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By Kyle in CT

Every time I try to talk to some of my anti-gun compatriots, eventually the “for the children” meme comes out. You know the one: “For every instance in which a gun in the home was shot in self-defense, there were seven criminal assaults or homicides, four accidental shootings, and 11 attempted or successful suicides.” It’s not that the numbers truly support this view.  As Nick has pointed out on numerous occasions, it’s baloney from people with an axe to grind. So why is this fallacy so persistent? Because it’s not a meme . . .

The reality is that every year there are more than a few children and families that meet tragedy when a child gets ahold of a gun unexpectedly. While we may not know exactly how many times this happens, another pro-gun control favorite in this case is actually true: one is too many.

There is no statistic anyone can quote that makes the preventable loss of a child’s life “acceptable”.  Shannon Watts and her ilk get so much traction on this issue because it is truly the nightmare scenario for a parent. In addition, the pro-2A answer to this problem has been a bit . . . anemic. Oh sure, we have the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program, and the NSSF’s Project ChildSafe, but somehow they just don’t feel terribly substantive in the face of such risk.

Unfortunately, I’m not here to suggest a solution. As depressing as it is to admit, there really isn’t much the government, gun manufacturers, or the NRA can do to prevent accidental shootings of any kind, short of trampling on everyone’s civil rights. Instead, for the sake of the parents out there, I want to tell a story.

When I was 12, I had my first experience with a gun. My mother was adamantly opposed to guns in all forms, and so it was only with great trepidation that she allowed my stepfather to introduce me to his well-loved Marlin Model 60. But introduce me he did, and of course I was hooked almost immediately.

I loved the challenge of precision, the necessity of making my hands obey my mind. I was constantly asking him to go shooting with me, and to his credit he humored me more times than not. To this day, those hours are something I hold dear to my heart.

But even under these monitored conditions, mistakes can be made. During one such shooting session, my stepfather went to check something in the garage, leaving me on the porch with the rifle sitting on our shooting table. After what seemed like an eternity waiting for him to finish whatever he was doing, I did what every kid does; I got impatient.

It started with just inspecting the stock, looking at the various impressions that time (and occasional lack of care) had made on the wood. Then I moved on to the tube magazine, as I wanted to better understand how it worked.  Then I got to the trigger. I started fiddling around the trigger guard, and as many a media outlet has said before, “it just went off”.

Of course, it didn’t just go off. I was playing around in the trigger assembly, the safety was off, and I unexpectedly pulled the trigger. The bullet skimmed the table, ricocheted off a bit of old metal tomfoolery that had been on it since the beginning of time, and lodged itself in the corner of the house. I didn’t have a mirror with me, but I’m pretty sure that for just a moment, every last drop of blood in my face took a vacation to the pit of my stomach.

For a moment I just stood there, with the dumb look of a child who, in an instant, has realized the deep dark depths of their own stupidity. Being an honest kid, after the blood returned to my face, I told my stepfather what had happened. Ever the embodiment of reason and given the negligible size of the hole in our house, we decided it would benefit both of our life expectancies to neglect to mention anything to my mother.

I never forgot this incident. To this day, I double and triple check every gun that enters my hands. But my story doesn’t end there. As any parent will know, sometimes once isn’t enough.

On a couple of occasions over the following year I went into my parent’s bedroom to check out my stepfather’s pistol, which he kept under his socks in the dresser. I knew I wasn’t supposed to be playing with it. I knew it was dangerous. I was certainly old enough and had the experience to understand what “playing” with a gun could mean. But I did it anyway.

Sure, when I pulled it out of the drawer I automatically unloaded and manually checked the chamber more than once, but the fact remains that I was playing with a gun when I shouldn’t have been. I was playing out my mother’s (and every parent’s) worst fears. While nothing bad ever came of these unplanned rendezvous with a gun, it is humbling to look back and think of the possibilities.

