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By Kerry Slone

Over the past year, I have been asked several times about teaching children, and what is the youngest age child I’ll teach firearm fundamentals. While many people that have been a generational, gun-owning family may not give this question much thought, as it’s a rite of passage for their children, many newer firearm owners, especially those living in urban/suburban areas, don’t have this experience.

Furthermore, cultural and societal stigmas and expectations play a major role in how children perceive firearms and self-defense and can play a significant role in a child’s success in learning how to shoot.

In a perfect world, the answer is…as early as a kiddo can hold a firearm and understand the four basic rules of gun safety.

iowa middle school gun safety training
courtesy Guns Save Life

Other than logistical issues such as range age limits and any insurance policy restrictions, there are many factors that come into play when deciding what age is appropriate to teach firearm fundamentals.

First, I always begin by chatting with parents as well as the child prior to allowing them to take a class. I want to evaluate how mature they are and whether they can stay focused, multi-task, and do what is asked of them without being defiant. Are they shy and afraid to ask questions? I want to know if they have any motor or cognitive skill limitations that can be worked with.

Second, it’s important to know if they’ve had any negative experiences with firearms (have the seen mommy threatened with one, or did grandpa let them shoot a 12 gauge at age 7 with no lessons or help?).

This one is often overlooked in adults, not to mention children. It can have a serious impact of their ability to learn, as well as how I approach teaching them, and can literally mean the difference between life and death if they are ever faced with needing to use a firearm for self-defense.

courtesy gunssavelife.com
Courtesy Guns Save Life

I want to gauge how comfortable in general they are being around firearms. Just because dad is a hunter and a child knows the safety rules doesn’t mean they are comfortable around them. And they may be too afraid or embarrassed to discuss that with their parents.

Last, but certainly not least, is whether the child genuinely wants to learn how to use a firearm…or if it their parents are pushing them to do it. I’ve met 6-year-olds that are better prepared to take a firearm fundamentals class than some 16 year olds.

All children can be taught to use a firearm safely from an early age (with a few exceptions that are also applicable to adults as well, such as debilitating mental/physical capabilities).  It’s just a matter of how to approach and address any individual challenges or concerns they have, as well as helping them understand and embrace the responsibilities and skills needed to be successful.

 

Kerry Slone is the Founder of We The Female, a non-profit organization created to both empower and provide personal security and firearm safety education to women.

 

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49 COMMENTS

  1. I honestly cannot remember a time that I did not know how to shoot. There’s a photo in the family album of me going out the door when we lived in the country with a single shot shotgun that was taller than me.

    It’s up to the parents to make that choice. The state, the neighbors, the church, nobody has a right to butt into that choice.

    • Very nearly the same here, jwm. I was either 3 or 4 years old, when my dad showed me a .22 pistol, and asked if I wanted to shoot it. He kneeled down behind/beside me, showed me how to hold it, then cupped my hands inside his own hands, giving me VERY little room to maneuver the weapon. Look through the back sight, line up the front sight with the target, and squeeze. I thought that I was a BIG KID after I fired six rounds at the target.

      TBH, I don’t even know if I hit the target, because I was entirely absorbed in the pistol itself, the sound, the smell, and all the accompanying sensations.

    • I was about 6 or 7 . . . big enough to hold that old Rimington .22 (which I still have). I also still have the nickel I hit from about 25 feet. By then I knew all about gun- safety rules which I practiced with my bb gun, I remember that Fall afternoon out shooting with my dad like it was yesterday. We should always remember that those seemingly casual moments for us adults can be peak life-instruction experiences for a little kid. Every kid needs to learn how to shoot.

    • Exactly right. My dad started me with a Winchester 1906 when I was six. Still have it. My two sons and daughter started with the same. Now nine grandchildren. Life is wonderful.

  2. The author’s comments and reasoning are on target. There is no such thing as one age fits all, because there are too many variables to consider. A young person, and old, should understand that a gun is not a toy and life is not like a video game.

  3. I was six when dad took out his off duty snub and explained to me its workings and let me hold it. I was eight when I shot my first .22 at the family farm in Md. and ten ion my first duck hunt there. Followed the same pattern with my two children and will help with the grandkids’ education.

