“When should I begin to teach my child about gun safety?”
I’d say this has to be one of the top 5 questions I get from women who talk to me about firearms. It’s one that I myself have asked as well. Every home, child, and family is different. I read books, scoured for articles from other moms, and sought out advice from firearms safety instructors before coming to this conclusion. It’s impossible to lay down a fixed set of rules that will apply to each of us; but I have a general guideline for children and firearm safety. You’ll notice that I don’t categorize these guidelines by age, but by development and ability. This is because what one child can grasp at 3 may not be understood by another child until they are much older. It’s up to you to determine when your child is ready.
The first few years:
At this point in your child’s life, firearm safety is entirely your responsibility. It is absolutely vital to keep your gun secured where your child (or anyone else) cannot gain access to it, no matter what age the members of your household are. I wouldn’t necessarily state that you need to be extra vigilant at this point in their lives as that would imply you get to “slack off” on your carefulness as they grow older; however during this stage in their development you cannot teach them to protect themselves.
When you carry, make sure your firearm is kept out of reach of tiny fingers. While your children are still small enough that you are frequently picking them up, I would not recommend carrying your gun around your breasts or stomach. This area is constantly jostled and bumped and little hands will be searching for a place to hold on to as you lift and adjust them in your arms. Once they are tall enough to wrap their arms around your waist (as children love to do!) you may want to avoid keeping your gun at the small of your back. Your method of carry will need to adapt with your children to ensure that they cannot harm themselves on the tool you carry to keep them safe.
When you remove your gun from your person, you’ll need a safe way to store it. (Under a mattress, in a drawer, or in your purse does not count as safely stored) I’ve been asked many times how it can be possible to retain quick access to a firearm that is locked up. My favorite fix to this problem is a biometric safe. It’s not as expensive as it sounds, especially not for the sake of protection, and can be mounted just about anywhere. Mine stores up to 100 fingerprints (I’ve stored all ten of my fingers, just in case) and your gun will pop free of the safe at a simple swipe. Whether you decide to stash one in your bedroom, by your door, under a desk or any combination of places is up to you. A simple under-the-bed safe works just fine too, as does adding a sturdy lock to an out-of-reach cabinet.
Once your child is old enough to pick things up and understand basic rules:
For my kids, this was about 3 and 4 years old. Now is the time to have a very basic talk about gun safety. Keep it short, simple, and memorable. The NRA put out a video for kids that does this better than I ever could; and I highly recommend showing this to your kids not just once, but often enough to keep it in their minds. The video can be found on YouTube here, and tells children in a fun and easy way that guns are not toys. The phrase, “Stop, don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult” is repeated in a song that will stick in their minds….and yours. I showed my kids the video and asked them every so often what Eddy the Eagle taught them; or what they should do if they see a gun.
After a few weeks of this, I left an unloaded gun on my bed and asked my daughter to get something out of my bedroom (check, CHECK and RECHECK that your firearm is truly unloaded if you chose to do this!) I watched as she walked into my room, spotted the gun, and immediately backed out into the hallway. She then turned to me and told me that there was a gun in the room.
Why would I do this? It may seem a little extreme; but let me paint a picture. Maybe you keep your firearms safely stored- but how do you ensure that all of your child’s friends have parents as responsible as you? You can’t. What do you do if your child discovers a gun lying around while on a playdate, or at a relative’s house? I want to be certain that my kids are equipped with the understanding that a gun is never a toy. Teaching them to “stop, don’t touch, leave the area, tell an adult” not only starts them down the path of responsibility, but it could also save their life. I wanted to be sure that she would put into practice what she had heard.
Once this is something they fully understand; let them watch you behave responsibly around your gun. Don’t hide from them when you store it or get it ready for carry before an outing. At first my kids were confused about why I had something they had been taught not to touch. I explained very simply that I carry it with me because I want to keep them safe. Eventually, I sat down with them and my unloaded revolver and answered their questions about it. I showed them how I keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction when I take it out of the safe, how I keep my finger off the trigger when I handle it, and so on. They began to see it as a tool for protection, and gained some understanding of not only why it is in our home, but how to behave around it.
Responsible enough to understand and respect basic rules, has the ability to concentrate on a task, and has developed motor skills:
We decided the kids would get their first guns at 8 years old. At this point we had been teaching them some level of gun safety awareness for several years and decided they would be ready for hands-on learning. Now, just because the gun is “theirs” does not mean they would have 24/7 access to it. We decided to keep it locked away with our guns when we weren’t teaching them how to use it.
Why hands on training? Because nothing teaches a kid about the power and severity of a firearm like watching it put a hole in something and hearing it go boom. Not only will this instill in them a first-hand respect for the danger of misusing a gun; but it can also teach them to protect themselves. The act of learning; and of improving a skill also provides a great boost of confidence not just in the range but in all areas of life. Now if you aren’t the teaching kind, don’t take this task by the horns all on your own. Leave it to the pros and sign up for a safety course. Taking a class together can be a great bonding experience for you and your child. Buying your kid a firearm may not be for you either- but taking them for an occasional range visit under proper supervision can be just as effective for teaching them responsibility and giving them an understanding of firearm safety.
Just like anything else your child learns; firearm safety is something that should grow with them. Remind them frequently, ask them questions, and don’t be afraid to answer theirs. If you don’t teach them, who will?