Teach your kids how to use defensive firearms. Image by Boch.
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By Rob Morse

I write about armed defense every week. We’ve covered many stories where young men and women defended themselves or their family. We’ve talked around the issue of teenagers and guns, but let’s look at it directly.

When should we teach our children about firearms? The obvious answer is to teach your children when it’s the safest thing to do. There are risks on both sides. Fortunately, we make similar decisions about our children’s education all the time. This article isn’t the last word on any of the issues, but I hope it is a good starting point.

As responsible parents, we have to teach our children what to do if they see an unsecured firearm. We have to choose when and how to tell our children that we have firearms in our home. We have to establish the rules about when our children are allowed to touch our guns.

As they grow older, we have to teach our children to be responsible around firearms. Later, we have to teach them when and how to use a firearm as part of our family’s safety plan. Those are a few of the milestones, but there are lessons in between. Lots of other parents have been there before.

What’s new(er) is that many families who have a gun in the home today didn’t grow up with guns and are entering the firearms culture for the first time. We’ve lived with guns for several centuries so there are many well-worn paths. To take some of the emotional heat out of the issue, this isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. The alternatives are not ignorance about firearms or having our 15-year olds carrying concealed handguns in public. Teaching and learning about firearms comes in a number of small steps on the way to self-defense. You’ve done things like this with your children already.

We live in a world with cars so we teach our children to look both ways before they cross a street near our home. We tell them to use crosswalks and street lights to cross larger roads. Most importantly, we model that good behavior, sometimes for years, before our children are expected to demonstrate good practices on their own. With firearms, invite your children to follow the safe habits you model every day.

kid child gun handgun

We need to destroy two bad ideas at the start. You must secure your firearms so they aren’t accessible to unauthorized adults or children. Please do that even if you “live alone.” We want to learn from other people’s experiences.

Don’t use a child’s “lack of strength” as an excuse to leave your guns on a shelf. Your children are strong enough to pull the trigger. An infant has enough grip strength to support their own body weight so they won’t fall out of their mother’s arms. We’ve seen very young children pull the trigger when they reached into their mom’s purse. Don’t let that happen to you.

You need to know and demonstrate safe practices now if you want your children to follow them later. Your children are in danger if your gun is stored up on a shelf. If my children could climb the cabinets to get to the cereal they wanted, then so can your children. A shoe rack and dresser drawers are ladders in disguise. Children can and will get everywhere so you must start modeling safe habits by securing your firearms every time, all the time.

Sorry if that sounds like I was on a soap box, but safe habits begin with us.

How will I know when my children are old enough to learn we have guns in our home? That varies from house to house. If you carry concealed, then your pre-school children already know you have guns. They see you getting dressed. They feel the firearm on your body.

If you only use your firearms on the weekends for sport, for competition, or for training, then your children will notice as you load your car. They will notice when you dry-fire practice at home. We want to satisfy our children’s curiosity on our terms rather than on theirs.

There are guns in the world. Lots of them. That’s true in rural homes and in big cities. You want your children to know what to do if they come across an unsecured gun. Use the Eddie Eagle videos to teach them.

While you’re at it, you can teach your kids’ friends, too (with their parents’ permission). Do your nieces and nephews know about unsecured firearms? This isn’t a one-and-done lesson, but a review every year.

See if the older children can teach the younger ones as you review the material. You can easily do this when your children are five or six years old. You need to do this because your children are often visiting friends in other peoples’ homes and we don’t control those environments.

Eddie Eagle
Stop. Don’t touch. Run away. Tell a grown-up.

What about the guns in your home? My children first met my firearms when I was cleaning them. They were old enough to have played cowboys and Indians. They played army and turned every stick into a gun.

They knew the difference between fantasy play and real risks, though they sometimes blurred those lines as they played. Dad-the-tickle-monster died a thousand deaths from ray gun fingers. Guns are part of our culture. Cowboys and soldiers can follow firearms safety rules even if the players are five years old.

My children met my firearms when the guns were at their least interesting. A clean gun is shiny and alluring. A dirty, oily and smelly pile of parts isn’t very attractive. My children could feel the gun parts as they helped me clean them. I sometimes cleaned guns that weren’t all that dirty just so that I controlled what my children saw and touched. Satisfy their curiosity early while establishing that guns come with rules.

One of the rules is that we don’t talk about our family’s guns with strangers.


Your children may want to learn to shoot. That can start with a bow and arrow. A BB or pellet rifle is a good introduction to firearm safety. One advantage is that you can talk to each other as you shoot because bows and smaller cold-gas guns aren’t as noisy as most firearms.