Of course, this didn’t last forever. Eventually, I got into competitive shooting. I met my first firearm love, a well-worn Izhmash BI-7-2 with a silky-smooth bolt and a sense of character that I have yet to replicate with any other gun. I had a couple rifles that lived in my bedroom, and never again did I do anything irresponsible with a firearm.  In a sense, I grew out of it. Once I had access to a firearm whenever I wanted, the mystery was gone.

But the fact remains, I was still a child that got into his parent’s guns when they weren’t home. More to the point, I was a good kid. I know every mother says that to their children, but I really was. I never got into trouble, got straight A’s through school, never stayed out late, the whole deal. In every other conceivable way I was a model of responsibility. My parents never worried about locking the guns away because they assumed that I was not going to go looking for them. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption. They had no reason not to trust me. But while that trust may not have been misplaced, it certainly proved to be excessive.

The moral for parents is simply this: trust, but verify. As Robert recently opined, “Never underestimate the intelligence of a child when it comes to finding contraband.”

Even the best of kids can succumb to the whims of their inexperience, and that is why we, as parents, are the final authority when it comes to our children’s safety. Many of us own guns precisely because we want to be able to protect our family. But sometimes we fail to recognize that the danger can come from within.

Whatever storage method and training regimen you think is appropriate for your home, I only ask that you consider my story, and honestly reflect on your decisions. Not everyone will come to the same conclusions and that’s OK. Just don’t roll the dice with your children’s safety on the premise “my kid knows better than that”.  You can’t afford to be wrong.

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30 Responses to P320 Entry: Children, Guns, and a Not-So-Passively Constructed Negligent Discharge

  1. “Once I had access to a firearm whenever I wanted, the mystery was gone.”

    This is hugely important. My children can come to me any time and say, “Can I look at your xyz firearm?” Almost invariably, I drop what I am doing, retrieve the firearm they requested, show them that it is unloaded, hand it to them with the action open, and supervise them as they inspect, experiment, whatever. And if they ask to go shooting, I try to take them out shooting.

    Of course my children know the safety rules and that they are not supposed to play with firearms without responsible adults around. Even so, I don’t leave loaded firearms laying around — especially when I am not at home.

    • My son was curious so I showed him and my daughter (he was 9 at the time, she was 8) everything. They have not asked about them since. I was even cleaning one the other day and he barely seemed interested. Once the mystery was removed, that was it.

  2. Thanks for the sobering words. This is the main reason why every one of my firearms is in a combo safe or has a combo trigger lock on it. No one but the adults in the household knows the codes, No loose keys that my son can access.

  3. “The reality is that every year there are more than a few children and families that meet tragedy when a child gets ahold of a gun unexpectedly. While we may not know exactly how many times this happens, another pro-gun control favorite in this case is actually true: one is too many.”

    Every year toddlers drown in 5 gallon buckets. Should we ban those?

    Look, there are countless causes of accidental deaths every year: poisoning, falls, auto accidents, fires from heaters and Christmas decorations, drownings, avalanches, lightning strikes, choking, unintentional strangulation, electrocution, etc. etc. etc. Should we ban all of the objects and activities associated with those causes of accidental death?

    There are no guarantees in life. A life that is perfectly safe is devoid of, well, life. No one that I know wants to live in a round padded room all of their existence. All we can do is do our best to minimize the various risks. Beyond that, the chips will fall where they may. As for me and my family, we will be living an enjoyable life.

    • I’m pretty sure Kyle didn’t say we should ban guns (or buckets, cars, pools, whatever). His point is that every child death we can prevent with good gun handling/storage practices is one fewer dead child. Not to mention one fewer metaphorical bullet for those who would like to ban guns.

      • Most definitely. It’s never a good thing when negligent actions, especially when they are few and far between, are used as justification to infringe on our rights.

        What I don’t want to see is an attempt to implement some sort of storage law that would prevent ownership should prospective owners not meet whatever criteria said law would require.

      • To be clear, as Dan said, I am not advocating storage laws. I’m advocating that parents give more serious thought to how they store guns and train their children. We don’t have storage laws for bleach either, but I bet everyone here would make sure it was out of their toddler’s reach.

