HAMPTON ROADS, Va. (WAVY) – Newtown, Uvalde, Parkland and just a few weeks ago, Nashville. They’ve all been the scenes of horrific mass shootings, but the common thread goes a step further. The shooter in each one of these incidents used a military-style rifle, the AR-15.
Now comes a smaller version of that rifle, the JR-15.
Wee1 Tactical, the maker of the JR-15 says its weapon – that looks just like the AR-15, just smaller and lighter – is not marketed to children. The head of the Violence Policy Center disagrees.
“Guns like the Wee1 Tactical JR-15 are targeted at the exact age range that we’re talking about, 6 to 12-year-olds,” said VPC Executive DirectorJosh Sugarmann. “The gun industry recognizes that by age 12, they lose the opportunity to brings kids into the gun culture. They’re playing soccer, they’re doing other organized activities.”
According to the company’s website, it fires a .22 caliber bullet and can hold up to 10 rounds.
Wee1 declined our offer for an interview, but said in a statement:
“The JR 15 is a youth training rifle for adults who wish to supervise the safe introduction of hunting and shooting sports to the next generation – with a patented safety mechanism that’s safer than any other rifle.”
We wanted to know more about that exclusive “added level of safety” but have yet to get a response. For Sugarmann, it doesn’t really matter.
“When you look at the use by children of adult products – we wouldn’t argue for a child’s cigarette. We wouldn’t argue for alcohol that’s targeted for children to teach them, say, responsibility. But somehow because it’s guns, we’re supposed to think it’s different,” he said.
Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) announced in March he was joining 13 other Senate democrats to sponsor the Protecting Kids from Gun Marketing Act to restrict gun makers from targeting minors.
But for younger people to carry on the tradition of sport shooting and gun ownership, they don’t need a scaled-down AR-15.
“Any firearm that resembles a modern military firearm is prohibited,” said Lynn Wheeless, director of the Shooting Education Program for Virginia 4-H. “So we don’t do things that look like AR-15s or AK-47s, those just don’t happen in our 4-H program.”
10 On your Side interviewed Wheeless last weekend at a shooting program session in Poquoson. He said he wants to arm young people with life skills.
“We use single-shot bolt action rifles, and they learn self discipline, time management, responsibility, and a host of other great things in life. We are proud of our record of sending people off to universities with NCAA rifle teams, and from there you can go to the Olympics.”
But the primary aim is safety.
“Whether they want to go hunting or take up target shooting, it’s incredibly important,” Wheeless said. “Before anyone of any age picks up a rifle or a gun or a pistol, they should learn the basics of safety. It’s the adults in their lives that are responsible for seeing that they do that.”
Wheeless talked about recent cases of bad results when children got their parents’ guns.
“That’s one of those Darwin decisions,” Wheeless said. “Leaving a loaded gun in the presence of a child is illegal, and really, really stupid.”
Wheeless and the owners of two local gun shops said they had never heard of the JR-15 until we contacted them. Wee1 Tactical did have a booth at the last two gun industry national conventions known as Shot Show.
“All of those modern military firearms are tactical in nature, and we don’t do tactical. Not to degrade what some people do in those sports, but that’s not our sport,” Wheeless said.
Kaine’s legislation is currently in the Senate Commerce Committee.