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“Authorities identified an Allen Township man who died after being shot accidentally by his 7-year-old son,” the Toledo Blade reports. “Bradley A. Hammer, 39, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Detective Sgt. Tom Blunk of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Office. Sergeant Blunk said the victim apparently was teaching his son how to shoot when the 22-caliber rifle discharged around 12:30 p.m. Monday. A single bullet struck the man in the head.” Some TTAG readers aren’t happy when I zero-in on an inter-familial negligent discharge for our IGOTD. The rest of you might share their disgust when you read my takeaway from this tragedy: don’t teach your children how to handle a gun. Let someone else do it.

Caveat: of course you should teach your children about gun safety. By example, always. And by constant reminder. I constantly quiz my kids on gun safety. I make sure that their trigger finger’s off the go-switch on NERF and water guns. And I let them handle firearms—after THEY check to make sure they’re unloaded. But I don’t teach them how to shoot. I leave that to the pros.

The idea of taking the kid into the woods (or down to a range) and showing them what to do with a gun—as a quintessentially American “rite of passage”—is a bunch of dangerously romantic horse shit.

First of all, how do you know YOU are safe? Are you telling me that a professional instructor wouldn’t find a single fault with your gun safety during an extended shooting session? What if he or she increased the stress or pressure? Would you maintain muzzle and trigger discipline, safe loading, reloading, carrying and shooting? Perfectly?

Let’s face it: kids are stressful. Again, the romantic notion that you and your child will share a deeply solemn bonding moment over firearms instruction, that the rug rat will pay rapt attention to your every word and do exactly as he or she is told, is fictional.

Don’t tell me that you were the exception that proves the rule. Memory is a tricky customer. Over time, your cherished Kodak moments lose all their sharp edges and incongruities. What was a difficult day becomes a perfect picture of family togethernessosityitude.

Does that even matter? Look at this story again. Are you prepared to bet your life–and the life of your child—on your ability to create enough hushed concentration for both of you to get everything right?

More probable: their attention will flag. You’ll become stressed—THIS IS SERIOUS DAMMIT! Which will stress your child. Which will stress you. Which will lead to mistakes. Maybe big mistakes, like this one. Or maybe little mistakes: questionable safety ideas or practices that will sit in their mind like a time bomb.

I repeat: you’re not a firearms instructor. You’re Mum or Dad. Not a pro. You know that. The kids know that. They’re not stupid (they’re your kids). They know when they see someone who spends their life around firearms. They know how to shut up and listen to the expert and ask questions and do what they’re told and learn.

And if they don’t—for whatever reason—a professional instructor can stop the session without emotional blowback. “Sorry, but little Johnny’s not safe enough to handle a firearm.” If it’s true, you need to know it. If it’s kinda true, the impasse may provide incentive for your child to get serious and learn PROPER gun safety.

Or not. In which case guns are not for them. Maybe not yet. Maybe not ever. I’ve got four girls. Two are into it. Two are not. But they ALL had a pro show them the ropes. And the ones that like to shoot receive regular instruction from Adam or Wayne. It’s their job. It’s what they do. And they do it well.

Truth be told, none of the instructors I’ve ever met have shot themselves in the head. Nor would they allow a student to shoot themselves or their instructor in the head. (They know it could happen, which is another reason why it doesn’t.) The relative lack of tragedy in this “let someone else do it” strategy excellent is an excellent reason to let someone else teach your kids gun safety and initial gun handling.

So put your efforts into finding the right instructor for your child. Then stand aside. Don’t shoot with your child until and unless it’s safe to share the love. How will you know when that is? When the pro tells you.

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  1. RF, I don't know how I want to respond to this so I guess I'll just start rambling. How would I react under stress (i.e. trigger discipline, muzzle downrange, etc)? My guess is very well. Then again, I've been handling firearms since I was 11 and I've been running local USPSA matches for about 6 months now. After the first 3 months of local matches, I started running the clock and am the RO sometimes. However, in the beginning this was not the case.

    My first "Tuesday Night Steel" match at RSSC (Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club in Mesa, AZ) was very exciting and nerve racking! I started in a sitting position, hands at my sides. On the buzzer start, I had to load my XDm, rack the slide, and pop off 8 plates at 18 feet. Then I had to get up, run to the next position and shoot through a 2' diameter by 3' long drainage pipe to engage other targets. The final box in this stage was a simple 1-2-2-1 engagement. My heart was beating so fast that I thought it was going to explode. It wasn't from running 30 feet either. It was from my brain reacting to the fact that I am RUNNING WITH A GUN! Thankfully, I'm much smoother and calmer now…

    You're right though, kids and gun handling are tricky. I have taken about 6 different kids to the range this year (first timers). All did excellent and many have asked to go back again and again (just the excuse I need to buy more ammo too!). Some of this could be credited to the fact that I've taken quite a few firearms courses in my day, including hunter education courses, assault rifle specific courses, etc. However, I think most of the success comes from the kids I took to the range. Most are junior high to high school age. They were all intelligent and we took the time to "pre-condition" their thinking. Basically going over the 4 main safety rules and giving them situations (i.e. double feed, FTF, etc) to see what they would do.

    I think it is possible to train your children and I will disagree with you that you NEED to have someone else train your kids. Do you need someone else to train your kid how to drive a car? I think this is just as dangerous, and in reality it is probably more dangerous than training a kid how to shoot and handle a gun. I bet most parents who teach their kids how to drive wouldn't be 100% if a driving instructor were critiquing their driving skills. Sure, hundreds of Driving Schools around the country would suggest that kids should be taught how to drive by a certified instructor. However, I would be very shocked to see if valid statistical data supports the claim that driving school equates to safer driving (and NOT the data published by driving schools or insurance lobbyists!).

    I see where you are coming from though. If a parents form or technique isn't up to par, you shouldn't be training a kid. However, if their training or technique isn't up to par, why wouldn't the parents first take a training course themselves? Alternatively, if a parent needs "improvement" in gun handling, why not take a class together with the new shooter? This way, they will both have covered the same material and have learned the same techniques. This will help one critique the other when it comes to range time. It is still bonding time for the parent and child. Even if the parent is a pro, I bet he or she would be willing to take a refresher class if that's what it takes to get their kids involved in shooting sports. My father knew nothing about firearms when I wanted to learn. He took his time and learned what he needed to learn before he taught me. Nowadays, I pass on what I learned to others in hopes that they’ll be safe shooters for many years to come.

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