(Photo by Noah Wulf: WikiMedia Commons)
With all of the talk lately about keeping children safe, there’s one topic that the media and politicians keep overlooking. That is the topic of teaching child gun safety. There was a time when gun safety was taught in school and the number of incidents throughout the United States was almost nonexistent. Unfortunately, this topic was removed from schools and the result is noticeable. However, its importance cannot be overstated, and it is up to parents to take up the mantle.
Teaching Your Child About Gun Safety
To be clear, when I say that parents need to take up the mantle now that schools don’t teach gun safety, I really mean that it is all on parents now. When it comes to something as important as firearm safety, parents should always be involved, regardless of other sources of instruction. This is the case whether you have guns in the home or not. Because you never know where your child may be exposed to a gun outside of the home.
Keep in mind that gun safety isn’t just for children and teens, it is for all family members. And not just safe handling, but safe gun storage as well. When you practice safe firearms storage, the possibility of unintentional shootings decreases dramatically.
The goal is to keep kids safe, so store firearms in such a way that unauthorized access is nearly impossible. Likewise, with the exception of a well-stored personal/home defense firearm, you should keep guns unloaded and locked when not in use.
Teach Children Age Appropriate Lessons
It goes without saying that small children are not as mentally mature as teenagers. As such, their comprehension of serious topics is limited. For this reason, it is important to engage them on their level.
One thing to keep in mind when it comes to small children is that they have a short attention span. You are not going to keep their attention for an hour-long lecture on gun safety, with 40 different safety points. The lesson needs to be fun and engaging/interactive enough to hold a child’s attention.
The NRA has a perfect resource for parents called Eddie Eagle. The program covers a simple four-step plan for children who encounter a gun:
- Don’t Touch
- Run Away
- Tell a Grownup
The home page features a free short cartoon for kids that immediately starts building a gun safety foundation with music they will enjoy. Likewise, there are free downloadable kids’ activity books and parent/instructor guides.
Both the activity books and instruction guides have three levels: Pre-K & Kindergarten, 1st & 2nd grade, and 3rd & 4th grade. In addition, they have a new DVD available for only $9.95, reward stickers (25/pack for $1.00), and a Wing Team certificate.
Remember that repetition helps children retain information. So, after you have gone through the Eddie Eagle safety training with them, make a game of it. Occasionally ask them what to do if they encounter a gun and reward them with the Eddie Eagle stickers. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children thrive on positive reinforcement, making it an ideal learning tool to teach your child gun safety.
Teaching teenagers is a little different than teaching small children, but equally, if not more, important. However, it can be a little tougher to engage teenagers sometimes. Considering that they probably have an understanding of the difference between toy guns and a real gun, they already think they know it all.
As with children, you have to engage teenagers at their level of mental and emotional development. Teenagers get bored and frustrated easily with “stupid” adults telling them what to do. So, you have to make it fun.
Take them to the range and discuss safe firearm handling and then teach them to shoot properly. Give them the opportunity to get a feel for a real firearm with dry fire practice. Then let them see firsthand how destructive a firearm can be when not properly respected using live fire instruction.
As the old saying goes, “You don’t know what you don’t know.” So, use this range time to teach them the basic safety rules:
- Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction
- Treat all guns as though they are loaded
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot
- Always be sure of your target and what’s beyond it
The knowledge of these rules will go a long way toward ensuring their safety if they encounter an unsecured gun.
Like younger children, repetition also helps teenagers absorb information better. So, quiz them every once in a while. Again, offer some kind of reward for demonstrating proper gun safety. Maybe even grab some paintball guns and hit a course. This will not only be a fun reward but will also give them the opportunity to practice gun safety in a safe environment, while also adding some shooting skills.
Above all, keep it real, safe, and fun.