Talking to your kids about guns

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When it comes to teaching your kids about guns, the key words are “early” and “often.” (Photo: Jacki Billings)

We have a beat-up, old BB gun. It’s a relic from my husband’s youth that I seem to stumble upon with every move. After our most recent relocation, my son happened upon that old BB gun while helping me unpack. He peered into the box, shot straight up in an alarmed manner, and ran over to me, yelling, “Momma, there’s a gun! Don’t touch!”

He didn’t know it was a BB gun and one that probably doesn’t even function properly anymore. All he saw was something that looked like a gun and therefore he did exactly what we’ve taught him to do. Stop. Don’t touch. Leave. Tell an adult.

The when and how to talk to kids about guns are both topics I get asked about often. It comes up in every class I teach and it usually works its way into conversations with parents who know what I do for a living. Most parents know they need to have the gun talk but are confused about when and how.

Never too early

The confusion usually starts with what age is appropriate to start talking. In my opinion, it’s never too soon to start that conversation. In fact, we started it when our boys were newborns.

I remember sitting on the floor with each of my kids during “tummy time” and talking about what to do if they see a gun. My kids couldn’t even turn over much less pick up a gun. To me, though, early and often are the keys to firearm talk.

Actually, I found starting at such a young age gave me the opportunity to really groom my words. When my two kids reached the ages where they could understand what I was saying, I felt more effectual and ready. That time spent talking while they were babies made me better prepared for when they were toddlers and preschoolers and talking back.

If you’re looking at your kids now and they aren’t quite newborns anymore, it’s okay. You haven’t missed the mark. To borrow an old cliché, better late than never.

Talking to your kids

Any kind of “talk” with your kids can be intimidating. Parents frequently tell me, “I don’t know what to say.” If you need some pointers, the NRA offers the Eddie Eagle program for kids. The classes are lead by NRA instructors and offer good information for kids about guns. If you live in an area without a program, the materials can be ordered for free from the NRA website.

While we use the Eddie Eagle materials now, we didn’t know about the program when we had our first child. What we talked to him about boiled down to the same points though. If you see a gun: Stop. Don’t touch. Leave the area. Tell an adult.

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Familiarity with guns under parental guidance early on will help segue into trigger discipline later. (Photo: Jacki Billings)

The talk, of course, will change as your children age as do most talks. When my oldest was a toddler we stuck to those principles and it was more about repetition. Now that we’re entering pre-school and he’s able to use some critical thinking skills we like to pepper our talks with questions.

For example, when I un-holster at the end of the day I ask my son what we do if we see mommy’s gun out. After he responds, I ask him why we should get a grown-up, why we need to be careful and respectful around guns, etc. It’s my goal to ensure the learning goes past simply repeating the mantra and into respecting the firearm and understanding its use as a tool.

Not a one stop talk

There’s a reason we parents sing the ABC’s over and over when our kids are young. We understand the relationship between repetition and learning. The same applies to the gun talk. Once is not enough. They need to be reminded often of what to do when they see a firearm.

How do you introduce the topic? Use any and every opportunity. In our house, if we see an advertisement or we watch a program with guns, we pause and talk about what we saw. We remind them what to do if they see a gun. Every time our guns are visible to our kids, whether that’s during dry fire training or cleaning, we involve our children and ask them to tell us what to do if they see a gun.

We also allow our kids, under our guidance, to use our blue guns and SIRTS alongside us as we train. While not all families may feel comfortable with this, we capitalize on this opportunity to teach good gun habits as well as addressing that natural curiosity. At the end of a training session, we talk about what to do if you see a gun. What I’m trying to say is use every opportunity as a teaching opportunity.

Final thoughts

There’s a misconception that there has to be a perfect time or a window in which you should talk guns with your kids. The truth is there is no magic time frame. If you have kids, the conversation should start now.

Jacki Billings is a certified NRA instructor. Any methods or information described in this article is intended to be put into practice only by those serious about self defense with proper training.