I used to speak to kids at school assemblies. I talked about the importance of staying in school and looking both ways before you cross the road. OK, it wasn’t that boring. Especially during the question and answer segment. I segued into that section like this: “Well, boys and girls that’s all I have, I’ll open the floor to questions. But let me get the first few popular questions out of the way. One. Yes my gun’s real. Two. Yes I’m trained to use it. And three. No, I’ve never shot anyone. Yet.” Did that stop them from asking about my gun or police guns in general? Of course not . . .
No matter what the age or sex, the kids were captivated by my sidearm. They wanted to know everything about it. I was more than a little apprehensive about discussing my firearm and role of firearms in policing. Some parents consider talking to their kids about guns as personal as discussing the birds and the bees. God forbid I’d advocate civilian gun ownership. That’s something I could have only done once.
That’s because a lot of gun and non-gun owning parents put a cone of silence around the whole “issue” of firearms. They believe if they don’t mention firearms to their kids they (the guns) don’t exist.
They know their kids watch TV shows and movies with gun-wielding good guys and bad guys. They happily buy their children Call of Duty or let them play with NERF guns. But the real thing? No way. They either lock their guns away out of sight or simply pretend there’s no such thing in “real life.”
It’s a law enforcement conundrum. Firearms are an important part of who we are and what we do. We want the community to know and understand how we use firearms. Our rules of engagement. Our training. We want them to understand that firearms are a tool for public safety, and that we take the responsibility of carrying a deadly weapon seriously.
But there’s no getting around it: teaching children about one of the most important tools of our job is a losing proposition. A PR nightmare. As the Santa Rosa Police Department’s SWAT guys discovered, when members of the public protested that basic, safe and responsible familiarization was tantamount to “promoting” gun use for children. I wish I could say it was a California thing. But as I said above, it isn’t.
I wish the police could [safely] demonstrate their weapons to children. I wish we could talk to kids about the Second Amendment. I wish we could train young men and women in the safe storage and use of firearms. (Note: some police departments do.) It would do wonders to increase respect—in both directions. But we can’t.
So it falls to parents to introduce their children to firearms. From Eddy the Eagle to range time with your kids, do what it takes to make sure they learn proper firearm safety. And if you see a cop with your kid, don’t be afraid to discuss firearms. We can’t let you touch our gun, but we can talk about it. And the more we talk about guns, the safer we’ll all be. It’s a start.