to carry a firearm without supervision since she was 16, told her father she was after wild goats (her favourite animal to hunt) and that due to the wind blowing from the opposite direction, she was going to walk along a specific track that went around the right side of the paddock.
She told him she would take approximately an hour if she didn't shoot anything and two to three hours if she did, but he would know if it was the latter because he always stayed within earshot of her gunshots.
So as Conchie checks up on his daughter's position through binoculars, she exhales and slowly squeezes the trigger.
Today she only kills the one goat, but on a previous hunting trip, she bagged an impressive seven goats. Most of the time, the meat ends up in their freezer, but according to Crump-Conchie, billy goats smell, which ruins the flesh, and therefore the male animal's meat is used for dog food.
Her hunting trip is, however, not over as she still needs to carry the animal's carcass back to their vehicle several kilometres away. While most teenage girls would squirm at the sight of blood and guts, Crump-Conchie is comfortable throwing the bloodied animal over her shoulders and walking with it for the required distance.
Her aging father, on the other hand, sometimes struggles to carry his kills back to the vehicle, which is something she loves to tease him about.
'HOW DEVASTATING IT CAN BE'
Firearms safety specialist Nicole McKee, 47, has trained thousands of teenagers how to use firearms, including her four children.
She says she's often asked how young is too young or when do you know if a child is ready to shoot a firearm. To her, the answer is simple: a child is ready to be taught when you feel they can listen and understand in a safe manner.
They first take children hunting when they are as young as three or four-years-old to show them what a bullet does to an animal, how "devastating it can be and what occurs".
"One thing we've never done with our children is just put a rifle in their hands and tell them to shoot; it just doesn't work like that," McKee says.
Although this may be traumatic to some young children, she believes this teaches them not only about firearms but also about respect for the land and animals.
McKee says children pick up shooting "very, very quickly". Her youngest child was three-years-old when she held a firearm for the first time and managed to hit the target.
Despite the large number of teenagers who carry firearms, McKee says she's not surprised of the relatively low number of shooting deaths – deliberate or accidental.
According to the NZ Mountain Safety Council, there are on average 4.7 hunting-related fatalities each year with an additional 1,030 people getting injured. This week, Troy Michael Ormond, from Wairoa, died after a hunting accident at a rural property in Nuhaka, near Wairoa.
And data collated for Stuff's Homicide Report revealed there were 105 gun-related homicides, excluding police shootings and hunting deaths, which resulted in the deaths of 167 people – 124 men and 43 women – in the past 15 years.
McKee explained that 16 to 18-year-olds are not responsible for the most unintentional firearms incidents.
In 2019, most hunting deaths are caused by middle-aged white males.
Teenagers can get firearms licences under the Arms Act when they're 18, and with parental consent as soon as they turn 16-years-old.
She says teenagers are generally respectful and law-abiding because they can lose their licences if they misbehave or get into trouble with the law.
"We have a good regime of firearms education in NZ and long may it last," she says.
She says more often than not, the teenagers involved in mass shootings in the US are not licensed, and they had easy access to firearms.
One of the many differences between our country and theirs, according to McKee, is that we have to have firearms secured here whereas in the US they don't have to because they use it for self-defence and "can have it laying around in their cars and under their beds".
"The fact that we don't have the same constitutional laws as in America is what has made us on the global peace index the second safest country in the world behind Iceland when we have such a high firearm per capita rate."
There are an estimated 1.2 to 3 million firearms in New Zealand.
McKee says she's noticed quite a few teenage girls fall in love with hunting in recent years.
She says she's not sure if it's because it's more acceptable for them to be female hunters or if they've realised they're capable, but "they are getting together and are very good at it".
Data obtained under the Official Information Act from NZ Police show that between 1 January 2014 and 31 December 2018, only 779 teenaged girls between the ages of 16 and 18 were granted firearms licences compared to 6,675 boys.
Girls are much easier to train and are much better shots than the boys because they listen and train harder, Mckee says.
BOYS AREN'T COMPETENT ENOUGH
Her daughter, Kiriahi McKee, is an excellent example of being a better shot.
The 18-year-old recently represented New Zealand as the captain of the under 21 small bore rifle shooting team which beat the United Kingdom, Australia and the United States to win a world championship match in January.
Kiriahi is currently studying to become a doctor in Dunedin and plans to join the army once she's obtained her qualification.
She also hopes to participate in disciplined shooting at the Commonwealth Games when she's older.
"It would be a fantastic goal," she says.
Kiriahi was five-years-old when she was taught to shoot and remembers feeling excited about it and how strict her parents were.
"I had to go through a lot of drills to handle it, and safety precautions and all that. My parents are very big on being disciplined and treating firearms with respect," she says.
Kiriahi says her parents raised her with firearms because it was a great way to discipline them as you have to be mature around firearms.
She says she applied for her firearms license as soon as she turned 16 because she wanted to be able to handle it without supervision.
Aside from going shooting on her own, her firearm licence also meant she could supervise other people on the range or even coach them.
Kiriahi says the majority of teenagers who obtain their firearms licences do so because they want to go hunting on their own and do it legally.
She, however, hesitates when she's asked if all teenagers are competent enough to qualify for a firearms licence.
"The majority of teenagers are competent. We go through a background check; you have references from people who aren't your family members, people who are your family members.
"This is to make sure you're mentally in a good head space," Kiriahi says.
Crump-Conchie agrees that not everyone should have a firearms licence and says some of her hunting friends, "especially the boys", aren't up to it.
However, Kiriahi says most of the teenagers who get their firearms licences at age 16 were brought up with firearms, "they went through the same process that my siblings and I went through".
'THERE'S ALWAYS GOING TO BE RISK FACTORS'
While some people believe 16 is too young to hold a firearms licence, science appears to suggest that it all comes down to how the kids are raised.
AUT psychotherapist Dianne Lummis, who heads the university's child and adolescent psychology programme, says teenagers in New Zealand are just as at risk of making bad choices as those in the US.
She says adolescent brains are still developing and doesn't mature until a person is in their mid-twenties, particularly if they've got "vulnerabilities".
She explains that a 16-year-old's prefrontal cortex, which is the part responsible for decision making, has a long way to becoming fully developed. Teenagers are also still developing the capacity to regulate their own emotions, developing the capacity to have empathy and they are more prone to experience negative feelings than the average adult, and they feel those feelings way more intensely.
There is nothing to suggest New Zealand teenagers' brains develop any differently from the rest of the world, Lummis says.
She says if a child grows up in a house with violence where they don't have a secure and healthy relationship with their parents who can help regulate their emotions, then they run a much a stronger risk of making bad decisions.
However, Lummis believes that healthy relationships in the hunting community between parents and their children have ensured that teenagers who obtain firearms licences are mature and competent.
But this does not mean we are immune from mass shootings involving teenagers here in New Zealand, she says.
"There's always going to be risk factors, but there are ways to mitigate them," Lummis says.
McKee, who is also the spokesperson for the Council of Licensed Firearms Owners in New Zealand, says "we have a good country, we have behaved with firearms".
"There are so many people out there hunting who take their children from an early age. I think that should not be lost," McKee says.
Meanwhile, Crump-Conchie, who is studying business management at Massey University in Palmerston North and already has a successful business of her own selling dehydrated venison strips for dogs, says she wants to change the lack of women with firearms in the hunting community.
"I feel like if women knew that it's not that scary and we are capable of doing it, then we might have a few more of them."
She's been lucky because she knows her father will always be keeping an eye out for her, even if it's from afar.
Now she just wants other women to experience the thrill of shooting and hunting for themselves as well.