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From as early as I can remember, there were guns in the house while I grew up. Back in the day, it was more common for guns to be in a closet or under a bed, as were the guns in my parent’s home. Now, responsible gun owners are expected to have their guns locked up and out of reach of children. I can understand why and I don’t disagree. The cost of a safe is far cheaper than the cost of a life. So if we all lock up our guns, how, when, and to what extent to we teach our children about guns, gun safety, and how to use them?

The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says,

Parents, professionals and many others are concerned about the large numbers of children and adolescents killed by firearms.  In order to prevent further deaths, it is important to remember the following:

1)  We cannot gun-proof our children and adolescents. Children are playful and active. Adolescents are curious and impulsive. Such healthy traits when mixed with guns can cause death.

2)  The best way to protect children against gun violence is to remove all guns from the home. If guns are kept in the home, there will always be dangers.

Point number one applies to adults too. We can’t gun-proof anyone. Such healthy traits such as curiosity and impulsiveness can be deadly when mixed with just about anything. Singling out guns is not helping to remove the dangers of chainsaws that many people own and leave unlocked in a garage or shed.

Point number two does nothing to solve the problem either. Removing guns from the home and sheltering kids from firearms altogether only makes kids more susceptible to learn about guns from possibly the worst sources available; T.V. and video games. If everything kids learn about guns is from bad sources, when given the opportunity to handle a firearm, an ignorant kid will likely display a lack of safety precautions that might result in an “accidental” discharge (negligence on the kid’s and the parent’s part).

How do we teach our children about guns?

When I said there were guns in my house while growing up, I don’t remember ever not knowing how to handle a firearm. Why? Because my dad taught me what to do and what not to do. We were not hunters, so all the time I spent shooting was outdoors at targets. We went shooting often. I helped my dad clean the guns after we’d shoot. He would constantly remind me when at the range of the do’s and don’ts.

We wore eye and ear protection. We never pointed at or shot at anything we didn’t intend on destroying. The mystery of guns was removed because I knew of their destructive power and I shot them often. My curiosity and impulsiveness was a non-issue because I had no reason to be curious and I didn’t have to shoot on impulse, I just had to wait till the weekend.

There may not be an exact and proper method for teaching gun safety to anyone. Everyone is different and how we teach our kids needs to be tailored to fit. The point is that we teach our kids about what we keep locked up in those heavy safes and do it in a way that they understand the responsibility that comes with owning and shooting guns.

Familiarity:

The best way for a student to master a subject is familiarity and repetition. With any subject in school or work, learning the material and practicing produces mastery. It is no different with firearms. We should allow our kids to be familiar with guns and the requisite procedures for safe-shooting. Drill them on proper technique. Quiz them about what they should do if they see a gun out in the open. B

ased on their age, make appropriate decisions about what to teach them and to what degree. For instance, you might not take a four year-old to the range, but you can teach him the different parts of a gun and teach him to never touch them without “mom or dad” around.

Responsibility:

If we have guns in the home, it is our responsibility to teach our kids about them. In addition, we should teach them WHY we have guns. We should teach them that the constitution protects the right to own them, that people have died to defend the constitution and that guns have protected the people who have defended the constitution.

We should teach them that guns are like tools and when used properly, are effective for many purposes. We have a duty to respect firearms and to instill that respect in our children. When and how to teach our children about guns is up to us, but we shouldn’t ever consider our kids too young to introduce them firearms. The NRA has some good info if you haven’t really considered the topic. Find it here.

Firearms were a catalyst for many bonding moments between my dad and myself. Now that I’m a dad, I feel that same responsibility to pass on the tradition of firearm ownership to my kids and the knowledge and training that goes with it.

20 Responses to Kids and Guns: When? How? and Why?

  1. We simply don’t live in a world where kids wont come in ‘unsupervised’ contact with firearms. Its ‘magical thinking’ to think otherwise. Whether that be playing at a neighbor’s house, or finding a burglar’s ditched gun in your bushes or dog house, kids will find them. Knowledge is power. Make sure they know what to do.

    One can not be expected to question every parent on how they store their firearms. Nor can one expect to always get a truthful response. Firearm ownership crosses every demographic, every profession, every education level. Therefore, any parent who shelter’s their kid from this basic safety knowledge is really leaving an accident solely to luck.

    Teaching your kids gun safety can begin as early as their first toy gun. It can begin as early as they can watch Eddie Eagle, or manipulate an airsoft replica. Teach it, reinforce it, and may your kids never end up as a statistic.

  2. I think this is spot on.

    My family includes a lot of cops and hunters and guns were always in the house, and never locked up (for the record I don’t advocate not having a safe. I personally have several).

    I was very, very young when I was taught how guns work. So young that I can’t remember the exact age. I know I was given a Ruger 10/22 for my 9th birthday and was already intimately familiar with guns by that time. Guns were never a mystery, never a forbidden fruit, and therefore never a source of temptation.

