John Boch for TTAG
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Here’s an inconvenient truth: firearm safety education saves lives. However, some people fear them and don’t want anything to do with teaching their kids gun safety. At the same time, others agonize over when to start teaching firearm safety in their home. What’s the right time to start teaching your kids to respect firearms?

Yes, prudent parents teach their kids gun safety (safey, not how to shoot). When, though. The simplest answer I’ve heard comes from a retired FBI agent. “When do you teach kids about guns? About the same time you teach them about hot stoves, electricity and fire.”  In other words, when you drown-proof your kiddos, gun proof them, too.

The National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program distills firearm safety for kids down to a few simple concepts:

  1. STOP
  2. Don’t touch
  3. Leave the area
  4. Tell an adult

This easy-to-learn, potentially life-saving protocol leaves politics at the door with one goal in mind: save lives.

The Eddie Eagle program has achieved proven results since its introduction in 1988, helping to educate over 29 million kids in firearm safety. It came about from the efforts of “educators, school administrators, curriculum specialists, urban housing safety officials, clinical psychologists, law enforcement officials and National Rifle Association firearm safety experts.”

However, that doesn’t stop gun-hating civilian disarmament activists from despising the NRA’s safety program…and actively working against its common sense goal. Former Brady Campaign honcho Paul Helmke took a shot at it in “NRA’s ‘Eddie Eagle’ Doesn’t Fly or Protect” in the Huffington Post:

[I]t would be wise to stop this misguided excuse for gun safety education in its tracks. The NRA dresses up its gun safety course in the guise of a colorful cartoon character named Eddie Eagle. Yet there is absolutely no evidence directly linking the use of the Eddie Eagle program to a decline in children’s deaths by guns.

Helmke quotes from a Violence Policy Center “study” in his Huffpo screed:

“The primary goal of the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle program is not to safeguard children, but to protect the interests of the NRA and the firearms industry by making guns more acceptable to children and youth… The hoped-for result is new customers for the industry and new members for the NRA.”

Helmke wrote his anti-Eddy jeremiad shortly before leaving his job with Handgun Control, Inc the Brady Campaign, a group that, unlike the NRA (and NSSF), has no gun safety education program for children or adults.

With or without the Eddie Eagle program, in the end, it’s up to good-guy gun owners to teach our children gun safety.

2. Don’t touch
3. Leave the area
4. Tell an adult

Make sure your kids know it.

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  1. I teach basic pistol and rifle to Scouts (boy and girl) eleven and up ever summer.
    I have taught some family members who were younger.
    The critical issue is when the understand danger, have the physical strength to manage the firearm and follow instructions instantly.
    P.S. Girls are much better students than boys.

  2. Teaching safety is a different then teaching them to shoot.

    Children at a very young age can understand not to play with real guns, not to handle them without permission.

    Teaching them to shoot then a lot of factors come into play.

    • Agreed. As part of my Masters in Education program, no kidding, I did a review of research in teaching the Eddy Eagle style safety to elementary age kids. The bottom line was 2nd graders and up could easily learn the Eddy Eagle type safety rules especially after three role playing practices. In test situations about 90% of kids would follow the don’t touch, leave tell an adult protocol if they were alone. About 70% would follow it in groups. Unfortunately 10% were going to pick up the gun and mess with it no matter what. They are the reason we must have gun locks and safes.

      • It amazes me that we still, so often, miss the points you raise. Teaching kids to say these ‘rules’ is not the same as teaching kids to do what the rules say to do. They are different behaviors. Role playing takes it much further, but still falls short, usually very short. The numbers you put out there seem a little high compared to what I recall with respect to the general findings regarding ‘doing’ following teaching ‘saying’, even when role playing is included. Now, consider how the compliance rate you put out there of ‘doing’ when in a group might drop when one, or more, members of the group push noncompliance even moderately.

        Don’t get me wrong, it is well worth doing the training with the role playing. But to make the training as effective as possible in a program like this, in vivo trials have to be done-We can’t fully learn to drive without actually driving. Unless ‘doing’ is ‘tested’ and feedback provided following failed ‘tests’ until ‘tests’ are passed with some regularity, fluency is far from certain. And, it is not really that difficult to go that extra distance. The non-compliance numbers can be cut dramatically this way. Of course, it is most likely to be less effective with kids’ parents who think the Eddie Eagle program is all their kid needs, and I am sure there are plenty of them.

  3. My opinion, the Eddie Eagle applies to _anyone_ that is not capable enough to handle that firearm type. I also think it applies to more than just firearms, eg a Democrat and political office.

