Some very important rules and safety requirements are crucial to raising a future responsible gunowner. Even more important, you want to establishment firm rules about handling guns now to avoid serious injury, and even death, to your child and others. Just as you’ve taught your child not to play with matches, you must also pass along the non-negotiable responsibilities that come with owning or even holding a loaded weapon.
The complimenting infographic here includes important facts and guidelines about teaching gun safety, but it’s important to expand on all of these points frequently to give the most effective lessons. Following the projected plan will help shape your child/children into knowledgeable and safe gunowners.
First, make sure you as the teacher are informed on some basic statistics:
There are approximately 113 guns for every 100 people circulating in the United States⁴.
This tells us that a gunowner likely has more than one gun somewhere in their home; A friend’s parent may keep a rifle over the mantle, but there is likely a pistol kept away in a drawer as well. Predictably, that the majority of unintentional shooting deaths amongst children occur at home.
In fact, one out of three handguns are kept loaded and unlocked⁴.
Highlighting these facts to ourselves and others around us will promote gun safety awareness and the importance of teaching our children that owning a weapon is no laughing matter. Being active in the gun culture can be a lot of fun, but you should be aware of the responsibility that comes along with it.
Once you’re aware of the facts, it’s time to start teaching physical lessons in gun ownership. How do you decide when your child is at the right age to start learning these things? All children are different. The informative graphic gives general guidelines of when to implement each level of learning, but everyone learns at different speeds. Keep a close eye on your child while they’re playing or learning new things, and assess where their cognitive level is at – how well they are absorbing the information you’re teaching them. A good rule of thumb is that the reward for completing a lesson is getting to learn the next step – one step closer to actually firing a gun! Assess your child by asking yourself the following questions:
- Is my child interested in the gun safety I’m teaching them?
- Does my child follow directions and accept correction when given?
- Is my child demonstrating responsibility when they’re not being supervised or only when they are being watched?
The answers to these questions will, in most cases, be a good indication that your child is ready or not to graduate to the next step of learning.
Lesson One: Conditioning Gun Handling
You can start at a young age, as young as three years old, to teach your child right away that handling a gun comes with much responsibility. There are many influences around us that make guns look like toys: cartoons, movies, water guns, BB guns, and other children who have not received appropriate instruction about playing with toy guns. The first step to to your child’s safety is teaching them that all guns should be handled as if they are real and that shooting at or killing someone is not funny. A few ways to teach this valuable lesson are:
- Give your child a gun-shaped toy, and teach them how to properly pick it up, hold it, and set it down.
- Teach that guns should never be pointed at a person, even when playing. A gun can hurt or kill, and we don’t want to hurt our friends and family.
- Always put the toy gun in a safe place when it’s not being used. This could be in a box that is set on a shelf or in a drawer.
Aside from handling their own guns, teach what your child should do when they encounter a gun that isn’t theirs. Eddie Eagle is a fantastic NRA resource that teaches four basic steps for children when finding a gun that doesn’t belong to them:
- Stop! Remain still until you remember the next three steps and you know what to do.
- Don’t touch! Never, ever, touch a gun that doesn’t belong to you.
- Run away! Avoid the temptation of touching the gun, and go to another room to stay away from danger.
- Tell a grown-up! Tell an adult where the gun is right away, so they can properly put it away. Find a trustworthy parent, relative, neighbor, or teacher. Never tell a stranger.
Even if there are no guns in your own home, these lessons are vital for all children to learn as commonly as they learn not to touch things on the stove².
Lesson Two: Gun Maintenance
You believe it is time for your child to hold a real gun, but you don’t want them using the trigger yet. Learning to clean and take good care of all your firearms is the next step in learning gun safety.
Cleaning and maintaining all the parts of your gun requires proper safety gear and equipment. For the first time, let your child observe you cleaning your gun, and explain everything you are doing in words they can understand. Both of you should be wearing safety gloves, goggles, and perhaps a face mask, if strong chemicals are being used. Good ventilation is also important during cleaning.
After cleaning your gun, with your child watching every step, reassemble it, and safely store it in its proper place. Clean all utensils and your maintenance area, and wash your hands together. Continue this lesson until your child can verbally recite what to do.
Lesson Three: Practice Shooting
It may not be time to shoot a real gun just yet, but practicing with an air rifle is a responsible way to put the lessons taught thus far into use! Gift your child with an air rifle, and have them accompany you on a field trip. Leave the air rifle unloaded, but bring along some pellets to fire at the end of the lesson³. It is also time to teach “The Four Rules”, every time you handle a firearm – no matter who you are with or where you are:
The Four Rules
- Treat all guns as if they are loaded.
- Don’t point a gun at something unless you intend to destroy it.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
- Know what your target is and what is beyond it¹.
When your child accompanies you on a field trip, explain everything you are doing. This will teach them the correct habits for safety protocol, shooting technique, and determining range. It is also important to show the bullet holes in the targets³ . This is a real-life experience that gives your child the opportunity to see what damage a gun can do up close and personally.
Once your child can always accompany you with their own air rifle, and responsibly carry and use it at all times, they are ready for the next lesson.
Lesson Four: The Real Deal
Ah, the day is here: it is time to gift your child with their very first gun! A .22 rifle is a standard first gun that is easy enough for your child to operate and maintain. Make this a special occasion, as your child has worked very hard to learn all of these lessons and has practiced gun safety for years. Rewarding it with their first rifle on their birthday or a holiday will make this a truly fulfilling experience for them. Once the excitement has died down, remind them of a few things:
- This rifle is theirs to clean and maintain. Just like your guns are your responsibility, this rifle is their responsibility.
- The gun should remain in the safe or other inaccessible storage at all times unless the child is being supervised by an adult. Independent use may be subject to restrictive laws in some places as well.
- As your child demonstrates safety and ability, they will be allowed to own or operate larger caliber guns.
This may seem like a lot of information to teach a child, but remember that all of this will be processed over the course of years. Make sure you understand all of this very well before you teach anything to your child, and follow the list of resources provided in the infographic to answer any other questions you may have. All of this work will pay off in a responsible child that is passionate about gun safety, and congratulate yourself on molding a future gunowner who will contribute to a safer and better world.
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