Nice shot, Boy Scouts | The Firearms Lawyer

An NRA firearms instructor recently visited our Federal Way Kiwanis Club. He told us he goes all over the Northwest instructing Boy Scouts in firearms safety and marksmanship skills.

Robert Baden-Powell, the founder of Scouting, fought in the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902) and became a central figure in holding a railroad town in South Africa called Mafeking. Baden-Powell was a skilled hunter who had out-scouted Zulu trackers, often alone and at night. He was a combination of a precocious but mischievous school boy, resolute warrior and a skilled commander with administrative abilities that shone well during the 217-day siege of Mafeking.

Prior to the siege, he had performed service with the 13th Hussars in India, performed some James Bond-style activities in Africa, then returned to India to take command of the 5th Dragoon Guards in 1897. Right before the Boer War in 1899, he wrote a manual summarizing his training lectures on military scouting. He was organizing militias to aid the regular British Army against the Boers when he was trapped in Mafeking. An 8,000-man Boer Army surrounded Mafeking, which was unprepared for an attack.

Colonel Baden-Powell led about 900 defenders (including shopkeepers and other local residents of Mafeking). The garrison consisted primarily of irregular troops, volunteers and police. At the outset of hostilities, a Boer raiding party captured an armored train along with two 7-pound cannon. The circumference of the town was 5 or 6 miles, so Baden-Powell supervised construction of numerous small forts manned by 10 to 40 riflemen.

The Boers deployed two 12-pounders and a huge gun brought from Pretoria that lobbed a 96-pound shell. Men on both sides died in the Boer trenches as about 100 desperate defenders launched a sortie with bayonet only. It soon became obvious that the defenders could not afford to waste lives by launching attacks against such a large force. Both sides had excellent marksmen and Baden-Powell taunted his opponents with messages urging them to attack.

Baden-Powell maintained morale with comic shows, cricket matches and concerts. An ordnance factory kept busy manufacturing fuses, powder and shells. Eventually the factory produced a 5.5-inch smooth-bore gun that performed at good ranges with great accuracy. The world looked on, the besieged ate locusts and the besiegers increased in number.

Three-hundred Boers entered the city and were pinned down by rifle fire, the siege was lifted after seven months and Baden-Powell became an English hero. His manual, rewritten for young men, became popular and scouting groups were formed spontaneously all over the world.

When World War I started, Lord Kitchener averred that Baden-Powell was more valuable to the war effort leading the Boy Scouts. By 1922, there were at least a million scouts in 32 countries; 3.3 million in 1939. We should all thank those that lead the Boy Scouts and for countless NRA instructors who devote much of their lives to making it possible for marksmanship to continue as part of the Boy Scout heritage.

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