Gun Safety for Kids: A Beginner’s Guide

Gun Safety for Kids
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Gun Safety for Kids: A Beginner’s Guide

Guns are a big part of culture in the United States, more now than ever before. In just a single month, June 2020, the FBI reported that Americans submitted a record-breaking 3.9 million background checks through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS).

In just that one month alone, American civilians bought enough guns to supply every sworn police officer in the country with four guns apiece.

In fact, the 26 million guns Americans bought during the first eight months of 2020 are enough to arm all 21 million people in every army on Earth put together, plus another 5 million guns equal to the entire civilian population of New Zealand.

And that's on top of the 28 million guns Americans bought in 2019, and the 26 million guns they bought in 2018.

Bear in mind that these numbers are from the background checks done at gun shops, and they don't include most private sales, which is another gigantic market for guns, ammo and accessories.

With this many guns in private hands, it's inevitable that many families' children will take an interest in shooting.

Learning to safely handle a gun is a great way for kids to pick up good habits and become more responsible.

It's important to teach kids right, though, and to do so safely. Here are a few ways you can make sure your kids stay safe while handling guns.

Remember the Cardinal Rules of Gun Safety

Safe gun handling for kids starts well before they pick up their first rifle or handgun.

Talk to your children about the five cardinal rules for gun safety, and quiz them on it a few times before ever letting them handle a gun.

Every gun owner should have these rules memorized, but in case you could use a refresher, here they are:

  • Treat every gun as if it is loaded until you personally clear it.
  • Only point the gun in a safe direction, and never point a gun at anything you are unwilling to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to shoot.
  • Know what's behind your target, what's going on around you on the range and where everybody is before you shoot.
  • Everybody is a range safety officer — no matter how young you are, if you see something unsafe, speak up!

These points can be expressed in different ways, and everybody has their own version of them.

Experiment with ways to say these five rules until you find something your children can easily remember.

If it helps, you can pretend one parent doesn't know the rules, so it's up to the child to "teach" the rules to at least one adult.

Not only does this make the child feel grown-up and responsible for another person's safety, it also encourages them to internalize the rules until they're second nature.

Age Is Just a Number — Know Your Child's Maturity Level

Children develop at different rates, and every kid is unique.

Some children grow up safely handling .22LR rifles from kindergarten on, while other kids make avoidable mistakes well into high school.

Only you know your child's maturity level, and it's up to your judgment to determine when your child is old enough to start handling a gun safely.

At a minimum, before your children have a chance to handle guns, you should be confident they can handle BB guns or other less-lethal objects safely.

In particular, watch your child with a toy gun for muzzle direction and trigger discipline. When it looks like these practices have become instinctive, it may be safe to let them start practicing with the real thing.

Start Small and Work Up

Most American adults' first fond memories of shooting start with a good old .22LR rifle. There are a lot of reasons for this.

First, a Rossi RS22 or similar rifle has practically no recoil, making it a great introduction to guns for kids.

A .22LR rifle also tends to be lightweight, easy to service and clean, and mechanically simple to operate. Unlike an AR-15, which also usually has really low recoil, a more old-fashioned .22LR rifle likely has limited accessories and other complications that can make learning to shoot a chore.

When your child is consistently able to handle a .22LR rifle or revolver without safety issues, it's time to work up through the calibers until they're comfortable handling full-power rifles, handguns, and shotguns.

Treat this like a natural progression.

Ideally, your child can graduate from a .22LR to something chambered in .380 or .223 Remington then a 9mm, and maybe a .38 Special after that. At each stage, monitor the child's reaction to the flash, bang and recoil.

Remember that, as a rule, the heftier the gun's frame, the better it handles recoil for a given caliber.

Thus, a Smith & Wesson J-frame chambered in .38 Special could be more of a pain to shoot than a Colt Python with a .357 Magnum load.

Always be sure to try shooting the gun and ammunition yourself before passing it to a child with limited experience —  that way, you know what they're in for.

Every time you introduce a child (or an inexperienced adult, for that matter) to a new caliber, start them off slow. Load a single round into the gun and let them fire it for a first shot.

Only pass the child a full magazine once they are getting used to the recoil. This way, if the recoil is too much and the gun jerks back to an unsafe position, the magazine will be empty and firing another shot (sometimes called "doubling") will be impossible.

While this is usually a technique you'd use for higher powered calibers, some kids have trouble with a .40 S&W or a .44 Magnum, or sometimes even with a .25 or .32 pocket gun.

Always err on the side of caution and guarantee that the gun will not go off twice.

Helicopter Parenting Is Essential on the Range

The term "helicopter parent" is rarely complimentary, of course.

But while it usually reflects poorly on a parent to hover over their child and not allow them any independence, it is vital to have that level of knowledge and awareness about your child’s activity while on the range.

Always know when your child is holding a gun, and position yourself directly over their shoulder in a position to take control of the gun if you need to.

Closely watch every movement of the gun and the child's hands near the trigger. Gently remind them about trigger discipline, muzzle direction and other safety measures as needed.

Schedule Short Range Sessions

As any schoolteacher can tell you, kids have limited attention spans.

Remember that kids are learning new things every time they visit the range, and too much information at once can get to be overwhelming.

For a new shooter with so much to think about — grip on the frame, stance, eye and ear protection and all the other things your kid is learning in the beginning — the usual hour-long range session can be too much to take.

Try to keep range time in the 20-30 minute zone and be ready to pack up when the child tells you they're ready to go, at least while they're still learning the basics.

Keeping range times short when you're with your kids is a good idea from a safety point of view. As a shooting session drags on, kids are bound to get tired and start forgetting basic safety items, such as the right sequence to clear an auto-loader.

Long sessions can also turn an outing into a chore, which makes shooting less fun and discourages practice.

If you want to schedule an epic marathon shooting session, unless your kids have worked up to that with you, consider doing it sometime when you're on your own.

Invest in the Right Hardware

Every shooter needs a few things to stay safe on the range. Eye and ear protection are a given, as are a gun case, range bag and maybe a speed loader for new magazines with tight springs.

You have to buy most of this stuff, and you should resist the temptation to go cheap with the kids' equipment.

Hearing protection, for example, should be top-notch. While you can probably get by with the $1 plastic safety glasses for keeping powder out of your kid's eyes, there's no substitute for good whole-ear headphones.

Make sure they cover your child's ears completely and are comfortable to wear for at least half an hour. Consider doubling up with some inside-the-canal earplugs, since there's no amount of hearing protection that's excessive for a child.

Remember that, ideally, your child is at the start of a decades-long hobby, and they might as well start out with the best gear you can afford for them.

New Rule: "I Will Never Say No"

Gun safety isn't just for the range. The guns you own are probably in the house your kids live in 24/7, and if they aren't, then you probably need to go and find either your kids or your guns, whichever is missing.

The idea of unsupervised kids with guns in the house is the kind of thing that sends chills up some parents' spines.

Of course, the basic, rote answer to this concern is to always keep your guns unloaded, disabled, and locked in a safe.

But there are two problems with this: first, no burglar is going to wait while you unlock the safe and reassemble your gun from scratch; and second, your kids are smarter than you and will eventually find the gun if they want to.

Your job is to make them not want to.

One of the best ways to make sure your children only touch the guns with close supervision is to set a house rule that you will never say no if they ask to see the gun.

The fact that you will always drop what you're doing to safely supervise them takes away the incentive to sneak, and it helps kids to develop a responsible attitude toward the guns they will handle safely for the rest of their lives.

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