    I learned the rules of gun safety the same way I learned how to use the stovetop, the soldering iron and other potentially dangerous things. The adults in my life explained and demonstrated them. It was all very matter-of-fact. More than three decades of shooting later I’ve never had a negligent discharge or safety issue.

    What I think is simultaneously sad and hilarious is this: the people who say that the way to fight teenage pregnancy and AIDs is to give sex education to second graders are the same ones who say the way to approach gun safety is to pretend guns don’t exist.

  3. Taught both of mine how to handle and UNLOAD firearms from age 3. My daughter saved a FRIEND FROM Injury at age 7 when the friend found a loaded pistol. She took it, unloaded it, excused herself and brought the clip and the one in the chamber to me. We contacted the parent, who called the police on us, who ticketed the parent. My daughter was thanked, as was I by the officer. The parent refused to accept the admonishment. Sadly, her child was killed by another friend with an “unloaded” gun. a few years later. Mother tried toblame me and my daughter with no success.

    • As a say in my post below, the other child parents did not teach their child or demonstrate personnel responsibility and as a result their child still thought all “guns” are “toy guns” with tragic results. And as your post says they blame others and not themselves for the events that took place

      One question though, did she try to blame you for the first time or when her child was killed? The post is unclear on this and I do not want to assume.

  4. Great article. It’s an interesting question. Reminds me of the constantly swirling debate about abstinence vs. contraception in teaching sex ed. With guns and sex both, the question is not whether kids should know, but when and how much.

    When my kids were old enough to understand what guns were (about 4 or 5 yrs old), I basically told them what Eddie Eagle said. They didn’t need to know much more than that. When the kids were 8 and 11, I gave them my own version of basic firearm safety instruction and taught them both how to properly handle and fire a .22 rifle. (My kids were taller at 8 than many 11-yr-olds, so they were big enough to carry & shoulder it w/no problem; smart, respectful youngsters too, so they were ready & willing to learn.) These days, my son goes target shooting with me more often than not; my daughter is totally uninterested, but at least she knows basically how a gun works and how they’re safely handled.

    I like the “guns are like tools” analogy — in fact, it’s the absolute truth. What I’ve taught my kids is that guns are basically highly specialized tools, and that like any tool (more so than most), they can be dangerous or deadly if misused. Approaching firearms that way takes a lot of the mystery out of it and also helps illustrate why it’s necessary to know at least a little bit about how they work.

    Along those same lines, it really freaks me out to see people having really little kids handle any sort of firearm. If you wouldn’t trust them to operate a power tool (say, a tablesaw or a circular saw), then for God’s sake, don’t put a gun in their hands.

  5. Oh no their bias is showing.

    I am a firm supporter of gun safety class at the start of school and every other year thereafter. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry has decided that the nanny state is better then PERSONAL responsibility. These are the people who tell you if you have a winner and loser you may “impair” the development of the loser; therefore you should only have activities that are inclusive and make everyone fill warm and fuzzy and loved. Bull%$@%$#@%#. In the real world it is called the school of hard knocks for a reason. It is how you respond to these trails and setback that determine what type of person you are.

  6. It’s just never been an issue with my family. I was raised shooting and with firearms on the wall in my Grandfather’s house. I first fired a shotgun at 5. I stripped down a Stevens Pump and put it back together at 8. I learned safety/handling while hunting with my Grandfather. I think more accidents happen because of uninvolved parents.

  7. Aaron, this was a great post to which I take a single exception. Guns aren’t “like” tools. They are tools and nothing less. The have the potential to do as much good or harm as any other tool — like a hammer or a chain saw. That’s the extent of my quibble with your thoughtful article.

    I have an acquaintance who was an experienced shooter. He never had an ND or any kind of gun “accident,” but he lost two fingers to a band saw — and he was an expert with that type of saw. So just like you, I wouldn’t let a child handle a gun (even if not loaded) or ANY tool without training and never without my personal and diligent supervision.

    • Noted. And agreed. I know NDs (or accidents with any tool, for that matter) are a serious mark on anyone who claims good safety skills, but I know a couple guys who have had a negligent discharge (no one injured) and are the better for it. Not that an ND makes you safer, but those guys learned their lesson in a very embarrassing way and changed (or enhanced) their behavior accordingly. Maybe it goes both ways; act to prevent an ND, or act to never do it again?…

  8. I started teaching my son safety from the time he could walk. When I came in from hunting I would sit him next to me and teach him the parts and safety. Once NRA came out with Eddie Eagle we got that and had him watch it and any of his friends that came over. My firearms were locked in the gun cabinet but it wouldn’t hurt and may help when at someone else’s house.

    I am looking to get an actual safe due to times we live in but my long arms are still locked in that same gun cabinet. It won’t protect against theft but it will prevent unintended casual handling. Then again, it is now just my wife and me in the house so no children to worry about.