Can you make this a regular activity that your children look forward to? Both children and adults like swinging targets that move when they’re hit. Your children will treat a gun with the same respect that you show it.

Your firearm is a small part of your family’s safety plan. Your children are a large part of that plan, though their role changes over time. At some point, they will be playing at friends’ houses on their own. Your older children might want to learn and review first aid with you.

Soon your children are old enough to be home alone on a regular basis. If they are responsible enough to be unsupervised for a few hours, they should be old enough to protect themselves at home. That’s the simplest form of self-defense because it is all defense.

Here’s what I mean. Step back a minute with me. We are not asking our children to make nuanced legal and tactical decisions for home defense. We aren’t asking them to know combustion-chemistry and heat transfer when we practice a fire drill, either. We are simply asking our children to take a more active part in the safety drills we’ve practiced together all along.

Your safety drills at home are education as well as rehearsal. They make your children safer today and for years to come.

Suppose your older child(ren) sees or hears an intruder trying to get into your home. They model the same “best practice” behaviors that they saw you practice with them countless times before.

They retreat to the safe room and lock the door. They grab their defensive tools. That means a phone and a flashlight. They hide behind a bed or other furniture and call 911 for help. You decide when to add a firearm as part of their defensive plan.

Quality firearm instruction (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

If your children are interested, take a beginning firearms safety class with them. Judge their level of interest and attention. It’s often much easier for them to learn from instructors who aren’t their parents.

Notice how your children behave around firearms. If they show an interest, then consider going to a junior shooting league with them. Maybe they want to go watch an adult shooting competition with you.

You are the best judge of when your children are ready for armed self-defense. Their maturity isn’t necessarily dictated by their age. Some 16-year-olds grew up driving farm equipment and are ready to drive a car. Some teens need a few more years. Driving a car is as much a life-and-death decision as grabbing the family handgun when you hear glass breaking at night.

Armed self-defense is a small part of what our children learn from us. Yes, there’s always more to learn, but it has all been done before.


This article originally appeared at Slow Facts and is reprinted here with permission. 

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    • Texican,

      I caution everyone to be VERY careful with Texican’s line of thinking. There is an age range where children appear to totally understand the words coming out of our mouths–and yet fail to truly understand what we are saying.

      I have found this to apply mostly to concepts that seem simple to adults and yet are abstract to children. The older the child, the more abstract a concept he/she can understand.

      For example, you can tell a three year-old that the stove is hot and they will acknowledge those words–and then promptly proceed to touch it because they did not understand the actual underlying point. (The underlying point: the stove will cause you severe pain if you touch it when it is “hot”.) After the child touches the stove, he/she will probably make a lifelong connection that cautionary statements about “hot” objects equals severe pain if you touch them. Prior to that experience, however, the child did not understand the abstract concept that touching a “hot” stove would somehow cause severe pain.

      Similar to the “hot” stove example, a child must have a pretty solid grasp on abstract concepts before he/she will understand the actual point of safety discussions about firearms. You can tell a child that a firearm will harm someone if you point it at them and pull the trigger. But will they truly understand what that means?

      Last but not least, a child has to be at a pretty high level of development to not only understand abstract concepts but to also be able to apply the safety rules consistently–even with distractions present. For example, you can tell a 6 year-old child that it is dangerous to run into the street without looking both ways first. You can even test that child the next day on a simple walk–and there is a very good chance that your 6 year-old will dutifully look both ways before crossing the street. But will he/she remember to do that several months later? Will he/she remember to look for vehicles if chasing a toy, a dog, or even a friend? Probably not.

      • Well little tyke if you want save yourself a trip behind the woodshed you best watch for dirtbags while mommy pays for your happy meal, buys you groceries, etc. That concludes today’s lesson.

      • Your children a on the slow side? A 3yr old can figure out DONT TOUCH (stove, outlet, gun). If you don’t have the balls to reinforce this, as needed, with spanking then you (and society) get whatever come out the other side.

      • Uncommon, relax. That’s why I put this at the end of my sentence – 😉. It means there is a less serious side to the thought. You start where the child is and educate them as you go. Every child I’ve educated in guns has done just fine. And I was the child who put his hand on the hot stove immediately after being told not to. My younger brother’s learned that lesson by my misfortune. Have a good’un!

      • uncommon,

        Hey, even if you are convinced YOUR tyke is ‘the one’ that understands the Four Rules, etc.? You STILL don’t give them unsupervised access to firearms. I owned firearms, and had been shooting for years, but my dad still required that I be with ‘someone responsible’ whenever I took my gun out to use.

