Teaching Responsibility and Gun Safety to Kids

We made a special present to our son for his upcoming 7th birthday. We took him to the range and rented his favorite gun, a full size .22 revolver. Normally, we train our kids with a small-caliber rifle, because rifles are much easier to handle than pistols. But our son has had plenty of rifle practice, so we deemed him experienced enough to try a handgun. He loves Clint Eastwood’s Westerns and is fascinated by revolvers, so we finally rented one for him as a present.

Some may think it’s a strange present. Normally, seven-year-olds get toys and books as presents. Our son got plenty of those as well. But a birthday present has to be something special and symbolic.

A birthday is a milestone. It’s a celebration of having completed another year of life and having made another step towards greater maturity and responsibility. A birthday present should be something that sends a message to the child. “You have grown older and deserve to be treated as a more mature person. You are now entrusted with things that should be handled with great care and responsibility. Your birthday is not just a day for a party and presents, but also a time to reflect upon a greater idea that you are now mature enough to understand.”

Responsible gun ownership and safe handling of a firearm is one such idea that we want to teach our son on the day of his birthday. We tell him that a real gun is not a toy, that it’s a very powerful tool whose power is never to be abused. We tell him that only responsible, mature people should be allowed to handle this tool, and that he is now old enough to be entrusted with this responsibility. We live in dangerous times, so we want our son to learn self-defense, including armed self-defense. We want him to know how to handle a firearm safely and how to shoot accurately, in case he ever has to protect himself and his family. We believe that one of the most important skills any child or adult should learn is how to protect themselves and those around them.

A child who is trained to handle firearms safely will be careful to avoid tragic firearm accidents compared with a child who is never allowed to be around firearms and stumbles upon a gun unsupervised. A child who is trained to be responsible and disciplined with firearms is very unlikely to be inclined to gun violence. A child who is given responsibility at an early age will likely grow up as a responsible adult. Our son’s birthday present is not simply a trip to a shooting range and a rented revolver.  It is responsibility that we give to our son as his birthday gift.

Should Children be Allowed Around Guns?

If a child is able to follow instructions, is supervised by a responsible adult, and if the purpose is to train them to handle firearms safely, then why not? There is nothing inherently dangerous or scary about firearms. I like to compare guns to cars. Just like cars, guns can be used for good or for bad. You use your car to make your life easier, to transport yourself and your family around faster. A criminal, however, can drive a car into a crowd and kill people. Similarly, a villain can use a gun to kill, but a law-abiding citizen can use a gun to protect himself, his family, and other people from assault. Both guns and cars can be turned into lethal weapons in the hands of evil or irresponsible people. In responsible hands, however, both guns and cars can serve as tools, each with appropriate uses.

Just like going to a driving school to learn how to drive safely and carefully, those who want to own guns should take lessons to learn how to handle guns safely and responsibly. And as soon as children are mature enough, they should be taught gun safety under close adult supervision. It’s that simple.

We know parents who are gun owners but who do not let their kids near their guns. Perhaps, these parents don’t trust their kids enough and are worried about their kids’ safety, or want to prevent their kids from seeing a gun because they think it might give their kids the wrong idea. But you cannot protect your child from the reality of life. One day, your child will become an adult and will bear the responsibility for her own safety and for the safety of her family. Neither you nor the police can be next to her at all times to protect her. What happens if, G-d forbid, your child faces a violent criminal? Martial arts and pepper spray often don’t work. Police don’t always come on time. Whether or not you like firearms, a gun in trained hands can save a life. Your child should learn how to defend herself, but learning how to use a gun won’t happen overnight, so lots of practice is required. The sooner she starts learning, the better. The sooner you give your child an opportunity to be responsible, the more likely he will be to will grow into a mature adult and a responsible citizen.

How to Teach Gun Safety to Children

Before you take your child to the range, your child need to be old enough and disciplined enough to follow your instructions. This is very important, because there are range rules that your child will have to follow. For example, you child should wear eye and ear protection at all times, stay by your side and not run around, and always remain behind the red/yellow line that separates the shooter tables from the live fire area. Then, you must teach your child The Four Gun Safety rules that every firearms owner must know by heart. These rules are:

1. All guns are always loaded. (Treat them so!). We must always treat every firearm with the same care we would give a loaded weapon. Even after we have ensure that the gun is unloaded, we still never do anything with it that we would not do with a loaded gun.

2. Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy. We always stay very aware of where our gun is pointing during the entire time we’re handling the gun.

3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot. To avoid accidental discharge, you must rest your finger alongside the gun frame until you are absolutely ready to fire the gun.

4. Be sure of your target and what is beyond it, to avoid unsafe stray shooting. For example, when shooting at the range, we must never begin firing until we are sure that no one is lurking behind or around the targets. Every shooter is responsible for where their bullets land.

Here is an excellent resource for both children and adult beginner shooters, The Cornered Cat website. Check out their articles, particularly The First Lesson article about teaching gun safety to kids.

Child with a Marlin Rifle

Our daughter shooting a Marlin rifle

Your child must firmly remember The Four Rules, which is why it’s a good idea to enforce these rules even for toy guns. Practice with your child at home multiple times by letting them manipulate an unloaded firearm. Clean a gun with your child and explain how the gun works. Once you are certain that your child is ready, take her to the range and supervise her closely while there.

Do not give a handgun to an untrained child. Handguns are tough to shoot accurately and have a high level of recoil. It’s best to start with a small-caliber, lightweight long-barrel rifle, such as a .22 Marlin rifle we got for our older children. Such a rifle is fun to shoot, easy to aim, and has very little recoil. Plus, the ammunition is plentiful and affordable. Once your child has done a lot of rifle practice and has demonstrated ability to follow safety rules, you can introduce him to a .22 lightweight handgun.

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