  4. I have in a frame the spent shell of the first time my son shoot a rifle at six.
    It was a SMLE. A trainer in 22LR.
    I wanted the kid to start classy

    • My No8 trainer will be among the guns my son will use. Compared to other .22s, he said it looks and feels like a real rifle.

  5. I just came off a week long Cub Scout day camp as Rangemaster. On an NRA Junior Rifle target kids that got single digit or zero points Tuesday were scoring in the 20s by week’s end, they new the gun safety rules, they could name parts, and they learned some history. Safe to say the had a positive experience, saw their groups shrink, and had fun.

    • When my oldest son was in high school, they had a college prep program that included a tour that traveled by bus to the local state university. When I volunteered to chaperone the trip, the head instructor of the program asked me who I was that so many students knew me. Apparently, when the males of the group learned that I was to be a chaperone, many of them requested to be in my group. I explained that for several years I had served as Rangemaster for the local Cub Scout Day Camp. Our team instructed Cub Scouts (mostly ages 8-11), siblings (male and female) and interested parents in the safe use of BB rifles and archery. The former Cub Scouts remembered who entrusted them with a rifle and a bow.
      When my oldest son became a Boy Scout, he became part of our team teaching his younger brother and others. Both sons went on to earn the Rifle and Shotgun Merit Badges at BSA summer camps and Eagle awards. Both are better shooters than I am. That could be because I did not start shooting until I was in college where my student activity fee provided the pistols, ammo, targets, range facilities and a NRA Basic Pistol Marksmanship course taught by one of the Physics professors. I wish that I had the opportunities that my sons had.

  6. I was 6 (on the dot) when my dad taught me how to shoot (a 410). At 10 I got my own rifle, at 12 a pistol. By then I was hunting, shooting rifles and pistols on my own and restoring old guns. But it is very dependent on the kid. My middle son has never shown any interest at all in firearms. He’s comfortable around them and safe and will shoot in the backyard with us if his brothers and I are shooting, but it’s just not his thing.

    • Lol.
      Actually a lot of truth there
      We have video of my oldest son driving my wife’s car (a stick shift no less) around the yard, by himself, and he couldn’t have been more than 6 or 7. I probably could have taught him to shoot at 3-4 if I’d had guns at the time. He was always WAY more mature than his age would suggest.
      I taught my youngest at about 6-7 and he required a LOT of hands-on supervision.

      Basically, it all boils down to maturity and knowing your chid(ren).

      • My son, even 3-4 years ago, shows greater maturity than his cousin who is 3 or so years older than him.

        I would trust my son with a firearm but I wouldn’t trust his cousin with a nerf gun.

  7. I wander what the proper age to teach a possum to shoot is? Probably about the same age they learn to dodge an F150 Ford.

    • Great, now I’m gonna worry about a possum pulling an NAA Mini-Revolver out of the pouch and capping me… 🙁

      (I wonder if I can bribe him to cap my demented troll, first? 😉 )

    • All I know is if your eating dinner in the middle of the road aim for the right tires, if your eating dinner in the ditch aim for the left tires.
      @ Geoff:
      For Trolls, I recommend Billy Goat.

  8. Depends entirely on the individual. Some youth simply cannot be trusted with a firearm. This is probably more prevalent among teens than younger children.
    My daughter learned her BB gun at 8. Around 12 she will get her first .22 plinking rifle and we will move up from there.

  9. When cleaning or maintaining my firearms (and airguns), I would calmly talk about safety and operation of the particular gun I was working on, with my daughters (one on one). I’d talk about the 4 rules of safety and their importance. I’d ask if they would like to hold it and when they said yes, I would double make sure it was unloaded and then hand it to them. If their finger went on the trigger, I would calmly take the gun away and tell them they weren’t ready to learn how to shoot yet. Also, from time to time, I would let them try to rack the slide, just to get an idea if they were physically ready to learn.

