Autumn is the best time to teach firearms safety
Fall and firearms is a perfect marriage. The weather turns beautiful making it a great time to be outside enjoying our hunting seasons or recreational shooting and no better time to start teaching children about safe firearms handling. To some, the subject of firearms, especially when it comes to teaching kids, can be a touchy subject. But it shouldn’t be.
There is nothing wrong with being an overprotective parent who may get nervous when your child rides their bike to a friend’s house. When my own kids were young I wouldn’t think about teaching them an activity I thought was dangerous.
When you think about it hunting and target shooting have low accident rates because responsible people place so much importance in gun safety. No doubt hunting and recreational shooting are both fun but teaching kids to be safe calls for no joking matter.
Treat the topic seriously, as it should be, and kids will respond to the gravity of your voice. Children, especially boys, find guns interesting and keeping them forbidden and mysterious only adds to their fascination. Let them handle your empty firearms, with your permission and supervision. Take the interest away. Let them point it in a safe direction and let them know the only time they ever touch the trigger is when they want the gun to off.
After those few initial lessons take them to a range or other safe venue and let them shoot. And for God’s sake start out small with something like a .22 or .410. I have a friend who likes to demonstrate the significant power of firearms by shooting a cantaloupe or watermelon close range with a 12-gauge shotgun. The difference between real and toy guns become vividly clear as the difference between real and toy cars.
What makes teaching young people about guns even more challenging is it’s more than the right type and the size of the gun and the amount of experience a child has had with firearms. It’s not just about stance and grip and sight picture. For any learning experience, it’s also important to consider each child, individually, and to think about his or her temperament, character, emotional intelligence, and learning style. It’s more than just determining the correct age; it’s determining the appropriate developmental stage.
I believe owning a BB gun is the best way to start safe habits. Kids of my generation freely roamed the woods with BB and pellet guns without supervision. A better way is to give the child an air rifle a year or two before you think their ready to shoot real firearms. Store it with your guns and treat it like a real rifle. Let the child carry it on short hunts or on the range. Make it imperative they carry it with the muzzle pointed in a safe direction.
I always believed “tough love” has its place when teaching kids about the safe handling of firearms. For example, whenever I am teaching a youngster I’ll dole out only one shell or bullet at a time. Kids do pay attention to muzzle control until they fire that first shot. Then, usually in their anxiousness of hearing the gun go off, they will turn to you in excitement and totally forget where the muzzle is pointing. With the gun being empty it becomes a perfect teachable moment, not a potential accident. Always insist everyone, including you, where eye and ear protection.
If you do take the child in the field start out with more sedentary hunts for deer, turkeys, doves, waterfowl or squirrels. Save the rabbit or upland gamebird hunts for later. They require walking with a loaded gun for long periods as well as split second shooting decisions. Remember you are trying to instill lifelong safety habits and knowledge and nothing you say speaks louder than your own actions.
The Four Rules of Firearms Safety:
All guns are always loaded.
Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
Be sure of your target and what is beyond it.