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.
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.
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.
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.