  10. It depends entirely on the maturity of the child. They’re old enough if they can follow instructions and be trusted, at least for a few minutes at a time, not to act thoughtlessly. Some adults never reach the threshold.

    • I was about 10 when my dad started taking us shooting. Bolt 22 and a really neat 22 6gun. Nothing special taught or emphasized.And I shot what I think was a 410 shotgun as a boy scout. No ear/eye protection…my son’s ranging from 46 to 26 were never taken shooting by me. Didn’t care then. My oldest has been to war & speaks Arabic for the gubmint. And he’s a fudd. So my grandkids ain’t going shooting with grandpa. Oh well.

      • ” Kids are you ready,,Grandpa’s here to take you out for ice cream.”
        YAY.
        .
        .
        ” Well did you have fun with Grandpa today.”
        Shut Up You Fckn Nazi!!! – – Not,– but couldn’t resist the mental picture.🤪

  11. TAKE AWAY THE MYSTIQUE! I have pondered this issue alot and being around weapons, and talk of them, is the first step.

    Next, I start out w/ blades and get them comfortable just handling them.

    Next, I would let the child shoot a blank gun, blank grenade, or a live firearm w/ blanks.

    Next, I would progress to live fire of something simple and small. A single shot .22 rifle would be good. From there I would work my way up the firearm chain as the child feels comfortable.

    Show him/her the inner workings of weapons and ammo. Pack in as much science as the kid can handle and yes the 4 rules (as well as cleaning/maintenance) . Incorporating “other” weapons helps with the process, teaches more science, and adds to making guns “tools” which is what they are.

    • “TAKE AWAY THE MYSTIQUE!”
      Absolutely agree. That may be the most important thing to be said in the comments to this article.
      I can’t remember how old my kids were when I started them in on shooting, but we are city dwellers, and age was dictated by range rules. So,,, some time in their teens. But they were all familiar with firearms long before then.

  12. My dad started us at 5 with his old BB gun he had as a kid. From there we slowly worked up to .22s and shotguns. I killed my first rabbit at 6 with my dad’s .22. I started my kids at 5 with my pellet rifle and BBs. Then involved them with black powder rifles, shotguns, and muskets by around 8. They competed at 8 years in our black powder group.

  13. I think that when they are old enough to play most PC games while knowing what they are doing in them is a good age to start with a .22lr rifle. Probably 8-12 is a good age to start teaching but it will vary with mental development of the child. A pellet rifle may be a better option.

    Making it fun is just as important as teaching safety and fundamental skills; kids remember something better if it’s fun or not being beaten into them.

  14. Started both mine at 5 and doing the same but at a much slower pace with the granddaughter. Each child is different so don’t push too hard

    • I’ve yet to figure out why Daisy Red Ryders have these long adult stocks on them. To the saw they went but still…

  15. I think high school for girls and middle school for boys. I think a bolt .22 with irons is the right way to start. Only once they master that, should they move up to larger guns.

    People called me a Fudd for saying 11 yo girls shouldn’t open carry an AR15 into a courthouse.

  16. I took my kids out at 6 (min age at one of the local ranges) We have been going over the 4 rules of gun safety since they were 3. At 5 I let them handle firearms in the house, went over the parts of the guns, safety and range rules. By the time we got out to the range they were well prepared. I started them out on .22 with Red Dot sites to make aiming easier.

    If I didn’t think they were ready, I would have waited longer but we had no issues the first time we went to the range.

  17. Taught each of my children to shoot when they turned 10.
    My son and I had been playing paintball for about two years prior to that.
    In spite of others storing their children as young as four and five, I really think 10 is the earliest they really can understand that it’s a real gun and can hurt people.

    The first two I started with an M1 carbine, the last one learned on a CZ scorpion.
    Pistol caliber carbines are an excellent choice for a child’s first shooting experience.
    The funny thing is although they will come shooting as a way to spend some time with the old man, none of them turned out to be a gun enthusiast as I am .

  18. My parents sent me to the local Police Dept. for safety and marksmanship. They had a summer program of 10 weeks where you practiced and accumulated NRA levels of proficiency. The ‘class’ was available for participation up to four years ages 8 to 11.

