Whether you are a gun owner or not, it is important that every parent educate their children about firearm safety, because while you may not own guns, approximately 35% of all households in the U.S. have firearms, so your child may still come into contact with them. Deciding how to approach and tackle this subject with your children isn’t always the easiest thing to do, so I have tried to put some ideas on paper. However, keep in mind that some states impose a legal duty on adults to take reasonable steps to deny access by children to dangerous substances, instruments, and guns, so do some research and follow those laws in your state.
The first thing you have to understand is a child’s thought process, and appreciate that they will be drawn to anything that is or seems forbidden. Because of this, the best initial step is to demystify firearms. If you hide your guns, they will undoubtedly try to find them, and more often than not they will succeed. There are many people out there that believe their children shouldn’t have toy guns because they don’t want them to think of guns as toys. I personally think that is counterproductive and counterintuitive because it is making guns (fake and real) a taboo, and it is very likely that one of their friends will have toy guns anyway. Instead, I would recommend explaining to them the difference between toy guns and video games, and real guns and real life. Help them understand that guns are not a symbol of status or an indicator of strength, or something to brag about to their friends, but rather simply a tool.
There is no need to force the subject on your kids before they show interest in guns, but I would definitely take advantage of any interest they show in firearms to broach the subject. Make sure you answer any question they might have about guns, and discuss the topic of safety. Help your children understand that while guns are not forbidden, they are not a toy, and should not be handled without your supervision. As the NRA’s Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program like to say:
Leave the area
Tell an adult
Let them handle guns with your permission and under your supervision. Teach them to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction, and be sure that they understand what a safe direction is, depending on their surroundings. Teach them to keep their finger off the trigger until they are ready to shoot, and show them where to keep their trigger finger at all other times. Emphasize to them that they should always assume a gun is loaded until they personally verify that it is not, and teach them how to check to see if it is loaded.
When my godson was six years old, his grandfather gave him a .22 rifle for Christmas. He knew the rifle was his, but he also knew that if he wanted to see, touch, or shoot it, he had to ask his mom or dad to get it and go with him. One of the first things he shot with his first gun was a watermelon, because we wanted him to see first hand, that it is not a toy, and that it can be dangerous is mishandled. If you aren’t ready to buy your kids a gun, but you want to teach them firearm safety and proper etiquette, take them to the range. Let them shoot under your supervision and with your help. Allow, and require, them to put into practice the safety rules you have taught them. Some people recommend starting off with air soft guns, and that can be a great tool as well.
Use their interest in firearms to teach them some responsibility; first and foremost, concerning safety, but also for the care and maintenance of the gun. Encourage their interest in guns, but make sure they understand that gun ownership is not a right free of responsibility.