        • when I was young, probably 6-7 a girl in our neighborhood found a bottle of some sort of cleaner in an abandoned house. She thought it was a drink and her mouth and esophagus were severely damaged by chemical burns. The talk we got from our mother made it clear that there was nothing remotely edible under the kitchen or bathroom sinks. it stuck so well that when I moved in with my wife I moved all the food stuffs out of her sink cabinets out of habit. That space is for chemicals, food dosent go there. We had a similar talk about fire electrical items cooking and getting the f@#$ out when a house burned down on our street. Opportunities to learn are every where, some people just refuse to.

      • I think judging by the story as I read it he was not remotely suggesting banning 5 gal buckets…. but he was most certainly suggesting we all think about not leaving out 5 gal buckets half full of water with our toddlers unattended. Even if we clearly explained the dangers. I wouldn’t leave a young’un alone in a kitchen with a vat of boiling oil or alone next to a pool. This really isn’t a gun issue, this is an every damn thing out there (and in here!) can kill or hurt you thing. My number one priority once my theoretical kid reaches pre teen age would be car safety! It is really scary how many people take their 16 year old offspring to a single mandatory driving course then to the DMV before loosing them on the world with some flimsy pretense of expected conduct.

        Like guns knives animals fire swimming and crossing the street familiarization must start early! My kid would be driving as soon as his/her feet touch the pedals. By the time the state recognizes their right to drive they will be well practiced and the rules I lay down will be enforced with real consequences even for harmless infractions. I don’t do the whole no harm no foul BS.

      • Dan and Kyle,

        My apologies for not being clearer … my post is a retort to gun grabbers’ memes that Kyle reviewed.

  4. Great article. Granted that the rules of your parents’ house seem to have been “don’t touch the guns when we are not at home,” so you didn’t do the right thing in one sense. However, if you were responsible enough to properly unload the firearm and handle it safely, then you did do the right thing in an important sense. This isn’t something I repeated with my kids, but I had rifles, shotguns, and ammo for both in a gun case in my room under my full control at least by the time I was in my early teens. My parents didn’t sweat it because I had been handling guns safely for years by then. But like you said, it’s worth thinking about carefully, no matter what one decides to do.

  5. The accidental deaths by firearms of those fourteen and younger is at the bottom of the list below drowning, poisoning, car wrecks etc.

    I was given a .22lr rifle at twelve that I kept in my closet after I showed I was responsible with BB guns and then pellet guns. I also was driving a tractor at the same age. Kids can be very responsible in handling dangerous tools and equipment; teach them early, teach them well.

  6. Well, I’ll be the hateful baby-eating heartless cruel Libertarian here:

    Control your children, not my guns!

    I’m sorry, but not ONE of those children would have been hurt if they had been under the control of an adult who followed the Four Rules.

    • I starkly remember my education regarding handling firearms. Actually. two. The first was with my oldest brother and his Charter Arms bulldog. When I pulled the trigger, I got smacked in the face with the hammer. I was about three.
      A couple years later, I was out with my #2 brother. We were shooting his 22, and then he hauled out his 12gauge. He could shoot it with the same ease he fired the 22, so I wanted to try it out. How he managed to catch the shotgun as It and I went for a short flight and crash, I’ll never know. He didn’t even try to catch me though. Priorities.

    • I agree with Rich on this one. Besides, in some cases, particularly male teens alone, I’m pretty sure that a not insignificant number of those so-called accidents are actually suicides being charitably documented as accidents.

  7. My dad called me to the gun cabinet almost every time he opened it. He spent time showing me the guns and teaching me how to operated. I still had a small amount of fear and apprehension holding them, not because they were scary, but because I didn’t want to screw up and hurt somebody. What that did was ensure I was paying attention and not get complacent in weapons handling. I only got into the cabinet a few times to look at the guns when my dad was not there but I only handled my personal hunting rifle. I left his guns alone.