  4. To take any curiosity out of them I always showed my dtr from 4 up that the gun was unloaded and let her handle them and keep them pointed in a safe direction, every new firearm that came into the house. Really cool having a 4 year old that demanded to be able to look inside the chamber with her own 2 eyes as it should be. It wasn’t some mysterious item of wonder anymore. It was something that she wasn’t allowed to touch, and ordinary household object. As a toddler when she was learning “hot”, she’d point to the stove and say “hot” she point to the locked closet the guns were in and say “no”. As she grew the collection and the storage techniques did too.

    If you’re child is interested, take them hunting. My daughter started sitting in the deer blind at 3. From 3 to about 8 hunting was kinda boring but she would sit quietly playing barbie on the floor until deer were in view. Now she’s ready to be on her own.

    From my experience with my daughter and my nephews-If Children see a deer or other game animal with bullet wounds they’ll better understand the mortality of firearms, and have a different respect for them than my 10 year old self did.

    • 1 to everything that Jeff the Griz said.

      I will add the following.

      Young children do NOT understand abstract concepts (e.g. the theoretical potential danger of firearms) — they must directly experience such concepts to fully understand them. That means you must take them out to safely OBSERVE a few shots with a firearm to absolutely cement the lesson that children must respect firearms. My protocol was simple:

      1) Child stands about 150 feet behind me (and I am aiming away from him/her) and hears one gunshot from a handgun (NOT a shotgun or centerfire rifle) without hearing protection.

      2) Child has hearing and eye protection, stands inside my arms and places his/her hands on back of/around my hands, and feels recoil from a single gunshot from a handgun.

      3) Child has hearing and eye protection, stands a few feet behind me, and observes me shooting a full water jug with a hollowpoint bullet from a handgun. The higher the bullet impact velocity, the better.

      Those three simple actions make it crystal clear to a child — even a young child as young as three years old — that firearms are serious business and are NOT toys to play with. You demonstrate and the child experiences what firearms do. At that point they are able to understand and will respect firearms without having to process abstract concepts — something which they are incapable of doing anyway.

  5. 1 STOP
    2 Don’t touch
    3 Leave the area
    4 Tell an adult

    Kids are never to young to learn what to do when they see a Democrat.

    • That list doesn’t tell you what to do when the democrat sniffs you- turn, knee it in the nuts (or whatever’s there) until the democrat leaves or is lying on the ground clutching said area.

      Then leave the area and tell an adult!

  6. Few things in life are more satisfying than watching my twin 11 year old girls test each other on a dueling tree with single shot bolt action 22s.

  7. I made one modification to the 4 Eddie Eagle rules. I added the word NOW to the last step, knowing what I do about how kids prioritize things. this also makes the first rule have one word, the second rule has two, third three and amends the last rule to have 4 words. An extra help in remembering.
    Don’t Touch
    Leave the area
    Tell an adult NOW.

  8. When they were old enough to understand, except for that red-headed step kid that is. I left guns out all over for that kid.

    OK, that’s a joke.

  9. I see this as a subjective question but generally the earlier in life the better.

    I’m not even seeing this as ‘the right question’ to ask though. Too many people are answering this with ‘never’. This is the very reason there is such an issue to start with. You may aswell be asking at what age to teach children that fire is hot and will burn. So many parents have not even been taught gun safety. How are they going to teach their children this?

    • Thus lies one of the biggest problems.

      Never being introduced to firearms, then later in life being terrified of something you know nothing about, which leads to making up or believing false information about them which scares you more so you feel more strongly about keeping them away from everyone because its the only way you can feel safe about them.

      Add in movie special effects and extreme precision accuracy and it leads to the though of a handgun (or any weapon) as being the finger of God that eliminates people at will with no remorse.

      Truth of the matter is, good people don’t murder other people. Many other major factors have to come into play.

  10. My 4yo came home from school the other day, found the Eddy Eagle note in his backpack. Asked him what he does if he see’s a gun laying around. He aced the test. Asked him and my 7yo why, they both said because someone could get hurt or killed and only adults should touch them.
    So its working.

    But, I carry all the time, they know where it is, what it is, according to them its for bad guys and bears. But they’re only aware of it.

    There’s also a fine line that needs addressed. The, “what does it do”.

    Now, this is where its sketchy. Depending on the results you want.
    If you demonstrate the destructive power of a firearm to kids too young, they may fear guns for a long time. If you don’t show them early enough, they get curious as to WHY is it for adults only?

    I have had friends take watermelons out and a 12 gauge and show their kids the effects, it scares them, they don’t touch…. for years… well into adulthood.
    I also have relatives who’ve showed their kids how to shoot and the kids are now too liberal with them and are too care free.

