Sometime between the ages of 7-10, your child should be mature enough to understand the basics of firearm safety. If you have guns around the home, even if they’re locked away, it’s a crucial conversation to have with your kids.
Tragically, about 1,300 children die from firearm accidents each year. While sometimes it’s a matter of the firearm getting into the wrong hands, many of those accidents could be prevented if your child was more knowledgeable about firearm safety.
If you’ve been thinking about introducing your children to firearms, it’s important to know they’re ready and willing to take every possible precaution. Gun safety isn’t something that’s learned overnight. You should be prepared to be as patient as possible with your kids as they learn the basics of how to stay safe around firearms and while holding one.
So, how can you know when they’re ready, and what should you be teaching them to keep them safe?
Knowing When Your Child is Ready
While we mentioned a specific range above, there is no “perfect” age for your child to hold their first firearm and learn how to handle it. If you want to determine whether they’re ready, there are a few key signs to look out for, including:
- They’ve expressed interest
- They’ve watched you use your firearms
- They demonstrate good behavior
- They have a high level of self-control
Keep in mind that it’s natural for some kids to have an interest in firearms at an early age. Little boys and girls as young as 5 or 6 might see you using your firearms or notice them in storage and be curious. It’s also not uncommon for little kids to “pretend” to have a gun, whether they’re using a toy or their fingers to mimic the action of shooting. That’s a different kind of interest, and it doesn’t mean that they’re ready for the real thing.
You know your child better than anyone. If you truly think they’re ready to be around a firearm, the next step is to talk to them about how to stay safe.
Talking About Firearm Safety
A good place to start when it comes to teaching gun safety is to look at the NRA’s Eddie Eagle Gunsafe Program. It’s specifically designed to help kids learn about gun safety, and teaches your child what to do if they encounter a gun:
- Don’t Touch
- Run Away
- Tell a Grown-up
These are great principles to build a gun safety foundation upon because teaching your children about gun safety doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll ever want to have a gun of their own. It means they should know what to do when they’re around one.
As a parent, your firearms should be properly stored and stashed away. But, it’s important to openly communicate with your children about gun safety. Kids are naturally curious and often want what they can’t have. Their self-control is still developing. So, if you treat your guns like “forbidden fruit” and don’t talk about them, your child is more likely to let their curiosity get the best of them. If you’re an avid hunter, you can even take them out with you to model proper firearm safety. Or, sign them up for hunting courses if they’re over 10 years of age. Local municipalities have their own regulations for hunter’s ed courses, so check with your city, county, or state.
The good news? You can teach your kids about gun safety from anywhere. Are you a military parent who has to use guns every day, and your child is interested? Use multiple channels of communication and schedule regular calls with them where you can talk about the importance of firearm safety. Even in long-distance parenting, it’s a necessary conversation to have.
Letting Your Child Learn the Basics
Obviously, putting a gun into your child’s hands isn’t the first step to take. It’s imperative to feel confident they know as much as possible about firearm safety before they touch a gun. Even then, there are steps to take that can lead up to them actually handling a firearm and using it for the first time.
When it comes to introducing your child to their first gun, there are a few ground rules to keep in place. They might already know about how to stay safe around guns, but using one themselves offers a new set of rules, including:
- Only using the firearm with adult supervision
- Never pointing the gun at someone
- Never pointing the gun if you’re not ready to shoot
- Keeping your finger off the trigger
- Checking surroundings before firing
- Checking that the barrel is clear
It’s a good rule of thumb to make sure the firearm your child is using is unloaded when they’re handling it and the safety is on. Accidents can obviously happen. Even if your child is well-versed in the safety rules, the last thing you want is for them to get excited or nervous about holding onto it, and accidentally firing off a shot.
Until they are completely secure and confident in their ability, and you see that they’re mature enough to go to the next level, safety needs to come before anything else. Firearms are often misrepresented and stigmatized. By making sure your children know how to handle them properly and responsibly, you can help to crush those stigmas and paint gun ownership in a more positive light.