With over 300 million guns in the United States alone, we have to ask ourselves when the right time is to introduce our children to firearms. The largest component to this always has to be safety. A common question parents ask themselves is “When is the right time to teach my kids about guns?” This question has a lot of answers, but only you can pick the right one.
Most safety authorities will tell you as a parent that children should begin learning firearm safety at a very young age. This can be a life saver, even in a home with no firearms. How will your child react when a friend wants to show them something they shouldn’t have access to?
As a parent, you can’t always be there when these situations occur. This is why the best thing you can do is teach your children about basic safety as soon as you feel they are mature enough to start.
Firearm safety at this stage usually begins with “stop, get away, tell an adult”. This can be an excellent way to teach your kids how to react. It can instantly disarm a bad situation at a friends house when they ask “Wanna see my dad’s gun?”
Ryan Cleckner has a great children’s book on Amazon for this exact purpose. We have an article about it here. It teaches kids that accidents happen, but accidents with firearms can’t be undone.
A lot of parents make the mistake of saying “See that? Don’t touch it!”, to any child this is a great reason to do exactly that. How many times do your kids do the exact opposite of what you say? A great tactic here, instead of saying they “can’t” do something and say “shouldn’t and this is why”. If I tell my son “You can’t climb on the back of the couch!” he simply has to show me that in fact he can climb on the back of the couch.
Telling him he shouldn’t instead of he can’t means I’m not doubting his ability and therefore it’s not a challenge.
This is where you have to see exactly how much they want to learn. If you have done your job and taught them not to touch them without permission, then they know they can touch them as long as you say it’s ok. This keeps it from being the forbidden fruit.
As your child gets older you might think it’s time to get them on the trigger. A great place to begin is just showing them the firearms in your home and allowing them to become familiar with them in the event that they find a gun in or outside of your home. My step-dad started me off cleaning his rifles with him after he had been shooting that day.
They might only like Nerf guns and think real firearms are too loud. This is totally fine, don’t force them into it. This is still a great time to start introducing them to trigger discipline, as well as the other basics of gun safety.
If they really start to ask questions, its a great time to sit down and really introduce them. This is when you get really serious about firearm safety and really start to instill the safety rules. The end goal here is not to scare your child or make them afraid, as that can be dangerous as well. Instead, you should teach your child that firearms can be very useful tools that need to be treated with respect. Shooting steel with a 22LR can be a blast for a kid, but they also need to know that guns are not toys and must be handled with care.
It doesn’t matter if you don’t own a gun or your child may not be ready to shoot for years. Teaching children about firearm safety at a young age is always beneficial. My dad is in his 70’s and hasn’t had a 10yr old in his house in 20 years.
If it’s hunting season there may be a rifle or shotgun that’s unloaded but not locked properly. You never know when visiting someone what their habits may be. Teaching your child proper safety regardless of your ownership can help them even when you’re not around.
Depending on how you learned firearm safety, you may have been taught 4 rules or 10. The 4 rules is great for a starting point with your child. This is the way I was taught and the way Ryan Cleckner teaches in The Long Range Handbook. They aren’t hard to memorize, so if your child wants to start shooting with you, memorizing these is a great first step.
Ask them questions about these rules and give them a little quiz. Make sure they aren’t just reciting the words, but actually understand the meaning and why the rules are there.
4 BASIC RULES OF FIREARM SAFETY
1. TREAT EVERY FIREARM AS IF IT IS LOADED
This means every firearm you touch, even if you just checked it 3 times, is to be considered loaded and to be treated as such. Don’t be the guy in the movie pointing the gun at his friend because the safety is on. A safety is a mechanical device that can and will fail at some point. The only thing that can keep a firearm safe is the person holding it.
2. NEVER POINT A FIREARM AT ANYTHING YOU ARE NOT WILLING TO SHOOT
Tell your kids to imagine that there is a laser beam coming out of the barrel. They want to make sure that imaginary laser doesn’t ever touch something they don’t want to shoot. If they keep this imaginary laser in their mind, this is an easy rule to turn into muscle memory.
3. KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU ARE READY TO SHOOT
This does not mean ready to shoot today, or this week. ‘Ready to shoot’ means your firearm is on target and you are ready to make the shot.
Keeping your finger off the trigger can start very early with the Nerf guns we referenced earlier. Have your child pick up the Nerf gun, handle it and set it down
4. BE SURE OF YOUR TARGETS SURROUNDINGS, AROUND IT, IN FRONT, AND BEHIND
The moment a bullet leaves your barrel, you are responsible for that bullet until it hits the dirt. Once you pull the trigger, you can never call that bullet back. Having a good backstop and being aware of your target and it’s surroundings helps you to know exactly where those bullets are going in case of a miss.