        Not because he didn’t trust me, but because he understood that he was responsible if I f***ed up. I did the same, until my sons were 18. Once they are adults, they are on their own. If they want my advice, I’ll give it to them. If they don’t . . . I taught them the Four Rules, I taught them to be responsible, I made sure they got training. If society lets them vote, who am I to argue??

    • take the kid out and let him shoot the damn thing!…once he knows what it can do he’ll develop a healthy respect for it…

  1. I was eight when my father gave me my first gun an Ithaca Lever Action Single-shot .22LR. My kids learned the basics on it and my Grandchildren will when old enough. I was ten when Dad, an NYPD Detective First at that time took me to the City Island range and let me shoot his Model 10 issue revolver and his Colt Detective Special on/off duty piece. I still have both in my collection.

    • Huh.

      I usually end up eating the Pop-Tarts nibbled into the shape of a gun I find lying about the place.

      Damn, I haven’t had a Pop-Tart in 40 years, and now I want a strawberry or grape one… 🙁

  2. It all starts with the NO Touchy Rule and the consequences of breaking it, long before the conversation about firearms. My father started teaching me at 5 with a demonstration about the dangers of firearms when he put a watermelon on a fence post and shot it with a 12 gauge, I still have that image ingrained in my mind almost 60 years later. I learned to shoot on a Winchester model 67 bolt action 22, beginning after that.

    • Darkman,

      You are supporting my comment above that children who certainly appear to understand our words still fail to understand the underlying abstract lessons that we are trying to teach them. Your father appeared to understand that fact: rather than expressing the abstract concept that firearms launch a projectile which can be deadly, he simple demonstrated the destructive potential of a shotgun when he positioned you to watch the result of the shotgun blast on that watermelon. That was an excellent teaching method because it did not require you to grasp abstract concepts. Instead, you actually experienced for yourself (in a non-dangerous manner) what shotguns can do and you instantly understood and respect shotguns after that.

      That is the sort of thing that we have to bring to the table: it is our core job as parents to accurately assess our children and then find ways to teach and prepare them to live and thrive (as much as is practical) in the real world.

  3. “My father started teaching me at 5 with a demonstration about the dangers of firearms when he put a watermelon on a fence post and shot it with a 12 gauge”


    My dad did the same thing for me at age 5, except he used a cantaloupe.

      • D, The real question is have you lost your mind? He never said anything about his teaching “gun law”.
        Are you by any chance related to dacian the DUNDERHEAD?

  4. who’s to say what the right time is? all’s we know is what we did when we were younger parents. back in the’70s and early ’80s when my kids were little I started showing them guns and talking and teaching them when they were as young as 3 years old and then when they got older they learn to shoot and two of the three kids today are responsible gun owners.

  5. I am much more qualified to determine when that is than anyone else. Wait a minute let me get my pistol out of the safe before you shoot me and rape my wife. One of my grandchildren may shoot you before I get the chance, don’t come to redneck land looking for trouble.

  6. “was ten when Dad, …. took me to the City Island range…and let me shoot his Model 10…

    if a dad did that today in NY Kathy Hochul would be screaming about it and introducing new laws against it and Shannon Watts would be all ‘Gasp!” and filling up tweets with hand waving hysteria.

    I’m serious… the anti-gun scream about training but let a kid put their hands on a firearm while being instructed and trained they get really upset.

    we’ve had local anti-gun hang out around open air ranges here and when they see a young kid with parent going to the range for training class and practice they call the police and tell them a child is being endangered. the cops don’t do anything when they show up but they have to talk to everyone so it spoils an otherwise good experience. eventually the cops got tired of it and arrested one of them for making a false report and the rest got the message so they stopped doing that but then they started taking pictures from the street at the entrance and the cops couldn’t do anything about that first amendment thing. it was just intimidation tactics but had its effect because some parents stopped bringing their kids to class and practice because it frightened the kids.

    in reality anti-gun doesn’t want people to be trained, especially kids. what they want is to control.

    • Awesome. 👍

      You mentioned City Island and I immidately thought of the City Island Casino. Incredible food.

      Used to go there with my GF back in the ’80s for the Italian Seafood Platter.

    • I would have brought a camera along with my firearms and taken pictures of them with my children taking pictures of them also. And then maybe have them pretend to write something down while staring at Karen. Good for a laugh I’m sure.

  7. You’d be surprised at what gets “overlooked” at the NYPD outdoor ranges when it comes to instructing children. It’s been a long time since I used those ranges but cops I know tell me the [practice still goes on. There’s only so much the pols can control.

  8. I “learned” to shoot at about 10. Safety wasn’t emphasized. Daddy was not into guns when any of my 4 son’s were young. I was huge & muscular then. Only one I know of shot-my 48 year old son in the military. 8 years in the army mainly in the mideast. He speaks & understands Arabic for the gubmint. His wife won’t “let” him have guns in their home. My son’s show no interest at this late date…my wife is a natural markswoman. Good enough!

