All of us have heard the stories and news reports. A child is killed by a friend that found a gun. They didn’t think it was loaded. He pointed it at his head and pulled the trigger. Parents and law enforcement point fingers at who is responsible, but a child is still dead. My family has taken these reports to heart. My children will not be the child responsible for another’s death because of under-education nor will we leave weapons unattended or unsecured for any reason in our own home or vehicle.
Our son, S, is 4 years old. Naturally inquisitive and curious. My husband and I also have weapons in our home. For us, that means we have to be diligent in our teaching S the proper way to handle a firearm. Reports state male children are the shooter 93% of the time in what we consider accidental shootings, and the victim of an accidental shooting 81% of the time. These odds are too great for my comfort.
My family has been teaching S the NRA Gun Safety Rules since he was old enough to stand.
1. Always keep a gun pointed in a safe direction.
2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
3. Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.
I know I say “at targets only” many times a day in our house. This is how we teach our children to keep a gun pointed in a safe direction. The constant repetition for toddler and young children is imperative. They know what they see and hear. My husband and I are examples of this practice. We only point our weapons in a safe direction and ensure we state this fact aloud to our children if they are within earshot. S has his own set of targets in our home. We add them to a safe wall for any time there is a “play” situation. We do own toy guns with the red/orange ends. These are to be pulled out with adult supervision only. This action mimics the good practices laid out in the Eddie Eagle Gun Safe Program.
If you see a gun:
Leave the Area.
Tell an Adult.
My husband demonstrates correct handling of a weapon to include keeping the finger off of the trigger until you are ready to shoot. S is not to the point we feel he is responsible enough to pull the trigger on a weapon. You will notice in all the pictures he has correct finger position to stay away from the trigger. There will be a time in life where we will feel comfortable with him pulling the trigger for dry fires or practice rounds, but 4 years old is not the time. Teaching this to our son gives us more confidence that in an unsupervised situation S would not put his finger on the trigger unless he was ready to shoot.
In our home, targets are only paper targets. We do not shoot baby dolls, pets, or objects like toys or dishes. These items correlate too closely to real items that should not be shot.
The first thing we always do with any weapon, toy or not, is check to be sure the gun is unloaded. My husband and I have made a practice of clearing any weapon that is handed to us even if we just saw the person before check to ensure it is unloaded. We teach this to S as well. We show him where to look and what to look for. Although he is not physically strong enough to pull back an action to ensure it is safe, at what point will he be? Will he be with us when he is handed a weapon and finds out he is strong enough to manipulate the action and trigger?
Other rules we keep in our house. There are no “toy” guns (S’s orange-tipped, non-firing rifle is a training tool). No water guns, air soft guns, or BB guns. Guns are NOT toys! Each firearm we do own could be loaded at any time and the negative habit transfer between shooting a toy water gun at your little sister and a loaded pistol is too similar.
All weapons in our home have a lock unless they are in the safe. Keys are hidden above child reach. The safe is 500 pounds in the garage behind two locked doors with a turn lock and deadbolt. As an added safety factor, my every day carry is a HK P7. I personally am a fan of this because of its unique squeeze-cock design; which also acts as a safety.
Guns in our car are carried with only a magazine loaded and locked in the glove compartment. Some will take issue with the thought of an unloaded gun. The only reason a gun should be loaded around children is if it is carried directly on the person of a responsible owner. Additionally, we do not tell our children that there are guns in the car. Their filter is not as good as ours. My son has grace and courtesy and will have a full conversation about any topic he sees fit with any person he meets. We allow him to be a light in other’s life while we keep a close watchful eye. His conversation ability could lead to describing the hiding place for our guns so we choose to leave this fact out of our daily conversation.
Education is paramount in gun safety and there is no such thing as “they are too young.” If our 2-year-old daughter can easily pick up a 7 pound kettlebell; then she can pick up a gun. All the same rules apply for her. She is taught to point at targets only. She is directed to keep muzzle awareness and to ensure that no weapon is haphazardly handled. It takes a lot of effort to entirely monitor young children and their interaction with replica firearms, much like training a new gun owner at the range. Thus, as gun owners, we inherit yet another duty as responsible parents. And probably one of the most important.
Guns Are Not Toys!