Guns the Right Way: Introducing Kids to Firearm Safety and Shooting (2015)
Putting Deadly Power in a Child’s Hands
In Chapter 2, we discussed how old is “old enough” for introducing a child to firearms. The short answer is that there is no such thing as too young to teach firearm safety, and the level of introduction depends on the child.
If the child you’re introducing to firearms is your child, you will have extensive knowledge about the level of maturity, the compliance with rules at home, the way they interact with other children, siblings, and adults, and, perhaps most importantly, how they may react to what I refer to as “responsible” situations.
We perform the demonstration of power to give a visual representation as to both the enjoyment that can be experienced when using firearms as well as the results and possible consequences that occur after the trigger on a firearm is pulled. A question I am often asked is, when is a child responsible enough to put that power in their hands?
Always remember - once fired, a bullet can never be “un-fired” or “called back.”
The answer is a bit complex. I am fortunate that in over two decades of working with children and firearms, many of whom had no firearm experience other than seeing them on television, I have never been involved in any firearm accident.
It is my belief that this is because each child I instruct is thoroughly evaluated as to their level of knowledge, openness to instruction, interaction with others and behavior prior to putting a gun in their hands. It is that evaluation that helps determine when and if a child is responsible enough to shoot safely.
Here are some steps that you can take to determine when and with what level of responsibility a child is ready to shoot a firearm.
LEVEL OF KNOWLEDGE AND ITS IMPACT ON READINESS
A child’s level of knowledge of firearms will change over the course of your interaction with them. If a child has never seen, handled or shot a firearm and is not familiar with the rules of gun safety, the introduction to the physical act of shooting a firearm will be different than someone who has already gone through an introductory safety program, such as the NRA Eddie Eagle firearm safety program.
As the level of knowledge, comfort and responsibility changes, you can change your method and means as to how they are allowed to shoot. For example, if you are starting a very young child in firing an air rifle, you may sit the child in your lap, rest the air rifle on a solid rest, place the firearm in proper position so that they can obtain the proper sight picture, help them hold the air rifle steady, and then coach them through the process of firing their first shot.
At the other end of the spectrum, you may be instructing a preteen or teenager in firearm safety and shooting. If they have demonstrated an understanding of the concept of the safety instructions and have a level of familiarity with the weapon already, you may allow that youngster to practice the proper safety check, load the firearm, get into a comfortable shooting position, obtain a sight picture and to fire their first “live shot” all on their own.
OPENNESS TO INSTRUCTION
There is only one person in charge when introducing youths to firearms… you.
Whether in a one-on-one situation or a small group, your each and every command must be met with absolute obedience. A child who shows a great deal of resistance to your instruction will demand more “one on one” attention than one who hangs on your every word of instruction and agreeably follows your commands.
The method and level of control you maintain while a child is holding and firing a firearm will depend on the child and include their size, knowledge level and ability.
Many times you will find it easier to control and maintain safety by using terrain or other objects. Here, the author has a first-time shooter firing at clay targets from inside a wooden “box.” The box helps to limit the range of motion available to swing the barrel.
INTERACTION WITH OTHERS
A child’s habits and behaviors when interacting with others should be carefully observed and used to evaluate the method and means of how you will allow them (or even if you will allow them) to handle and shoot a firearm.
If instruction is to take place in a one-on-one situation, you may want to thoroughly interview their parents and get answers to some of the following questions: Does the child demonstrate leadership tendencies, or are they more of a follower? Do they listen well to instruction, or are they rebellious and try to disrupt what you are doing when others are around? Have you determined their motive for being with you? Is it to spend quality time with you? To experience something new? To “do what mom or dad does”?
If it is a child that you will be mentoring that is not your own, is that child engaged and actively participating in the activities? Are they there because they want to be there, or because mom and dad made them come?
If in a group situation, do you feel that a certain child would perform better and/or be more safe in a one-on-one situation?
It is been my experience that children who are being taught the safe and proper handling and use of firearms respond best to an immediate and continuing reminder of who is “in charge” while they are there. I have no reservations about removing a child from group instruction, or calling a complete stop to instruction for the day with a child in a one-on-one situation.
When it comes to firearms, safety is not optional. Safety is mandatory. Any type of risky or disruptive behavior that would interfere with anyone else’s ability to participate, learn or perhaps endanger their safety is immediately addressed, and usually rather firmly.
It sometimes takes several outings or observations to geet everything to the point where you will be in effective synchronization with the child and your lesson and instruction will be seen as enjoyable while also remaining safe.
When in doubt, always err on the side of safety.
Here is some good news…
In all of the years I have been interacting with youth and guns, I have not met a child who was unable to be instructed in safety and participate in safe shooting, even if that meant some special and additional accommodations needed to be made.
In addition, there are many studies on child behavior and child psychology that demonstrate a unified opinion on children and responsibility: The more responsibility and the younger the child who is given the responsibility, the more responsible they tend to be at all of their childhood stages.