    • “I “learned” to shoot at about 10. Safety wasn’t emphasized.”

      Somewhat the same here, it was at boy scout camp, and they had a range. No ‘four rules’, but they emphasized that your target better have the same number of holes as the ammo you signed for…

  9. My Dad took me out to a large wooded lot out in Suffolk County, NY and presented me with my first gun. It was a bolt action JC Higgins .410 ga shotgun. He showed me how it worked and had me shoot at paper targets up to 40 yds. He taught he the FOUR basic rules of gun safety.
    I got my first pheasant with that gun.

  10. The Klingons say a boy becomes a man the day he can hold a Bat’leth. My son will learn to shoot the day he has the wingspan and upper body strength to hold the thing (starting w/ a .22 of course).

  11. Starts around 5 (with proper parenting) and NEVER stops especially because laws and public attitudes (aka juries) change

  12. I received my first .22 at 10. Got my first centerfire rifle at 16. Was allowed to go out with the .22 without direct supervision at 12.
    Started teaching my kids basic firearm safety at 5 and started taking them along to the range at around 10. Gave the eldest a single shot 22 when she was 10. The next kid didn’t get his first .22 until he was 12 because he wasn’t ready.

    • can’t even remember exactly…I know we took his.25 auto down in a field below my house and shot olive oil cans…shooting a pistol just came naturally to me…as a teen the neighbor kid who was in the marines and a firearm instructor at the island, taught us to field strip a .45 then take it out and shoot quart beer bottles…don’t remember being scared of it…just lined ’em up and squeezed ’em off….

  13. For myself I thank Hunter Safety course for my firearm lessons. (Dad was not interested) Before that BB guns and self taught safety lessons. (Mostly dodging ricochets and getting lucky not shooting my eye out!)

  14. After WW2 and long before I was even a dirty thought, my father built and tested anti aircraft guns.
    To say I grew up in gun rich environment house would be an understatement.
    We lived a large brick house on the South-Side of Chicago and my dad set up a range in the basement.
    My brothers were 12 years older then me and every weekend they would shoot in the basement.
    The gun was .22 Ruger but at 5 years old it was just too big for me. I ended up with a pellet gun.
    Safety was always stressed but basically my parents broke up, my one brother got into trouble
    and had the choice of jail or Vietnam and the other brother went his own way.
    My dad would have me on weekends and every Sunday we would go to a range.
    I qualified as a Marksman and my dad was pretty proud.
    The next summer I went to a summer camp in Wisconsin and they had a outdoor range.
    We also had archery which was pretty cool but I loved the gun range.
    One of the “instructors” saw that I had talent and always followed the 4 rules.
    He had a .22 rifle that had a longer barrel and peep sights, it was his own gun.
    Instead of Wildcats he would give me boxes of CCI mini-mags.
    I would always choose the rifle range when I had a free period at camp.
    There were no scopes allowed back then and I came home with a Sharpshooter paper and badge.
    My dad was so proud that we went to Service Merchandise and bought a 10/22.
    I was 12 years old and mature enough to have the responsibility of keeping it at my house.
    My neighbor and good friend’s father was into skeet and trap and belonged to a club.
    We would shoot my 10/22 there but my dad wasn’t really a shotgun kind of guy.
    I soon turned 13, was a busboy at a local restaurant and was becoming very interested in girls.
    The gun thing died down quite a bit, I would hang with my dad about once a month.
    I started shooting pistols and increasing calibers but then I turned 16 and got my DL.
    My dad understood and to this day I still have that Ruger 10/22.

    I would say that a lot depends on the kid, I have a nephew that even in his 20’s was just unsafe.
    He would roll around on the floor when he stopped over with my brother with an unloaded pistol.
    I would take the unloaded guns from him, the kid was a menace and still is to this day.
    “I saw this in 21 Jump Street” Yeah dude you are in your 20’s and still live at home with my brother.
    It depends on the mental age of the kid and how well you taught them.
    We live in a different time then back then, kids just are stupider then the older generations.
    Error on the side of caution, if a kid does something stupid with your gun, then you are responsible.
    That’s a big burden and goes hand in hand with being a responsible gun owner.

  15. Y’all are all completely wrong.

    Start as early as possible with a toy gun. Guns are fun, shooting stuff is a gas – but don’t shoot Mom, ever(!), dont shoot the dog or your sister unless she starts it, Dad you might get away with, maybe, under certain circumstances, but if you see Ol’ Uncle Roger let him have it…

    Then when you are 5, you get to “shoot” your dad’s 45. Once.