    Personally I’m easing the transition, BB gun, stays in the safe, they know it comes out like any other tool, only when needed or to be used and I feel they’re doing very well. At 7 I would like my older one to be a little more into 22’s but hes a super cautious person so I’m not pushing him.

    Biggest thing to remember, kids are learners, they investigate, don’t set them up for failure.
    Also they’re still kids, no matter how much you think they are so well behaved they won’t touch your carry gun laying on the table, one day they just might.

    A friend of mine leaves his loaded pistol on the kitchen table, says his 5 kids are so disciplined they never touch it. I say, not yet…….

  11. I don’t like the Eddie Eagle philosophy, and teaches the wrong message to kids.
    It’s fine for 4 or 5 year olds.
    By the time they are 7 or 8 the rules are:

    1 – keep you finger off the trigger until ready to fire
    2 – don’t let the muzzle cross anything you are not willing to destroy.
    3 – know your target and what is behind it
    4 – respect all firearms as if they are loaded.

    • This. That is exactly what I did with my boy. At 8 I transitioned him to shooting .22lr, now at 10 he got to fire one of my AR’s for the first time.

  12. My father was not a big gun guy but qualified expert with the 1911 in the Army. He owned a .22 Woodsman. At 8yoa my parents enrolled me at the local PD for the 12 week summer NRA safety and marksman class that was 30 minutes every Tuesday night @ 7:30. For 4 years. I learned to love to shoot. Their purpose was for me to respect firearms and imbed the best safety practices.

  13. As young as possible. Just like a hot stove. Kids don’t operate a stove until they have understanding. Historically children were taught how to tend a fire at a very early age. 5 to 7 years old. Same for guns as well.

    • I agree totally, I can’t even remember when I was taught gun safety, Must have been 6 or 7 years old. I was always around guns and was taught to treat every firearm as if it was loaded, no matter who handed it to you.
      Also muzzle discipline, never, ever, point a firearm, loaded or unloaded at anything you did not intend to destroy. Lessons that taught me well. I like being at the range alone, It scares the hell out of me seeing people handling guns at the range. There is nothing really difficult about handling guns, But then again there are some 18 year old should not pass drivers ED, they should start practicing with a wheel barrow. I blame the parents. .

      • The problem we have in the “Gun Community” is that the Liberals and the left removed 2A
        education and rifle teams from the public school system.

        And the gun Community as a whole didn’t give a damn.

        That is how we came to be in the situation that we are in now. Where the vast majority of the American population has never handled a firearm. Never actually seen a firearm. Unless it was on TV or it was in the possession of a government employee. A police officer or member of the military.

        And I would say if you only seen a police officer sitting in a police car not walking around, then you probably have never actually seen a firearm in person.

        Civil rights that are only exercised by a tiny minority of the population will eventually go away. Our population is already satisfied or comfortable with only government employees wielding firearms.

        The only way to grow the Second Amendment is to make sure that children are taught about it. As well as actually being given real Firearms to handle as they grow up. And the most efficient way to do this is in the public education system. But unfortunately the public school system has been broken for a very long time now.

        I know that a lot of us including myself have laughed at the NFAC. Who seem to not know how to handle their weapons. Including the John Brown Club. Both of whom seem to know very little about firearms. And the NFAC has had negligent discharges where people were hit by Bullet fragments and sent to the hospital.

        We can poke fun at the leftist gun owners, who are poor examples of firearms owners. However with millions of new gun owners in the United States this is not a good Trend at all. There are simply too many stories from gun sellers about new buyers who had to explain how to load their own weapon. What bullet caliber went in it.

        It’s actually very scary that there are now millions of new gun owners who are completely ignorant about a firearm. That is a recipe for disaster.

        Our country relies on the public education system to teach kids or even grown adults about the Bill of Rights. Everything except about the Second Amendment.

        For some weird reason education about Firearms is left up to private individuals. For a nation with well over 300 million in population, That makes no rational sense whatsoever.

        I don’t know how many Firearms instructors there are in the United States??? But let’s just say there are five or ten thousand scattered across all 50 states. You’re not going to fit several million brand new gun owners into the classes of 10,000 full time or part time Firearms instructors. Nor are you going to fit several million brand new gun owners on to, at the most, 1000 gun ranges scattered across the country.

        For some weird reason the “Gun Community” has come to believe that 2nd Amendment education should only be a strictly private non-public affair. That absolutely makes no sense when it comes to a basic human right and part of the Bill of Rights.

  14. I believe that it is necessary to talk to a child about weapons from the moment he went to school. He must understand what is good and what is bad. So that he would not be tempted to use a weapon. He need to be able to stand up for yourself without him.

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