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November 16, 2023

Empowering Communities with NSSF’s First Shots Program

By Carolee Anita Boyles

Tammy Bartels, a former child welfare worker turned firearm instructor, highlights the transformative impact of the NSSF’s First Shots® program in introducing young people and parents to responsible gun ownership. Reflecting on her journey in this article, Bartels emphasizes the program’s role in providing accessible and comprehensive firearm training, breaking down barriers and fostering a sense of empowerment.

A First Shots event can bring a whole new group of shooters into your range or store. This is especially true when it’s a youth event; bringing youth in usually means their parents come in as well.

Tammy Bartels knows firsthand the power of an event for young people. For two years, she was an instructor and the director of training at Frontier Justice, one of the largest gun ranges in the Kansas City, Kansas area.

Bartel Breaking Down Barriers

“I used to believe that only the police need guns,” she said. “Then I worked for 13 years in child welfare, and I saw how worthless protective orders are. I came to think that maybe people should have just a handgun for personal protection.”

Bartels looked for three years before she found someone who could train her with a firearm the way she wanted to be trained.

“I didn’t know where to look or who to ask,” she said. “Then, I got really lucky and met a young man who was an instructor, and he got me on the right path. I was very fortunate to become friends with some of the big names in the training industry.”

After that experience, Bartels promised herself that anyone who wanted to learn to shoot a firearm to protect themselves would not have to go through the struggles she did if there was anything she could do about it.

“I have a joke that some people drink the Kool-Aid,” she said. “I filled the pool with Kool-Aid and jumped in.” She became an instructor so she could teach others some of what she had learned.

“I love being able to teach people,” she said. “If someone wants to learn how to protect themselves, it should not take three years to find someone to teach them.”

Offering NSSF’s First Shots at Frontier Justice

That resolve led Bartels to get involved with the First Shots program when she went to work at Frontier Justice.

“One of the things I love about the First Shots program is that it helps people who don’t know what they don’t know yet, get started,” she said.

At Frontier Justice, the focus was on First Shots programs for parents and their kids.

First Shots - Youth Class

“Our program was designed primarily for eight- through 14-year-olds,” Bartels said. “We offered it twice a month at one of our locations; the other two locations of Frontier Justice also offered it once a month. They almost always sold out.”

In each class, the primary focus was on handguns. Bartels started with very basic information: this is a gun, and this is how it works.

“We would teach them basic safety, and then we’d watch a video on what to do if a friend brought a gun to school, or if a friend showed you a gun at their house,” she said. “Then we’d have a discussion about they would have done or what their thoughts were about it.”

After that discussion, Bartels would teach shooting fundamentals and then take participants to the range, along with their parents and guardians.

“We would do some live fire,” she said. “That was always everyone’s favorite part. You’d be surprised how many times the parents had also never shot. Parents could participate too; they would get to shoot as well as the kids. We encouraged them to come back and use the range, especially if they were a family who had been involved in shooting and were looking for a way to introduce their children to the sport.”

Unexpected Community Impact

That program reached out to the community in ways Bartels didn’t expect.

“I actually had one person come to me and say he was very anti-gun, but that if he was going to be anti-gun he needed to know what he was talking about,” she said. “The First Shots class converted him. He talked about how much fun it was to shoot, and how empowering it was. It was still scary, but now he understood what it was.”

Since her time at Frontier Justice, Bartels has moved to a new range, Integrity Elite Firearms, in Lawrence, Kansas. She is planning to start offering a First Shots program there.

“The program at Integrity Elite Firearms will be a little different,” she said. “All of the instructors here are contract employees.  I’m going to start out teaching a First Shots for youth because I think there’s such a need for that.”

The range is in a community that many people wouldn’t think is super supportive of the Second Amendment, Bartels said.

First Shots - Classroom

“But I’ve been pleasantly surprised,” she said. “What I see is that wanting to protect yourself and your family, and wanting your children to know how to act if they find a firearm, is universal. It’s not a political issue, it’s a safety issue.”

In early 2024, Bartels also will start offering First Shots programs for adults.

“I’ve found, especially in this community, that there are a lot of adults who didn’t grow up shooting and don’t have that background,” she said. “I’d like to see our program grow to be a resource for people in this community who don’t know about guns. I hope we can bring awareness to people from all walks of life, to understand the importance and the value of being able to protect yourself, plus that there is a fun side to it.”

Become A First Shots Host

First Shots is for all ranges and instructors, whether you feature indoor or outdoor shooting options and all types of firearms, including handguns, rifles and shotguns. By signing on as a host, NSSF provides you with all the support materials (including eye/ear protection, rimfire ammunition or financial support to offset the cost, co-op advertising funds, targets, handbooks and more) to cost effectively host First Shots events and even rewards customers for coming back!  To learn more or to get signed up today, contact Ann Gamauf, NSSF Member Services Coordinator, or 203-299-2079.

You may also be interested in:

First Shots Success Stories: How Ranges Are Making New Shooters & New Customers

First Shots: Welcome

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