Taking my son to the gun range

Parents Should Teach Their Children Gun Safety

There’s a lot of media coverage this past week about children and guns.  It’s to be expected, it’s the media theme of the month.  There is not an increase in gun-related deaths, only an increase in the reporting of them.    There is a lot of talk and rhetoric about gun control and changes necessary to ensure the safety of our children.

Let me tell you a fact: guns are everywhere.  No amount of legislation is going to change that any time soon.  The best way to protect your children from accidental gun injury or death is education, and it starts with you.

Let me start with my own story….

Learning to Shoot

When I was about five years old, my grandfather taught me how to shoot a rifle.  We were living with my grandparents on a farm outside a small town called Vevay, Indiana.  With over 100 acres of land, there was plenty of room for a kid to explore and get into trouble.  We has two barns on that farm.  One was just the barn, but the other was a rotted and dilapidated barn we called the “tobacco barn.”  I assume now that the barn was used in the past to store and cure tobacco grown on the land.

There was a large field behind the tobacco barn, and we grew crops there, when the groundhogs didn’t eat them all up.  The groundhogs could dig holes so deep they would tip a tractor if they rolled over them.  My father and grandfather would regularly  shoot the nuisance pests from afar, and I would watch them do it.  One day, my grandfather handed me the rifle and told me to give it a try.

My oldest son and grandfather at the gun range

My oldest son and grandfather at the gun range

I remember my grandfather handing me the rifle.  He spent time showing me how to operate the gun, the safety rules of handling the gun, how to aim, and how to slowly pull, not jerk, the trigger.  I grabbed the rifle from grandpa, sighted down the barrel, and I fired that rifle downfield at the groundhogs.  I missed, of course, and the recoil from the rifle knocked me backwards and hurt my shoulder.   The sound of the shot being fired startled and scared me.  Grandpa chuckled, and handed the rifle back to me, even though I was suddenly afraid of it.  Because that’s what he did; he taught without teaching.  He led by example.  He knew I was afraid, but he just handed the rifle back to me and let me make the choice to try again.

I was barely five years old – but I had learned one of the most valuable life lessons a father (or grandfather) should teach his son: respect for firearms.

My 86-year-old grandfather owning it at the range

My 86-year-old grandfather owning it at the range

I remembered this lesson and I passed it on to my kids.  My oldest son, Matthew, is fascinated with guns and has had a lifelong love affair with them.  I took him to a gun range and taught him gun safety when he was about seven years old.  When he was fifteen (he’s almost 20-years-old now), he spent an hour every weekend breaking down my Ruger 9mm and my Colt 1911 .45.  He studied guns, practiced with them, and spent hours talking to my grandfather about them.

My youngest son, Christopher, is pictured at the top of this post.  He, too, had regular gun safety lessons and sessions at the gun range – starting at about the age of seven.  He is now fifteen-years-old and, unlike his brother, has no fascination or desire to shoot guns anymore.  But he knows his guns.  He understands them, respects them, and knows how to handle any firearm handed to him.  I have absolutely zero concern about him and firearms, either in my  house or outside of it.

Because I taught him.

Guns are Everywhere

Regardless of your convictions or political beliefs, you are not going to change the fact that guns are a permanent and ubiquitous presence in our country.  In all likelihood  your child will, at some point, be exposed to a firearm when you are not around.  How your child responds and if your child has the skills and education to deal with the situation properly is entirely up to you, the parent.

It is your responsibility as a parent to understand this and teach your child how to respond in a situation where they see a gun lying around or in the hand of a friend.

You can never fully protect against a tragic accident, but you can stack the deck in favor of your children with basic gun safety and education.

When to Start Teaching Your Kids About Guns

My oldest son and friend cleaning my handguns

My oldest son and friend cleaning my handguns

I showed my guns to my children when they were four years old.  I did not let them touch the guns at that age.  I fired the gun near them, startling them and making them jump (and cry a little).  I showed them handguns and rifles, so they knew that both form factors were guns and were to be avoided.

At that age, I taught them to avoid guns at all costs.  If they saw one in a room, leave and tell an adult.  If a friend picked one up, leave and tell an adult. Of course, I also had to teach them to recognize a real gun from a toy gun, and to go to an adult if there was any doubt.

It may seem cruel to fire a gun near a four-year-old and startle them, but it drove home a point that a four-year-old needed to know; guns are scary.

By the time the kids were seven, I was handing them the gun, teaching them its basic operation, and allowing them to fire it in a controlled environment.  They learned how to remove the magazine, how to check and clear the chamber, how to engage the safety, how to handle it when around other people, and much more.

And the lessons were not negative.  They were taught at a range, as they learned to fire the gun, by a father who respects, not fears, a gun.

Respect, don’t fear, a firearm

This is important.  A parent who teaches their children to only fear a gun is not giving that child the skills necessary to deal with a situation in which they find themselves around a gun.  The “be afraid and run away” tactic I taught my four-year-old sons is not going to work with a pre-teen or teenaged child.  It’s naive to think that a 10-year-old child will walk away when a friend shows them a cool gun.  Especially a 10-year-old boy for whom peer acceptance is starting to become a major influence in his life.

This is the situation where your child needs to have learned respect for the firearm and not fear of it.  He or she needs to be able to recognize if it is loaded, if the safety is on, and most importantly, if their friend has the skills to handle and respect for the firearm as well.

Let’s sum it up.  Guns are dangerous.  Guns are everywhere.  Your children are at risk even if you don’t condone gun ownership or carry a gun yourself. You can’t protect your child from being exposed to a gun.

Those are all indisputable facts.

Any reasonable person, therefore, would agree that teaching your child gun safety and operation is good parenting.  I would argue that it is naive and nearly criminal to deny your child this education and leave him/her unprepared.  It’s akin to giving the car keys to your child and telling him to drive on the freeway without ever once teaching the child to drive.

Be responsible.  Be safe.  Teach your kids about firearms and firearm safety.

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