How many times has your young boy or girl approached you and asked, “Can you show me how to shoot your guns, Dad?” Has terror clutched your heart as you imagined all the things that could go wrong? Do headlines of shooting accidents flash into your mind’s eye? Let’s inject some common sense into this. First, teaching your child to safely handle, and shoot firearms can result in some of the finest time you will ever spend with your kids. Second, it needn’t be woven with danger or fear. Third, you will be adding another shooting/ hunting/ 2nd Amendment proponent to our society.
Where do you start? Excellent question. The answer though, is another question- “what are your intentions, surroundings, and ultimate goal?” Let’s examine some of these items, starting with the basic idea of teaching your child to handle a firearm safely. Safety must always come first, and it must prevail throughout all your interactions with your child. A good place to start is the NRA and their Eddie Eagle program. Eddie Eagle does not politicize the gun control debate; it merely serves as an accident prevention tool for educating kids. NRA Eddie Eagle Videos
When my children were learning about guns (around age 3), the first step was to remove the curiosity from guns. Simply enough, all you need to do is make sure your child knows that he or she can look at your guns by asking permission. This makes it a simpler process, and while showing your child a gun, you can set the proper example. Face it, if something is strictly off limits to kids, there is an aura of mystery which can only be satisfied by gaining access to that restricted item.
Why don’t we take a moment to review the 10 Commandments Of Firearms Safety?
1. Control the direction of the firearm’s muzzle. Keep the safety on and finger off the trigger at all times until ready to shoot.
2. Identify the target and what is beyond it before shooting.
3. Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
4. Be sure the barrel and action are clear of obstructions and that only
the proper ammunition is used in the firearm.
5. Always unload a firearm when it is not in use, leave the actions open,
carry empty firearms in a case to and from shooting areas.
6. Never aim a firearm at anything that you do not intend to shoot.
7. Never climb a tree or fence, or jump a ditch or log, with a loaded
firearm. Never pull a firearm towards you by the muzzle.
8. Never shoot a bullet at a flat, hard surface or at water. Make sure
backstops are adequate during target practice.
9. Store firearms and ammunition separately and beyond the reach of
children and careless adults.
10. Avoid all alcoholic beverages and drugs before and during shooting.
So, Junior has let a few days pass and approached you again with “can I see your guns, Dad?” You are cautioned to enthusiastically embrace this opportunity. Yes, I know…the Raiders are killing the Seahawks and you had a hard week at the office. Get up off the couch and go do this for your kid!
While headed to the gun cabinet, let your brain puzzle on how to do this properly. Assuming your guns and ammo are locked in separate cabinets, you are in good shape. The one exception to this might be your concealed carry weapon, but I’ll leave that one to you, as a concealed weapons permit holder shouldn’t have to be told what to do here. Make a big deal of unlocking the cabinet, maybe remarking why we lock guns and ammo separately. Let the child “buy into” the grown- up side of this by adding that you feel you can trust them, but who knows when a younger sibling, friend, or thief might try to access the family guns?
Show your child that the first item of business is to check the firearm and ensure it is unloaded. You might want to support the firearm while your child gets a feel for its heft. Point out the safety, the sights, the barrel, etc., arriving at the trigger last. Why? Because by now, the child has no doubt caressed the trigger at least once. This is another valuable safety lesson waiting in the wings. Reinforce that we don’t handle guns by inserting our fingers inside the trigger guard, or while stroking the trigger.
Show your kid that placing the trigger finger alongside the trigger guard instantly tells everyone how professional you are in handling firearms. In a photo published during the Desert Storm campaign by a national news magazine, a trio of U.S. Marines were crowded around a weapons cache in Iraq. We were horrified to see one of the Marines holding up a pistol with his finger firmly on the trigger! Let’s not teach our youth the wrong thing by setting poor examples.
