You know the trick to training a dog? Buy the right dog. You know the trick to teaching a your child to shoot? Procreate with the right woman (I’m still waiting for Malin Akerman to return my Tweet). OK, yes, that ship has sailed (the whole fleet). Which leaves you working with what you got. In the video above, we’ve got a winner! Sweet kid. Attentive. Respectful. As any parent knows, that’s subject to change without notice. So my pre-tip tip: make sure your kid’s in the mood for instruction when you take them shooting. If they’re not, forget it. Stop. Leave it for another day, year or child. They may come around when you threaten to pull the plug but make NOT teaching your kid the default option. Right, here are three ideas for transferring your firearms-related wisdom and experience to your young ‘un . . .
1. No octopus hands!
Preparing, loading and shooting a gun may be second nature to you, but it’s a complicated business for a kid. Notice the sequence of events above. The sprog reaches for the gun. The elder takes it, releases the slide and thumbs-on the safety with one hand while the kid’s watching. Then the duo’s hands are all over the piece.
Dad says “the safety’s on” as he switches the safety off. Huh? The kid says “wait.” It’s all happening too fast. “Can’t really get my hand on the trigger,” she says. Dad ignores the comment. Various hands go on and off the gun. After the shot, hands come off the gun in no particular order.
The trick to avoiding this potentially dangerous confusion: slow WAY down. Make firing the gun a clear, orderly ritual. Talk it though from beginning to end. Use the same words each and every time. Something like this . . .
“I’m putting one cartridge into the magazine, pushing down on the spring and sliding the cartridge down and forward. See that? I’m inserting the magazine into the gun. Did you hear it click? I’m keeping the gun pointed downrange at all times. I’m racking the slide. Notice that the safety is now on. Can you see the safety? Is it up or down? Is it on or off?
“I’m holding the gun in my left hand, pointed downrange. Sit down here slowly and put your left hand over mine. I’m bringing my right hand onto the gun. Put your right hand over mine, keeping your finger off the trigger.
“Grip my hands firmly. Are you comfortable? Good When I say ‘now’ rest your right finger on the trigger. Do not pull the trigger. Do you understand? Good. Now.
“When I say now again I want you to gently squeeze the trigger. After you squeeze the trigger stay still and just remove your finger from the trigger. Nothing else. Do you understand?
“Now. Good. Finger off the trigger. Stay still. You OK? Look down the sights at the target. Can you see where you bullet went? No? Doesn’t matter. Take your right hand off the gun. Good. Take your left hand off the gun.
“I’m holding the gun in my left hand. I’m pushing the button that drops the magazine. I’m checking the chamber. I’m laying the gun down on the table with the muzzle facing downrange and the empty chamber facing up.
“Look at the empty magazine well and look at the chamber. Is the gun clear and safe? Do we keep it pointed downrange? Good. Let’s check to make sure no one else is on the firing line.
“THE RANGE IS COLD. Is there anyone else on the firing line? OK, let’s go see how you did!”
2. Constantly reinforce muzzle discipline
The young lady in the video above cites the Eddie the Eagle doctrine: don’t touch an unattended gun. Tell a parent or adult. Great landing wrong airport. She’s with a parent and she’s touching a gun. She needs to learn the rules that apply to handling and firing a gun. Actually, she only needs one.
Yes, I know: there are four safety rules. But kids aren’t good at remembering four of anything and muzzle discipline is the one rule to rule them all. If the gun is aimed in a safe direction the chances of someone getting hurt are lower than the chances of the aforementioned Swede’s response to my electronic enquiry.
Just hammer away at it. Is the gun aimed in a safe direction? Where is the safe direction? Why is it a safe direction? Where would be an unsafe direction? Would it be safe is someone was walking way back there? Does it matter if the gun is loaded or unloaded?
Don’t let your kids treat firearms safety rules like their times tables: something they repeat automatically. Make sure they learn them one at a time and think about each one. And not just on the range. Hit ‘em with questions at random times.
3. Cherish their targets
You want your child to take pride in their shooting. So they should “own” their target; it’s physical proof of their growing prowess. If you treat the target as important, so will they. Make your targets awesome!
For one thing, give your kid their own target, something that they’ve chosen. Splatter targets are way cool. So are hand-drawn circles. Whatever target you choose make sure you write the day, their name, their age, the distance, gun used, caliber and other details after they’ve perforated it.
For another, display the targets in your home with pride, like an art work from school. Use the target as a springboard to conversation. What do you want to try next time? Further away? Different gun? Was that a lucky shot? I bet you Mom couldn’t do that? Should we make a bet?
And lastly, have them mime the shot for Mom (or someone). Get them in the right stance, talk to them about breathing, pretending to shoot. Better yet, see if they can talk you through the entire process. What should I do first? Now what? Put your finger in an unsafe direction. See if they call you out on it.
When it comes to teaching kids gun safety, that’s non-negotiable. When it comes to teaching kids how to enjoy shooting and do it well, well, I’m thinking it’s nature not nurture. But as long as it’s done with love and safety, in the reverse order, I reckon it’s all good.
How’d that work out for you?