Despite its utter seriousness, the topic of children and guns isn’t overly complicated. There is not however a universal solution. Just think of it this way: who knows the emotional, physical, and mental maturity of those in your household better than you? Addressing gun safety around your children is an exercise in knowing your loved ones and, ultimately, the responsibility of ensuring your childrens’ safety around your firearms will take thought and action.
Thankfully, programs already exist to help guide you in the right direction. In 1988 the NRA collaborated with parents, educators, administrators, and child psychologists to determine the best way to protect children from unintentional firearm discharges and the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe program was developed to jumpstart the process.. The NRA predicated this program on a basic assumption: guns are neither good nor bad. The program is consciously free of bias to encourage parents who may have an aversion to firearms to participate and to best address the reality of guns as a part of a healthy and functioning society. It’s important to remember that even if there are no firearms in the home, children may still find or be exposed to firearms in other locations.
This article is not about the Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program, but I do recommend it. What this article is about is identifying some indications that your child may be ready for firearm instruction and some tips to help ensure your children’s safety with respect to firearms. My father was in law enforcement when I was growing up so my parents knew well the dangers associated with children and firearms. In fact, guns were strictly forbidden for me to handle and I was told I would be punished if they ever caught me with a gun. As usual I believed my dad, so I made sure I never got caught. The point is that kids tend to gravitate towards the taboo, and even if you do not have guns in your home, there is the good possibility your kid’s friends have guns in their home. I find that it’s better to address the taboo with children and, if they are ready and interested, let them go to a range. If supervised shooting is available then it becomes a family activity and not a source of youthful curiosity or teen rebellion.
My first wife and I knew it was time to have the gun talk when we saw the little one in the backyard with a rubber training knife and my replica red gun trying to give the dog a “gun class”. While your child may not give you such an obvious sign they want to learn about guns, I am sure you know your kids enough to know they are interested.
Basically, how the gun talk began in my household was with a talk about real and make believe. That once a bullet leaves a gun it is permanent, and that like squeezing toothpaste, once its out you cannot put it back in no matter how much you may want to. Later, so as not to overwhelm her, we talked about guns being tools, and that they had specific purposes. This was understood, since we had talked about tools before, and that you have to take care of them and use the right tools for the right job.
Once those two lessons were internalized, we then began talking about safety. We sat down with an unloaded semi-auto and I asked her if it was loaded. She said no, and I showed her it had a snap cap in the chamber and we discussed that since you cannot tell by looking, you have to always treat a gun as if it were loaded. This lead into three fundamental rules of guns; never point a firearm at anything you don’t want to shoot, keep it on safe until you’re ready to shoot, and keep your finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot. We reinforced the last one by talking about scaring mommy, and how she jumps and “makes fists” if you scare her, much like a hypothetical startled squeeze of a trigger.
How you interact with your child, and how they react to serious issues will determine exactly how you broach the subject and what order you teach the concepts to them. Since you are reading this, I am quite sure you know your child well enough to know how to talk to them.
Once the child understands the seriousness and responsibilities that go along with firearm handling, we went to the range. But before that we made a trip to the local store to let her pick out her safety gear. She ended up with pink child sized earmuffs, and some yellow safety goggles. Of course she had to wear them out of the store.
When we (my wife, daughter and I) went to the range, I brought a small .22 rifle, and some sandbags. We put a very large target up a short distance away. I think it was 3 yards, but it may have been closer. At this point I was not trying to make her a marksman or work on technique. This is very important. All I wanted to do was introduce the gun to her. We were clear that she did not have to shoot (but she of course made it clear she wanted to) and that if she followed our safety rules she could shoot as long as she wanted, but if she got tired, or broke any rules we would stop. Basically she fired about 5 or 10 rounds at the center of the target, but soon tired of shooting and asked if she could color while the rest of the party shot (she said it was loud).
Once we went home she horrified her grandmother with her war stories. You would have thought we let her free gun with a M2 .50 the way she described a day of .22 plinking. The next time we were going shooting we asked her if she wanted to come with us. She asked if it would be okay if she went to grandma’s instead, but she may want to go later.
Once I was confident that she would not start trying to find the safe keys and try to handle our firearms unsupervised, we then turned out energies to inoculating her from firearm danger outside our home. This is where the Eddie Eagle program shines. They have 4 simple rules, which are reinforced with coloring books, cartoons, and little plastic coins and stickers. The program teaches children that if they see a gun they are to:
Leave the Area
Tell and Adult
This is wonderful, as it takes into account the social dynamics of children. The leave the area portion is my favorite. When I was a kid and I was doing something “bad” if my sister told me to stop or that she would tell, it made me do it more. For example, if I just so happened to be making a mud hole for my trucks with the hose and she told me to stop, guess who got sprayed with the hose? By just leaving, the innocent child (i.e. my sister) is removed from the unsafe situation without aggravating it (i.e. getting blasted with a garden hose… or worse).
Lastly, in the service I learned to “trust but verify” and this principle is linchpin to household gun safety. Talking about gun safety is not enough—you must take reasonable precautions to ensure that in the event your child chooses not to follow your rules (or a visiting child is unsupervised in your home), they are not physically able to access your firearms. This means some sort of safe, case, lock, or other device. When I was single I was able to leave guns lying about in my home. Once I started having kids, those habits had to change fast. If this sounds like you just ask yourself this simple question: does the convenience of leaving your guns outside the safe outweighs the potential harm it could cause anyone who may find themselves in your house?
To repeat, firearm safety in the home is not hard. It does take understanding of and the enthusiasm to talk with your children. Nobody knows or loves your children as much as you do, and as a parent, you have a legal and moral responsibility to protect them from unauthorized access of your firearms if you choose to have them in the home.