Girl Scouts aged 11 being taught how to fire a gun

Jamie Roberton

Former Health and Science Producer

Ahead of Friday's presidential inauguration, ITV News has travelled across the US to find out Americans' hopes and fears of a Donald Trump presidency.

Loading and firing a handgun is not an activity usually associated with the Girl Scouts.

But one of Colorado’s largest gun clubs is teaching girls as young as 11 to safely handle a firearm with purpose and pride.

Centennial Gun Club believes it plays a crucial role in developing a new generation of responsible gun owners.

"Guns and children is a subject you cannot avoid," it says in its advertising to parents.

The club is right: the combination has too often led to devastating consequences in America.

Centennial's classes are held just a short drive from Columbine High School, where Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold murdered 12 of their fellow students and a teacher in 1999.

That massacre - and the many others that followed - have not proved a catalyst for substantial change in America’s relationship with guns.

Many remain infatuated with firearms and fiercely defensive of their Second Amendment rights.

The parents watching this Saturday morning class - aptly named 'First Shots' - want to ensure their child’s relationship with guns is healthy from an early age and believe education is the most effective method.

"I feel very strongly that knowledge is the best way to defeat fear," Gwyn Nightcraft, the scout leader and mother of Lilyann, told ITV News.

"I wrote an email to the parents telling them how I feel that the girls are getting to the age where we will not always know where they are or who they are with - no matter how hard we try.

"They may see a gun at someone's house, in a car or, god forbid, at school. It is better for them to have some knowledge and experience than none."

The girls are taught safety skills before being introduced to the firing range to practice.

"We are not too concerned about marksmanship skills in these early classes," Dick Abramson, Cetennial's owner, says. "The focus is on safety."

Tom Mauser lost his 15-year-old son Daniel in the Columbine massacre and now dedicates his life to the campaign for greater restrictions on firearms.

"It's ridiculous," he says of the concept.

"The cynical side of me says this is really all part of an effort to soften the image of guns and promote future purchases."

Credit: ITV News

Instructor Cindi Martin rejected the accusation that placing a firearm into such young hands is alarming and irresponsible, arguing exactly the opposite.

"It's our constitutional right," she said. "It's part of our culture. I want to teach them what the truth is - not what the news media and TV shows show."

Demand for her classes is growing rapidly and the club is due to expand its youth programme this year.

The sight of an 11-year-old girl cocking a 9mm pistol may be shocking to non-Americans.

But to many here it is simply a common-sense approach: most children are brought up around guns so why not educate them?

Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton last November ensures Cindi Martin's pupils may be able to enjoy even more freedom than their parents as gun owners by the time they are legally able to purchase a weapon.

Instilling the highest standards of safety in their young minds may not be such an outrageous idea in a country still so blighted by gun violence.