It’s easy to think that you don’t need to teach your child firearms safety. If you have guns, and keep them secured, you might think that there’s no reason to teach your child how to be safe around a firearm. But what if you’re cleaning your gun and your younger child falls and injures themselves, and you leave the gun within reach of your older child to care for the younger one? Perhaps you have no firearms in your home, so you think that it’s irrelevant. But can you be sure that your child’s friends parents don’t have guns in their homes? Can you be sure those parents are diligent about ensuring their weapons are safely secured away? Maybe neither of these scenarios apply to you. Who’s to say your child won’t be walking home from school one day and find a gun lying on the sidewalk. In any situation that your child might encounter a gun, would he or she know what to do?
Teaching firearms safety is something that neither starts nor stops at your door. It extends everywhere. It doesn’t matter what you think: that guns are good or evil, that guns kill people or that people kill people. It doesn’t matter if you own a gun or not. Your child still needs to know about firearms safety. His or her life, as well as the lives of others, depends on it.
So, how do you teach your child about firearms safety? The first step is to teach your child how to differentiate between a real gun and a toy gun. The problem with this is that some toy guns look very realistic. This makes it difficult to tell if a gun is real or fake just by looking at it. Which is why the first thing you should teach your child is that if he or she sees a gun, he or she should never touch it. Obviously a brightly colored plastic water gun or something of that sort is clearly fake, and you should teach your child that those are fine. But aside from those, your child should understand that if he or she sees a gun, it should be left exactly where it is.
What should he or she do if they find a gun? If your child finds a gun, teach him or her to find an adult. If it is in your home, he or she should find you or your spouse, or if you are not home, the babysitter. If your child is home alone, he or she should know to leave the gun where it is and not touch it until an adult arrives. Once he or she finds an adult, the adult should remove the gun and put it where it belongs. The only exception to this is if the gun is found on a sidewalk or something other location where the adult doesn’t know how it got there. In this instance, the adult should call the police and allow the police to properly handle the gun. If your child has a cell phone or some other way to quickly contact police, you can also teach him or her how to dial 911 and inform police about the gun.
Teaching your child not to touch a gun when he or she finds one is a great start. But if your child has only been told not to touch a gun, or that guns are bad, guns are unsafe, or something of that nature, curiosity could still get the better of him or her. How do you prevent that curiosity from putting them in danger? Satisfy it.
If you own a gun, unload it and ensure it is completely unloaded. Always remember that unloading the gun does not render it safe; just safer. Teach your kids how to confirm the gun is unloaded. Also teach them the number one gun safety rule: All guns are always loaded. Yes, you read that correctly: All guns are always loaded. Even when you have just unloaded it, even when all the bullets are locked away in another room and you’ve looked and used a finger to confirm its unloaded status, the gun is still loaded. This constant assumption that any gun is always loaded ensures that you treat the gun with the respect it deserves and that you never make the mistake of assuming a loaded gun is unloaded.
Especially when it comes to kids, teaching them that all guns are always loaded is the easiest method to ensure they handle a gun safely. Letting them find out how it feels and what it sounds like is another great way to satisfy their curiosity. This is not always a good idea. But if your child is old enough and you feel they are mature enough, take them to the firing range, teach them how to properly fire a gun, and let them fire it a few times. This will eliminate the mystery that the gun seems to hold for them. They will no longer wonder what it feels like, how it sounds, what will happen if they pull the trigger. So if they do see a gun, they will be less inclined to want to touch it, play with it, or try to use it. Allowing your child to use a gun while being closely supervised by you or someone else who is very comfortable and well trained with guns is the safest way to satisfy their curiosity. Of course, you do have to judge for yourself if your child is ready for that, and if they are not, then wait until they are.
You also should teach your child what to do if another child finds a gun. You don’t want your child to be so intimidated by a gun that they stand there and stare at the other child in awe or fear. Teach your son or daughter that if another child finds a gun, your child needs to tell them that they should leave it alone. If the other child picks up the gun, your child needs to immediately leave to find an adult. You must ensure that your child knows not to stay and do nothing.
There is so much that can, and should, be covered with your child in order to teach them about firearms and firearms safety. It’s not something that can be discussed and resolved in one conversation. It takes several conversations, over a period of years. Kids need reminders, and more reminders, to help them be safe. Keep talking to them. Don’t assume that since you had one -or two- talks with them that they get it and won’t touch a gun.
Lastly, if your child comes to you and tells you they found a gun, don’t panic (if you must, do so in private). Instead, stay calm. Tell your child how proud you are of him or her for not touching the gun and for coming to find you. Give them some kind of reward for doing exactly what you told them to do – a candy bar, a special trip, something they will really enjoy. The point of the reward is to reinforce the idea that coming to tell you they found a gun was the best idea, the best way to handle the situation. If you panic, if you yell or make a negative big deal about your child finding a gun, that will make them think they can’t come to you. That’s the last thing you want.
Remember: If your child finds a gun, they should not touch it. They should go and find an adult. The adult needs to safely remove the gun from the area, or call the police to remove the gun if needed.
Whether you like guns or not, whether you own them or not, you must teach your child firearms safety. Lives do depend on it.