After the “bedroom gun show” is complete, lock everything securely, making sure you don’t show your youngster where the key is kept. Reiterate the idea that they are welcome to look anytime, provided you are present. Your child will no doubt be satisfied for a while, and this is the time to plan your next move. If you do intend to take your child on a future outing, it might be time to ratchet up the responsibility level. It may be an old fashioned idea, but it works- responsibility and privilege go hand in hand. Of course, you are the parent here and you know your child. The sporting goods stores are one source for this next responsibility level. This next level is a gun of their own. “Whaddya mean? I am not gonna go buy another gun!”. Calm down, we are talking about an AirSoft gun that costs about $35, so it unlikely to impact your budget much. Better yet, air soft guns are NON LETHAL! They are an excellent tool for observing your child’s handling of a gun. Pick up a few hundred pellets while you are shopping. Try to stay away from the paramilitary styles- we ARE trying to breed responsibility here; not the “pray and spray” mentality. Try to get a carbine or rifle model. It’s worth noting here that it is much more difficult to teach a kid muzzle control with a handgun than with a rifle. We know adults who struggle with this!
Now it’s time for the “classroom”. This is where we will start, and also return, time and again. A young child can’t memorize those 10 safety rules, but they can be put into practice with your help. Believing it’s always better to put a carrot in front of the horse, our suggestion is to make the safety requirement perfectly clear. No safety rules- no gun.
This is really just a briefing of what the child can expect on your next outing. Once again, you are the parent and you know your kid. If you would rather start with them merely observing you, then so be it. Active participation can wait.
This is a good place to point out why paintball guns aren’t recommended or mentioned for safety training. What is the basic premise behind paintball games? To shoot people. Is this the idea we want to instill? The same goes for targets when you take your youngster to the range- save the Saddam or Osama targets for when you and the guys are out. Your
child needs a good, solid example, and that’s best taught by you. There is nothing wrong with paintball guns; they just aren’t the best thing for setting a youngster on the right path to safe gun handling.
All right, the big day has arrived! Did you gather some ear protection and safety glasses that will fit Junior? If not, the various sporting goods stores are good sources for these items; Sportsman’s Warehouse, Bass Pro Shops, and Gander Mountain all contain what you need. We won’t pretend to tell you how to pack your guns and gear. What we will caution you against is this: Think about getting that hearing protection in place before you get out of the car at an outdoor range, and before entering the lanes at an indoor range. Those sharp reports can suddenly spook your child into being afraid. Not to mention the possible hearing damage. I bet Dad could afford to protect what hearing he still has….”Huh, what did you say?”. By now, you have delivered your best, most serious “this is your one chance, don’t screw up or you’ll never touch another gun” lecture. A little heads up is okay, but let’s not terrify the boy or girl. This is a cool day with Dad; positive words go a lot farther than the negative. It might also help to hand the child a simple
picture of proper sight alignment, like these:
While you are setting up, put your child first. It might be a fun time (if it isn’t too noisy) to produce the new airsoft weapon, or maybe you did this back at the house. Either way, get the AirSoft loaded and go over the rules again, pointing out the target.
It’s not important at this point to drill the kid on breath control, sight picture, or the Weaver Stance. Those things can come later. Right now we are watching for safe handling of the airsoft gun. This is the probationary period that we all should have experienced early in our shooting careers. Remember, positive reinforcement works much better here if there is a muzzle control issue.
If you have problems, you might well decide that your little buddy isn’t quite ready for the weapon, but we suggest waiting until the ride home to discuss this. You don’t want a scene at the range, and you will both have a chance to calm down a bit from all the excitement. Even if you have the perfect outing, the AirSoft should be locked up with
the other firearms upon returning to your residence. Examples count, and your child will be watching you closely.
Speaking of arriving home, a good activity to wind down with is cleaning the guns. And yes, safety enters into this portion of the day also. There are many opportunities here to teach your future hunter or shooter some safety and common sense. Soon, you and your child will be going to the range together, enjoying the experience, and connecting in a fun environment.