    I don’t believe responsible children should be barred from having access to firearms and here is why. My parents had just went for a walk down a nearby logging road. My sister and I were at home watching TV when someone called and said they could see my parents and they were going to kill them. As they had left about 5 minutes prior to the call it scared the hell out of me. I had no clue if they were telling the truth or not but off I went and grabbed the Ruger .357 magnum revolver out of the gun cabinet and told my sister to stay away from the windows and doors. I took up a position in one part of the living room. Luckily nothing happened and it was just a prank call. My dad was a little shocked to meet me at the door, revolver in hand, but was proud that I was ready to go if infact some crack head wanted to harm the family. I was around 13 when this happened.

  8. Great article.

    To everyone: When you were 12, did you ever look up from your video game to see your friend pointing his dad’s pistol at you?

    That happened to me.

    Guns need to be absolutely inaccessible to kids.

    • Sooo because your friends parents were bad parents (and they were, obviously) all those good parents out there should modify their behavior? I get that your experience was probably a pants crapping thing for you but there are people alive and well today because someone didn’t follow your advice.

      • Why is it obvious they were bad parents? The article here demonstrates that even good parents and good kids + guns don’t always mix.

  9. Problem #1: quoting the host, Robert Farago.

    I’ll leave the rest alone. It may win you the prize, but you could have nailed it by saying, “tastes like chicken!”

  10. Yes, a thousand times yes. I’ve bragged before about how my boys have been trained to be safe, and how I demystified guns for them. Earlier this week I discovered my CRKT Drifter under my bed, locked open.When this happened twice, I interrogated my 7yo and found he was playing with my EDC knife and even “threatened” his older brother with it (the older brother I chewed out for not reporting this). I always lock my guns up, but not my knife. So now my knives, pepper spray, lighter and magazines go into the safe, and I unload everything in the bedside safe until I go to sleep, when I make them ready. My younger son has had the same indoctrination, gotten the same lectures and been to the same Scouting events as my older one, but he felt the need to test the boundaries in ways his brother never did. Don’t take safety and training for granted, parents. I got lazy because #1 toed the line. I’m just glad #2’s little “experiment” didn’t turn out worse.

  11. Yes, the good parents should modify their behavior:

    My son knows better but I cannot vouch for every friend he brings into our house. And I cannot know for sure what risks exist when my son goes to his friends’ houses.

    Kids are kids. They do irrational things. They crave acceptance and sometimes lack good judgment. Access to guns presents more risks than rewards.

  12. I believe what’s been lost in our society (besides personal responsibility) is the general teaching of guns and gun safety as a part of life itself.
    When kids are introduced to gun safety at an early age, it becomes ingrained in them. The pick it up as second nature. While they”re curious, if they’re taught from first introduction to check the chamber and remove any mags/rounds, it just becomes habit going forward.
    But the anti-culture would rather set the world afire before they see young children in gun safety classes in schools.

  13. I was spending a few days at a friends house, about 25 years ago. His 3 kids were aged between 9 and 14. Both he and his wife were out one day at work, and I was there when the kids came home from school. The very first thing that the oldest one did, before even removing her coat, was walk to her parents bedroom and check to see if the door was unlocked, then the liquor cabinet, then the gun safe in the den. It wasn’t a “safety” check, it was a “I wonder if I can get inside this today” check. I reported it to her dad, and he replied, “Yeah, I know,she can’t be trusted.” All three kids were good kids, but had an apparently low resistance to temptation. They are all grown up now with their own families, and I wonder how they are doing with their own kids. Children has an intense curiosity about “adult” things, things that they are typically not allowed to experience except under supervision, if even then.

  14. Of course kids who will never be shown a gun by a responsible adult — will eventually come upon one of the: taboo, contraband, all-powerful, magical-mystical guns — and bad things will happen.

    When I was kid — porn was not an accessible item. Some dad’s sock draw with some copies of Playboy was a GOLD MINE.

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