Knowing that your best friend is on the other side of that 8 point buck can mean he gets to go back home and see his kids tonight.
10 COMMANDMENTS OF FIREARM SAFETY
- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded.
- Only carry empty guns, taken down or action open, into your car, camp or home.
- Always be sure that the barrel and the action are clear of obstructions.
- Always carry your gun so you can control the direction of the muzzle.
- Be sure of your target before you pull the trigger.
- Never point a gun at anything you don’t want to shoot.
- Never leave a loaded firearm unattended.
- Never climb a tree or fence with a loaded firearm.
- Never shoot a flat hard surface, or the surface of water.
- Do not mix gunpowder with alcohol.
As your child starts understanding the safety rules, you can start going over each of your firearms. Showing your children how guns work and answering their questions can keep them out of trouble by answering all of their curious little questions.
Teaching your child how powerful a firearm is can be difficult when they may not have an understanding of what death really is.
A hunting video can be an excellent resource.
For my son, we had a ferret named Dexter since he was an absolute baby. We had him for around 6 years before he passed from an adrenal illness. This loss hit my son very hard, and 2 years later he still goes to visit Dexter’s grave out back.
This taught my son that when something is dead it doesn’t come back, regardless of how much it hurts. When they have this kind of reference to death it doesn’t take much to explain how safe they need to be.
TIME TO EXPERIMENT
I was taught a great lesson about the dangers of a gun with a soda can full of water. When you tell a kid that a human body is mostly made of water and then fill a can with water it paints a pretty good picture for them in their head.
Any rimfire cartridge will do just fine for this little experiment, but I really like the 17HMR ballistic tips for this example. When you shoot the can full of water it will absolutely shrapnel. This really helps with that picture that was in the child’s head from earlier with a real example of what even a small cartridge is capable of.
Teaching them what even a small cartridge can do to metal will give them a lot more respect for the dangers involved when learning about firearms. If you answer their questions in a safe environment, they won’t have to sneak around about it.
THE RIGHT AGE TO START SHOOTING
As a general rule, age as a number is not very important in this decision. The maturity of the child plays a much bigger role here. Listening and respect are huge when learning about firearms.
A child as young as 4 or 5 that listens well can easily be taught the basics of firearm safety. On the other hand, another child may be in their teens before they are mature enough to be trusted with handling even a paintball gun.
This is where your common sense as a parent comes into play. Your child needs to be mentally mature enough to understand that the improper handling of any firearm can result in a potentially life altering situation. A firearm of any type or caliber has a huge potential for danger, and your child needs to recognize this and follow proper instruction. This will ensure years of fun and a lifetime of great experiences.
GETTING READY TO SHOOT
A lot of parents choose to start their kids off with a BB gun, pellet gun, or even airsoft. This lets them practice trigger and muzzle discipline without all the noise and recoil. This can really help them build confidence behind the rifle.
You never want to start off with a gun that might be too big for them. Even a .223 can be a lot when it’s your first day at the range. The loud sound and recoil of a center fire can often be intimidating and teach your child to flinch with anticipation. Any bad habits are hard to break, so starting off right can make all the difference here.
My son is 8 and weighs around 60 lbs, my lady is in her 20’s and a very petite frame (I’m not that kind of stupid). My son started the same way I did, just like Ralphie in The Christmas Story, with a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. My lady being older, started out with the Ruger 10/22.
She had never fired a gun before and this wasn’t intimidating to her at all. After a few hours and a ton of smiles I had her hooked. Her second or third time out, she tried the .223 Remington 700 and wasn’t a fan because of the sound. She never even wanted to be around when I was shooting my 308 Remington build with a muzzle brake.
After 2 years, they both got to shoot my 308. I made some low recoil rounds using Trail Boss powder and they both enjoyed it; my son didn’t want to use the full powered Varget loads. After a day with a friends AR-15, she was ready for the full loads with the 308.
My mom was introduced to firearms with a Colt Anaconda in 44 Magnum. Needless to say she took one shot and didn’t shoot again for over 15 years until I took her to the range and she shot the 10/22. Now she’s enjoying it as well.
When you have the chance to start someone out small, they can always move up. Once they get a raccoon eye and a sore shoulder it really kills the experience for them. Let them move at their own pace and they may just surprise you.
Keep it fun. Keep it light. Keep it safe. Don’t expect them to be a sharp shooter their first year or even 5. Give your child an 8” steel plate at 50 yards and they will have a blast with it. Hearing it ring the steel and watching it swing gives them instant feedback and a big smile. When they see you ringing the 6” plate at 400 yards they’ll start working on their accuracy next.
Check out our article on a few great guns for beginners for more.