Children Learn About Guns at an Early Age by Travis Beck
Children Learn About Guns at an Early Age by Travis Beck
I’ve been interested in firearms as long as I can remember. Those early lessons last a lifetime. Even today, my parents tease me that my distrust of the government started when I was five years old and an airport security guard confiscated my toy cap pistol. My parents didn’t own guns. When I was about nine, my father bought a Crossman BB gun to teach me basic rifle marksmanship. I was about 14 when I came across a huge stack of American Rifleman and Guns & Ammo magazines. Those periodicals were my first real exposure to American gun culture. I devoured them. That is where I learned the NRA’s Rules of Firearms Safety. I followed the rules then, and teach those rules today. Firearms safety rules are important. Injuring yourself or someone else from a negligent discharge is almost impossible if you follow the rules. We teach and follow the rules because accidents happen.
Fast forward about fifteen years. I was now a husband and a father. We owned a few handguns and a .22 rifle. The handguns were stored loaded in a small electronically locked safe. The rifle was kept unloaded in the closet. When our first daughter was three years old we sat down together and read the Eddie Eagle comic book on firearms safety for children. The Eddie Eagle program is simple; it consists of four basic rules on what to do if a child finds a gun:
Don’t touch it.
Leave the area.
Tell an adult!
The lessons from that comic book were put to the test less than a year later. My daughter and I were visiting at the home of an old friend. He had a daughter a few years older than mine. The girls were happily rummaging through the toy box in one of the bedrooms while my friend and I chatted in the living room. My daughter came into the living room and told me, “Daddy, there’s a gun in the toy box.” We went and looked. Sure enough, she was right. There was an old wooden cork-and-string toy rifle in the toy box. A pop-gun. The Eddie Eagle comic worked.
When my daughter was about six, I purchased an Airsoft pistol. Airsoft guns are plastic, spring-powered pistols that fire a 6mm plastic pellet at anywhere from fifty to a few hundred feet per second. This pistol was on the lower end of that range. I used that pistol to teach my daughter the Four Rules of Firearms Safety. I taught her how to aim and operate the pistol. I also taught her to wear eye protection around firearms, even for an airsoft toy gun. We added a Red Ryder BB gun to the collection a few years later. When she was ten, we added a single shot Crickett .22 rifle.
We repeated the rules when we shot together. We reviewed the safety rules each time we added a new gun. We reinforced safety habits with spring powered toy guns before we introduced firearms. She has only swept me once with the muzzle of an unloaded .22 pistol. She made that mistake once, and never made it again. We practice the rules because we’re not perfect.
My daughters were allowed and encouraged to shoot any gun in the collection. We went to the shooting range together. Both girls are now in their mid-teens. They’ve shot a wide variety of handguns, shotguns, and rifles. When they come of age they will each receive a semiautomatic rifle and a pistol.
Guns in our home were never treated like forbidden fruit, hidden away from the children and imbued with an aura of mystery. Guns were treated as tools. They were kept secured but were used safely under supervision. The girls helped me clean them after they were used. My daughters knew that any time they wanted to examine one of the guns, all they had to do was ask. I would open the safe and hand them the (always verified) unloaded gun. They were taught how to safely handle a gun. If they wanted to shoot it, we would make a trip to the range at the next opportunity.
How young is too young an age to learn about dangerous tools? If your child can understand the lesson, then they are old enough to begin learning about firearms safety and their appropriate use. Children are impulsive and extremely curious. That leads to dangerous accidents when combined with ignorance about firearms. Firearms safety is an ongoing process. Safety habits must be repeatedly exercised until they become ingrained. Be open. Be honest. Supervise closely. Shoot a cantaloupe on the range one day to demonstrate what a bullet can do to a living creature. Make target shooting fun. For a child, it’s not about making the smallest possible group. It’s about making the bright orange elastomer bowling pin spin on the cross beam.
If you as the parent are unsure about the topic, get trained! Take a class together. Read a book. A quick Internet search should yield a list of authors and books on gun safety and the NRA can point you towards certified local instructors.
Our society is inconsistent in how we treat the risks faced by teenagers. We demand sex education for our kids on the theory that ignorance is no protection. Then we refuse to teach our children about guns that can be found in millions of homes.. guns that the teen is almost certain to encounter at some point in life. We hand a sixteen year-old the keys to a car based upon a few hours of instruction, but we shudder at the thought of that same teen having access to a firearm. We ask teenagers to be responsible when they drive. Let’s do the same and teach tehm about firearms. Give them the chance and evaluate accordingly.
There are exceptions. The parent should step back and carefully evaluate what kind of access the child could have to a weapon if the child has emotional or mental issues or a history of criminal activity. Safety training is always a good idea in any case. Also, know the laws of your state regarding minors’ access to firearms. There may be legal requirements for safe storage. My personal advice is to buy a safe and keep the firearms secured inside when not in use.
My personal belief is that the use of firearms is the right and privilege of every responsible adult, and children should learn about that responsibility before they become adults. So, stay safe, have fun, and exercise your right as an American citizen while helping your children learn to do the same. We will all be safer for it.