If you have children at home and you own firearms, you likely have already encountered the extreme curiosity factor. Kids are naturally curious about everything, and of course that goes double for anything they’re told not to touch—like your firearm collection. You can read about safe at-home gun storage options in another article, but in addition to storing your firearms safely, you should also lay the groundwork for familiarizing kids with guns in a safe, controlled environment. Here’s how you teach your kids gun safety from the beginning without giving them the impression that guns are scary or dangerous.
Normalize Gun Ownership
First, we recognize that guns are not inherently dangerous—they’re inanimate objects—but that they must always be handled safely. As long as you follow gun safety rules, firearms are to be respected but not feared. If you behave as if guns are scary or dangerous by themselves, you’ll impart that message to your kids. This is particularly important to remember if one parent in the household is not as comfortable around guns as the other.
Keeping guns in the home, properly secured, is a normal, safe, so-common-as-to-seem-almost-boring way to live. Treat firearms safely and with respect, but not reverence or trepidation. They’re just tools.
Satisfy Their Curiosity
The best way to turn a gun from tempting forbidden fruit into another normal object is by allowing your children to get familiar with it. Let your kid be in the room when you open the gun safe, and take time to allow them to ask all the questions they’d like. For a couple of years when my daughter was young, she’d want to point to every gun in the safe and ask, “What’s that one?” We’d take each one out and show it to her, letting her touch or safely hold them if she wanted. Yeah, it was kind of a pain, because it sometimes took 30 minutes to go through this ritual, but as a result, guns became very normal to her, and her curiosity was satisfied.
At the same time, we were teaching her Eddie Eagle’s “Stop! Don’t touch, run away, get an adult” guidelines about what a kid should do if they ever find a gun. Between that and the fact that she didn’t find guns curious oddities to be explored, we felt we did the best we could to head off any potential problems.
Letting your child help you clean your firearms is another great way of satisfying their curiosity. Breaking a gun down into its parts further emphasizes that guns are just tools. Depending on the child’s age, they can observe or help you by passing you rags and patches, pulling the Bore Snake, or assisting with other tasks.
Practice With Toys
If you allow toy guns in your house, this is a great opportunity to start teaching gun safety. It starts with muzzle control and trigger finger discipline, and kids can learn that from the very beginning.
When she was 4 or 5, my daughter would accompany me on squirrel hunts. I’d carry my shotgun and she’d carry her toy wooden pop gun. We seldom saw many squirrels (4-year-olds aren’t exactly quiet on a still-hunt), but we’d spend a couple of hours very slowly walking through the woods, keeping a careful eye out. It was a good way for her to learn woodsmanship, but even more importantly, she was learning to carry her “gun” in a safe manner, especially when walking behind or beside another person. I kept a watchful eye on her gun handling and trigger finger, and I issued many corrections in the early days.
You certainly don’t have to go that far, but practicing safe gun handling with toy guns is an excellent way to start instilling the “safety first” mindset.
Let Them Shoot
All of the above are ongoing processes, not once-and-done endeavors. While you continue to practice them, it’ll eventually be time to let your child actually start shooting. When they’re ready is a question only you can answer, but whenever that is, start slow and easy. You can read more about introducing your kids to shooting in another article, but the most important thing is to keep things safe and fun.
Give them the safety reminders (not a lecture) at the start of every session, and be mindful of their muzzle and trigger discipline at all times. They should have been practicing this at home already, but if they’re sloppy, as kids will be, you’ll have to decide how strict to be with discipline. Every mistake needs to be corrected, but you might choose to go so far as to immediately end the range session and head home if the child commits a serious safety violation. It will be a harsh but memorable lesson.
The bottom line is that introducing your kids to firearms at a young age can help eliminate the curiosity factor, and integrating guns and gun safety into your everyday lives will further help establish firearms as mere tools to be respected, not feared.