  19. My dad was not a gun guy, although he had trapped muskrats for income as a young man as my grandfather ran passenger and freight vehicle from our little town to the “big city” ten miles away, so my dad had and easy way to get things to market. Papa had a story about shooting a skunk he had caught accidentally with a black powder rimfire 32 to avoid being sprayed. Apparently the skunk died slowly and smoke from the black powder cartridge of the 1920s or early 30s combined with the skunk’s spray caused a particularly strong, long lasting stench in the hollow where this occurred. This was not too far from where I grew up. In retrospect this might have been a discouraging experience fro him.

    Anyway, I was interested in shooting so at about ten we went to the nearest Sears and Roebucks and bought a J.C. Higgins bolt action 22 that I was taught how to care for and shoot in our rural back yard bordering on a wooded area. After a period of being watched I was allowed to go out in the evening and shoot 10 rounds at first and more later until I was spending most of my allowance on 22 shorts at the princely sum of $.50 per box of 50. 22 LRs were $.65 at the Sears or Montgomery Wards of the time. There was, of course, no problem with me carrying the rifle around or buying ammo on my Saturdays in the same “big city”.

  20. I was raised around guns. My dad was shot in the line of duty when I was 6 years old. He had been on the force for several months following his military service. He and his partner were ambushed when they responded to a domestic dispute, he lingered for a few days in the hospital but passed away. He was an avid sports shooter also and believed in firearms ownership, he had served in the military and had seen what happened to a disarmed populace in other countries in conflict and under domination and in his tours in combat. But had not yet taught me how to actually “pull the trigger with actual ammo” shoot because he believed a term of familiarization with the culture and guns was necessary before the actual hands on. But he would take me with him when he went shooting and I would watch him and the others, and actually it was a great introductory learning experience – the rules hammered at time and time again, proper handling, discussion of various techniques, just about everything you ever wanted to know about guns taught me by my dad and the others he knew when we went to the range. I had the advantage of their combined experience to introduce me to the gun culture for everything. So my 7th birthday was coming up, and my dad had made it a very special thing by getting me my own rifle, a .22, and I would actually pull a trigger on a real gun for the first time on my 7th birthday. Three weeks before that he was killed.

    Of course that was a long time ago, back then where we lived you could bring your kid to the range with you but they had to stay in one place and watch unless they were going to actually fire. So I had an advantage that kids today do not have, try to get a six year old onto a public range today and see what happens – the first argument, if they abide by the rules, is going to be “the insurance does not allow it”. But in between those range trip learning experiences dad would put me in the back yard with an empty gun with firing pin removed, he had devoted a rifle to just this, to practice the basics of the practical – breathing, trigger control, handling, maintenance, cleaning etc… over and over and over again supervised by him when he was home. I broke that rifle down so many times I could do it in my sleep, I cleaned it so much – it had not even been fired, but after every use I would have to break it down completely, clean it, put it back together, then store it away along with the other rifles he had in the safe.

    So, on my 7th birthday my mom, who was a shooter herself and damn good at it too, gave me the rifle all wrapped up and I did not want to unwrap it. So I sit for a few hours in my room just looking at the gift and in my child’s mind of grief I kept expecting to hear dad say “Its your gun, you know what to do, you are ready, lets hit the range”. He had always told me that “be patient, learning a skill is not just doing it but its also everything involved with it. You will have your own gun one day, you will know what to do, and when that time comes we will hit the range and you can pull the trigger for the first time”.

    So my mom came in and told me it was OK to open the gift. So I opened it, and there was a note from my dad taped to the rifle case. Not a long note, but it was enough and it read “you are ready, you know what to do, lets hit the range.” My mom then said “lets hit the range” and we did. She started guiding me through the real first time trigger pull beginning steps, like a mom would for any first time thing for her “baby”, so I told her “I know mom, I’m ready.” so she said “I guess you are.” and I pulled the trigger for the first time to actually fire a bullet. Its been years ago now, mom has since passed. I still have that target, its framed, I still have that rifle and note – they both sit along side the folded flag they gave my mom.