    At this point, you know toy guns are one helluva lot more fun than real ones, real ones are heavy, and will definitely hurt you if they go off, no matter which end you are on. And even a water pistol can get you in big trouble. Even with Ol’ Unk…

    You also have the basic concepts of good guy bad guy shoot don’t shoot down pat.

    At 7, begin traditional training with a bb gun…

    Kids play to learn, and need to learn early. Starting a kid off with a real gun is just nuts. Especially late.

    I do not know if it was pre-calculated or just naturally happened, but at no point post-5 have I even been mildly tempted to “play” with a real gun. Nor had any confusion whatsoever about real vs toy…

  16. An Indiana man was arrested after his 4-year-old son was seen playing with a gun in doorbell camera footage that was broadcast on live television on Saturday as part of a program that follows police departments.

    The footage showed a child clad only in a diaper waving a gun in an apartment hallway. The child appeared to pull the gun’s trigger several times, though the gun did not discharge, and pointed it at several doors inside the apartment complex in Beech Grove, Ind., a suburb of Indianapolis.

  17. Jefferson County District Attorney Danny Carr said it is a case by case basis, but in some, parents can be held liable in court for their child’s actions. Carr said it all starts with how the child got the gun.

    “What we are looking at under the law is accountability for the behavior of another person,” Carr said. “It’s important that they keep it in a lock, that they keep it safe and away from their kid, because they do have that responsibility.”

  18. “We tell them to use crosswalks and street lights to cross larger roads. ”

    Spoken like a true urbanite. Our town has no crosswalks or street lights, or even traffic lights. The county seat has about a dozen traffic lights, maybe 100 street lights, but I can’t think of any crosswalks.

  19. Each child is unique and so I find the approaches need to be tailored to the child. I have been working with my grandsons and have found that Eddie Eagle is good but that it needs to be reinforced over time. The impulse of curiosity of the device will often intercept the “don’t touch” rule until that message is reinforced over time. It’s taken over a year of me leaving an unloaded mag less semi auto and alternating with a revolver out for them to find in different places on a monthly basis to get consistent results of not touching and telling an adult. Psychology teaches us that learning needs to reinforced over time, (metaphorically related to the same principle of muscle memory) in order for the behavior to become a habit. So I still practice this “set up” situational test for them on a monthly basis. They are now 9 and 7. Now there’s a 2 year old in the mix and it will be interesting to see how the older brothers will look out for him when I add him to the training in the future.

  20. I raised my children as I was raised beginning between 3 to 4, which is how my father’s father began with him. Not beginning shooting at that age, but familiarization with Safety and Guns in general. Gun Cleaning Sessions, Maintenance, and Gear Review. I’ve stored my guns in safes for a while now, (though I wasn’t raised with a safe in the home, but a local Ordinance was passed when my oldest was still a baby, so I built my Gun Safe). a couple of years back, Commierado passed a Secure Storage Law.
    Between 5 or 6 (depending on the child), we begin with Range Trips. This trip is dedicated solely to the child. I’m not working on my skills, but working on theirs totally. With my Son and Daughter, I used my old Savage Model 24 .22/.410 Over/Under and an old H&R .22LR revolver. Both of those guns along with a couple of others were lost in a house fire in 2009, so now that I’m teaching my Grandkids, we had to start with a couple of new guns. A Savage Rascal and a Heritage SA Revolver. I must admit, the Rascal is more size appropriate than my old 24.
    I only take one child to the range at a time when they’re young. Not just for Safety’s sake, but the child’s as well, as my full attention is on them and not their sibling(s). As the child grows and becomes more mature, other guns and calibers are introduced. My 15 year old Granddaughter is downright wicked with my AR-15. She can keep a tighter group than Papa.
    It’s a proud Dad/Grandpa moment when your 5 or 6 year old can not only recite the Four Cardinal Rules of Gun Safety, but explain why there are Four Cardinal Rules, and what can happen when any of the Rules aren’t followed (Thank you Alec Baldwin).
    At home, we’ve set up a BB Gun Range in the basement , where they are allowed to target compete under Grandma, Dad, or my supervision. The two oldest 13 and 15, both go to the range as they’ve matured enough to not need 1 on 1 supervision. The older two also clean and maintain the guns that go to the range. Younger ones assist when we clean and maintain.
    When my Son and Daughter turned 21, Dad bought them their first pistol. They filled out the 4473, and had their background check.
    I hope to be around long enough to do the same with each Grandkid.
    There’s no set age to begin, but the younger they start, the more Safety and Responsibility can be taught IMO.

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