    Train them young and take away the mystery and they’ll be safe. You just have to worry about their friends and their parents.

  9. Just as we teach our children not to touch a hot iron or the stove, we certainly can and do teach our children basic firearm safety and a healthy respect for the property of adults. Children have been taught basic safety in every society since the beginnings of civilization. Since the earliest times, those that learn these fundamental skills grow up to have children of their own and pass on this knowledge. Those that don’t usually die and (hopefully) don’t have the chance to pass on the “stupid” genes. As much as the liberal “nanny state” would like believe otherwise, natural selection is still the law of the land just as the Lord meant it to be. So there!

  10. When?

    Well, how old were your kids before you drown-proofed them? Before you explained the dangers of electricity, fire, and sharp objects?

    Frankly, it’s a common sense topic, unless mom and/or dad (or your health care provider) have mental issues or irrational fears about guns.

    John

  11. YWCA and YMCA teach swimming basics. That’s very important. Many more kids drown than die from shootings.
    The YWCA and YMCA should teach basic firearm safety as well.
    I know, I know. But they should

  12. I’m Soviet-born, so we didn’t have a chance to handle or own much of anything, let alone a freaking firearm.

    If I ever have kids, I’ll make sure that they know all the handling and safety rules by the time they’re 10.

  13. I bough a gun for each of my children the day they were/are born, they are then given the gun on their wedding day. (Why did you think I was crying?)
    What better gift can a father give a child, than protection?

    I let my children play with toy guns at the first show of interest in toy guns.
    I believe this is a good practice, because I enforced the same rules of gun safety on ALL “guns”. They could point their guns at imaginary “bad guys” or “space goomers”, but NOT each other. (Yeah I know, so much for playing cops and robbers, it’s a compromise.)

    At about 3 1/2, they got to clean my guns.
    This demystified the guns, making them tools instead of talismans. (It’s amazing how quickly the “aww” of guns go away with the application of work, and all the handling you can stand.)

    At 5 they could quote “The Five Basic Rules of Gun Safety”.
    Every time we heard of a Negligent Discharge or gun “tragedy” in the news or saw one in a movie we discussed how it was allowed to happen, which of the 5 rules were violated making the incident possible, etc.

    At about 8, they were/are bought their own .22 rifle, and taught how to clean it, and safely shoot it. (In that order.)
    If they are interested, they are taken hunting when they are old enough to reach their right arm across the top of their head and touch their left ear.

    So far, with 13 children, ranging in age from 31 down to 6 months, there has never been a tragedy, accident, ND or near miss.
    If the parents don’t care enough about their children to teach them the facts about guns and gun safety . . . who will? Their “TEACHERS”? (That was a trick question; we homeschool.)

  14. No mention of Cornered Cat’s fantastic page about teaching children gun safety?

    http://www.corneredcat.com/kids/firstlesson.aspx

    You briefly mentioned familiarizing children with guns, but the important part about that is to disarm their curiosity. Anytime they want to see a gun they can do so under close parental supervision. Pretty quickly guns become ‘no big deal’ and not the thing they go play with with friends when mom and dad aren’t around.

  15. As a father of four and grandfather of two I am here to say kids can be gun proofed! My kids have been taught as I was taught by my father how to properly handle all kinds of firearms. I was started when I was knee high and that goes for my kids and grandkids. When we go out to shoot I would always allow them to shoot as much as they want, I never put a limit on what or how much they could shoot. They all have to help clean the guns. I always tried to set an example to my kids and let them see how I handle guns on a daily basis. We would always talk about gun safety. If they wanted to see a gun all they had to do was ask. This was always a great time to teach when they were interested. It doesn’t get any better than to go out shooting with your kids and grandkids and see how your training has paid off!

  16. my son started at 4 at an indoor range with a SR22 looking thru an ACOG (thru his lazy eye). perhaps if we started him a little sooner he wouldnt have the lazy eye?? 😉

  17. I’m not sure about the age at which vivid memories are retained for life. I must have been just a toddler when this happened; we were visiting relatives. I found a gun leaning in the corner of the house where we were visiting relatives. I picked it up and walked into the yard with it where I saw this boy squatting down with his bare back to me. I walked right up to him, pointed the gun at his back from a distance of a foot, and pulled the trigger. I still remember his expression of pain as he tried to reach around to his back where the small red hole stood out against the paleness of his skin.
    In my memory the hole was very small and the boy and everyone else around were very angry with me. I don’t remember anything else and my mother doesn’t seem to recall the incident. It was almost certainly a BB gun. Thank God it wasn’t a .22
    This doesn’t say anything for or against guns and there’s nothing more to debate about than if I’d accidentally cranked up a car and run over the picnic table. I’ll bet, however, the family was a little more careful with their guns after that when they had company with little kids.

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