We have a new shooter-in-training here at Cheaper Than Dirt. CTD Brandon and his wife had a baby just this past October. Eventually CTD Brandon is going to have to explain to CTD Baby about firearms. Being a new parent is overwhelming enough without having to think about the dreaded talks like “how did I get here” and negotiating when to introduce firearms to your children. My philosophy is, introduce them as soon as you can, before playground rumors and misinformation lead to trouble.
The perfect time to introduce firearm safety to your child is as soon as they can understand. From eight to twelve months, babies understand simple commands such as “no” and “don’t touch.” At three, which is about the average age a child can successfully pull the trigger on a firearm, they know several hundred words.
Toddlers are a curious sort, and find any way possible to get into things. They climb and open containers, and are very ingenious at getting into things you may think you have put out of their reach. Since younger children cannot distinguish between a real gun and a fake gun, or fully grasp the idea behind fantasy and reality, it is best to start teaching gun safety as early as possible—before they can find your firearms on their own.
The NRA has a gun safety program designed just for children called the Eddie Eagle Safety Program. Psychologists, reading specialists, teachers, curriculum specials, law enforcement, and urban housing safety officials collaborated to create a program that successfully teaches children gun safety, whether or not there is a gun in the home. Even a toddler can understand the simple rules of the Eddie Eagle Safety Program:
- Don’t Touch!
- Leave the Area!
- Tell an Adult!
There is a YouTube video with Eddie the Eagle singing a song and doing a dance to the rules. Sing and dance the song with your kid until they get it. Kids love to repeat things, plus singing and dancing is fun for them!
Step one in gun ownership and children in the home is to take the mystery and curiosity out of firearms. Never give your children a reason to go behind your back and touch the guns without you.
The fact that guns were in my household was never a secret when I was growing up. In middle school, I learned the proper way to safely handle a firearm, as well as how to shoot them. Having them around was not a big deal. I grew up in rural Northwest Arkansas; everyone had a gun rack in the truck or on their ATV. Because they were so commonplace and I was well educated about guns, it never occurred to me to hunt down and bring them out to play with without adult supervision.
Hiding your guns and keeping them a secret makes the gun more attractive to a child. Not explaining the don’t touch rule makes your child’s curiosity more intense. Remember finding your Christmas presents that your parents thought they hid so well, or the magazines hidden under the bed you shouldn’t have been looking at? For some crazy reason when something is off-limits to a kid, the more they feel a desire to eat the forbidden fruit.
So how do you do that? First off, sit down with your child and explain the parts of the gun. Explain how the gun works and gun safety rules. Let your child touch the gun, push the safety switch on and off, feel the magazine, and hold it. Whenever your child gets the itch to touch the gun again, stop what you are doing, bring out the gun, and go over the parts and safety rules again. Remember it is important to enforce the rule of “no touching without adult supervision” strictly.
The majority of parents here at Cheaper Than Dirt have taken their shooting-age children out to the range. A good way to show your children that guns are not toys and to display their destructive power is to shoot different items, like watermelons and water-filled jugs. This is a good way to reinforce how dangerous guns can be. Show your child the “wound” inflicted by the bullet.
Another major rule to having firearms and children in the home is proper storage. The NRA says to store your guns so they are inaccessible to unauthorized users, especially children. Keep all guns out of reach of your children; keep them locked with trigger locks or in a safe. Never keep any gun loaded, accessible, or unattended. In fact, many states have laws regarding how guns are stored away from children.
I do not have children, but the neighbor and his daughter routinely come over unexpectedly for some front-porch sittin’. When little Molly comes over, I put all the guns in the bedroom and lock the door. Then, I never let her in the house unaccompanied by either her father or myself.
It should be obvious that you can never trust someone else’s child in your home. Their parents may not own guns, never talk about guns, or may be irresponsible gun owners. When other children are in your home always fully secure all your firearms in a safe.
My young-adult nephew sometimes dog and house sits for me on the weekends. Being the “cool” aunt, I give him permission to have a few friends or a girlfriend over. I always stock the fridge with plenty of sodas and frozen pizzas, but choose to remove all the firearms from my house before I leave. I trust my nephew. He regularly hunts with his father and has his own firearms, but I do not trust his friends. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
All the CTD parents keep their firearms in safes where their children do not have access to them. For your self-defense gun, we all recommend a lock-box or electronic safe by the bed.
Many of you feel that firearm ownership is a very private decision. Teaching your children to keep it hush-hush though might be quite tricky. On the one hand, we don’t want to teach our children that guns are bad and that owning a gun is bad; on the other hand, we don’t want all the neighbor kids to know, the lady at the checkout lane to know, nor the other kids at school. The last thing you want is for a neighbor kid to be snooping around or an anti-gun teacher at school to set off any false alarms. It is best to explain to your children not to talk about your firearms. Tell them that some people don’t like guns or that they are scared, so it is just best to keep it a secret.
At that, I am going to leave you a true story about well-educated, gun-safe kids:
Funny story about what kids are supposed to do if they find a gun: My girls treed a squirrel in the back yard and it stranded it so it could not move to another tree to escape. The girls wanted the tail, so I went inside to get the .22 Marlin 39A and some Colibri ammunition. We shot the squirrel and I asked the girls if they wanted to eat the squirrel and they said, “No, we just want the tail.” So, I laid the rifle on the smoker, showed them how to clean a squirrel without a knife, and fed the squirrel to the neighbor’s dog after harvesting the tail. (None of this is important except the fact that I laid the rifle down on the smoker.) The next day my wife calls madder than a mashed cat asking “Where is your Marlin .22?” This rifle is the first rifle I learned to shoot, it is the first rifle my daughters learned to shoot as well, and it is the rifle that my father tried his hand at gunsmithing and almost shot his little brother because of his trigger job. This rifle is very sentimental to me so I immediately asked my wife if the rifle got wet from the morning dew. Boy, did that set her off, because we had other people’s kids at the house when this happened. She said no that my eldest daughter saw the rifle and stayed with it to make sure the vagrant kids did not touch it and she sent my youngest in to have my wife get the rifle. I did have to explain to my wife that I was wrong and irresponsible for leaving the gun out, but I couldn’t have been happier how my girls handled the situation.