Kids S.A.F.E. embraces adaptive shooting, teaching the blind to shoot

Over the summer I reported on a story involving the teaching of gun safety to a blind youth. Back in July Derek LeBlanc, founder and president of the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation, was conducting one of the foundation’s classes. LeBlanc told me he was doing a Kid’s Firearm Safety 1 class at one of the Cabela’s he offers the training through, and unbeknownst to him one of the students who enrolled was blind. The July story chronicled Ryker learning about the different parts of firearms and firearm safety tactically. Since then, LeBlanc has had Ryker to the range for live fire training.

In chatting with LeBlanc about the whole experience, I can tell that he’s truly dedicated. In late September we met up at the Gun Rights Policy Conference and AMM-Con. Sitting across from him at a booth, sharing appetizers and having lunch in Dallas, LeBlanc’s eyes lit up when I asked him about working with Ryker as a follow up. He told me that after having him go through the Kid’s Firearm Safety 1 class, he knew that he was going to prepare to have Ryker take Kid’s Firearm Safety 2. Leblanc got to researching different adaptive shooting methods and looked into the best way of teaching a blind person how to shoot a firearm safely.

Talking with Ryker’s mother, Jacqueline, she said that the experience has been really good. She noted that since taking the Kid’s Firearm Safety 2 class, which involved live fire, Ryker has been hooked, and talking about shooting on the regular.

It was important to Jacqueline that Ryker learned firearm safety. She said her motivations were all about safety.

We signed Ryker up for the first class for one reason, so that he could learn firearm safety. We didn’t want to have firearms in our house unless Ryker was educated about them. Ryker uses touch as his primary way of getting information about the world around him and if he ever comes across a firearm we wanted Ryker to know immediately what it was and what to do. Little did we know that this would turn into a possible sport that Ryker could compete in.

Jacqueline had told me that Ryker’s blindness has not been with him since birth, but as a result of a non-cancerous brain tumor called a craniopharyngioma. While Ryker is not 100% blind, he only has light perception in one eye and the other is 20/1000. He can see colors if they’re high contrast and no more than a foot away. Due to this, Ryker has learned to read braille and uses a cane as a navigation aid. Jacqueline said that since Ryker had sight for the first six years of his life, his mannerisms mimic those of a person that has full vision. Ryker’s dominant senses are hearing and touch.

When LeBlanc had Ryker shooting that first time, I asked him if he was apprehensive or nervous about him firing his first shots. LeBlanc told me that he wasn’t at all. After that first class with Ryker, LeBlanc put the time in to find out some of the best practices to use and adapt shooting styles to Ryker’s needs. LeBlanc even got a special clear magazine and had it marked with braille so that Ryker would know the orientation and whoever was working with him could confirm its condition. When the day arrived that Ryker would be shooting, LeBlanc felt prepared. LeBlanc said he was pleased with the experience in our conversation.

It was awesome. And so he mastered the process, he shot extremely well. And what he did is he helped us develop the process that we needed to replicate the situation. What he’s done is he’s given me the education that I need.

The story does not end there. Jacqueline said that Ryker has been heavily interested in the shooting sports since going to LeBlanc’s classes.

Ryker got to shoot a gun for the first time and he was hooked!…Shooting uses Ryker’s two dominant senses, hearing and touch. From the feel of pulling the trigger, to the feeling when the gun fires, then to hearing it when it fires. Ryker did a wonderful job on the range and showed a high interest in wanting to do and learn more. He literally talks about shooting every day now since that class a couple months ago. He has bought his own air-soft gun and made his own custom target so that he can practice everything he has learned in Derek’s class at home.

After that second session, LeBlanc took what he learned and wanted to implement those lessons further. LeBlanc reached out to different experts and other members of the firearm industry to see what he could scrounge up to make a custom build rifle for Ryker. Besides there being hand selected quality parts, LeBlanc looked into other means to enhance Ryker’s experience through the equipment. LeBlanc told me about one of the keys to the system he has put together.

We bought a digital camera system from Digital Crosshairs. They specialize in scopes for adaptive shooters and hunters. It features a camera that will attach to the scope and broadcast the image inside of the scope. A spotter will be able to see where his crosshairs are pointed at all times. It will broadcast this to the screen that will be attached to the top of the scope mount that was donated by American Rifle Company. I look forward to getting some good footage of it in action. 

The exciting thing about this build is that Ryker is going to get an opportunity to give it a whirl sooner than later. LeBlanc has arranged for Ryker to come out to another Kid’s Firearm Safety 2 class next Sunday, November 20th, which there’s still some slots open for. It’s going to be at that next meet where LeBlanc can have Ryker test out the build and give it a seal of approval. We’ll find out if LeBlanc has to head back to the drawing board from some tweaking or if he can designate the system as a full success.

Everyone’s excited about this next class. For Ryker’s mother Jacqueline, it’s more than just the safety education. What started out to be about making sure her son would be safe should he find a firearm has turned into much more. Jacqueline told me more about the journey.

Finding activities and interests for Ryker hasn’t been the easiest. Because of his visual impairment and brain trauma from multiple surgeries, it has been hard to find activities and interests that he can participate in safely. So any opportunity my husband and I come across that Ryker can safely try, we sign him up! We have been in awe of the time and energy Derek [LeBlanc] has put into making shooting accessible and even something, that with practice, Ryker can excel in. This is enhancing Ryker’s self confidence and quality of life. Something every person and/or child with disabilities needs, especially when there are less opportunities, like in Ryker’s situation.

In the meantime, I think we’re all counting down the days until LeBlanc gets to work with Ryker again, and give his build a test run. Dedicated persons in the shooting sports world, in the arena of teaching firearm safety and youth marksmanship, are pivotal to the sport. Having individuals like LeBlanc, who go the extra mile to make sure there’s real inclusion, is a true blessing. LeBlanc and his group, the Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation, has educated over 26,000 kids on firearm safety and use. LeBlanc has taken his program all over the country to Oregon, Washington, Northern California, Arizona, and Hawaii. What’s next for LeBlanc and Kids S.A.F.E.? Not sure. But we’ll be following him to find out.