    And that’s how I learned about firearms and learned to shoot.

  21. What a Sad State the gun Community finds itself in. When the question asked is “at what age should a child be introduced to firearms”?

    This is why we are losing the battle.

    it was not that long ago, when Every child in the United States, boys and girls, were taught how to shoot. Learning about Firearms was part of becoming an adult in this country. Unfortunately people with children started listening to the advice of people, who don’t have children, on how their children should be raised and what they should be taught.

    So when Tom Ammiano an openly gay man ran and won a seat on the San Francisco City School Board, he received a lot of support from people who had no children.
    His stated goal for running for was to stop the school children from learning about the Second amendment. He proposed and help to pass the school board’s decision to stop having rifle teams at the high school level.

    The Libertarians Liberals and the Left did not believe that you as an American citizen, a parent, have the right to decide what your children will learn or not learn in school. This isn’t just about teaching the Second Amendment in schools. It’s about things that parents do not want their children to be taught in school.

    Critical Race Theory, CRT, is only the latest example of something that people who don’t have kids want taught in schools.

    It’s interesting how they took out the rifle teams. They took out music instruction which included singing patriotic and Christian songs in the public school system. They took out shop classes. And now the kids learn about sex not just biological reproduction, but all types of sex acts. So now it’s teaching 8 year old white kids that they’re racist in the schools.

    These same people will tell you that you should not have guns. And despite what they say about the cops, they want only the cops and Military to be the only ones, to be allowed to openly carry firearms.

    Every year thousands of school-age children participate in shooting matches all across this country. But yet none of them are organized in a way to show that children want to learn about their civil rights. And to have their civil rights protected by the adults around them.

    • Libertarians are far more likely to be absolutists on the 2nd Amendment than most republicans, what are you talking about, lumping libertarians in with the left and liberals???

  22. About 4 years of age the first time my Dad took me out with an old Savage over/under .22 LR/.410. One of my earliest memories.

    Around 5 or 6 for both of my kids. 2 of my grand kids are now 11 and 13, both are pretty good if I do say so, their little brother, I’ll watch. He’s 6, but he’s a bit too flighty yet, and doesn’t listen well. My daughter’s little ones aren’t old enough yet (barely 4 and 1 1/2). The oldest has the mental capability, but she’s not big enough physically (tiny wee thing).

  23. I was raised on the family farm I was lucky enough to have my Dad a WW 2 vet and 7 uncles all WW 2 vets I was allowed to play retriever at 5 allowed to hunt with the group at 7 allowed to shoot sitting rabbits then given my 410 at 10 (which is my grandson,s )shot my first deer with that 410 a doe .My 4 children were all taught with the same Mossberg 22 and the Eastern Arm s 410 they all shoot hunt with my Dad and I when time allows .Of course traveling from Washington state to the same farm driving all the kids learned to drive on the Interstate system. Now as time goes by my uncle’s are gone my Dad gave up hunting at 90 so I’m bye myself most years I take a doe or a rag horn buck I,ve got all my trophies locked away in my mind. I,m looking forward to teaching my younger grandchildren when they return to my slice of heaven in Missouri, I realize I,m a very lucky old man. Oh 1 thing I was never allowed to do was repeat was was said on the weekend hunting trip,s to anyone or I would not been allowed to go anymore. 1 thing is always wondered from my Dad and uncles was what would a French woman do for a cigarette? They were not allowed to tell me.Mohick

  24. I started teaching my son at daughter firearm safety at early. He was shooting a pellet gun before 4yo, and a .22 rifle a couple months later. By the time my son was 8 he could disassemble a 1911, clean it and re-assemble it. Since then he’s taken numerous handgun, precision rife and archery classes. At 15; my son continues to amaze me. At the range, the Range Master’s always compliment me on how safe my son is. They often introduce him to the older crowd. There’s hope for America! Teach your Kids to cherish freedom! Yours may just depend on it!

  25. It is necessary to teach something additional to children when they begin to be interested in it. For example, a child can be sent to mathematics courses from about 3 years old, but weapons are dangerous and you need to be much more careful there.

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