Teaching Children Gun Safety

One of the more important issues with the growing female handgun owning population (though it certainly mattered to the MEN before this, damn it) is the dangers involved in mixing kids with handguns. The media would have you believe that it’s an automatic death sentence for your youngster and all their playmates, playing up the tragic loss of young life — far smaller percentage-wise than the loss of children’s lives to swimming pools and youth sports!

However, the mix is not as deadly as many people would have you believe, and there are ways to minimize any dangers. The secret lies in not looking at the handgun as the danger, but at the child. (I’m assuming here that the parent isn’t one of those dipshits who plays quick draw with their kid, at which point the crucial error was made nine months before the kid was born.) Massad Ayoob is fond of saying that we cannot childproof our guns (not without rendering them useless in pressure situations), so we must instead gunproof our children. In all of the instances I’ve heard of where children have died or been injured as a result of playing with handguns at home, it is invariably the case that the gun was stored loaded or stored with the ammunition nearby, and most importantly, that the parents failed to educate their child on the dangers of handling the handgun as a toy — WITHOUT EXCEPTION. It is not the combination of handguns and children that is deadly, but the combination of handguns and ignorance! To combat this, we must educate our kids. The following analogy will hopefully make this clear.

Guns, like sex, are glamourized and portrayed very inaccurately in television and in movies. And both are potentially very dangerous if they are approached with lack of knowledge, or even more dangerously, false knowledge and the false confidence this can give. In order to avoid illness and unwanted pregnancy, the liberal left (of which I still consider myself a member) maintains that education is required, to counterbalance the terrible combination of sexual curiosity, which all youngsters possess, and ignorance — which we can treat! Do we hope to keep our children free of illness and unwanted pregnancies by not teaching them about sex? NO!

Handguns, and indeed guns of any sort, are very similar — they exist as a fact of life — and similar to sex, a fact that many tight-butted parents would rather not admit exists. 🙂 And our kids have been exposed to false and glamourized information thanks to the babble box from a very young age. Again, to avert danger, we must combat this false knowledge with real knowledge — we must teach our children about guns. We cannot hope to avoid tragic accidents by simply not telling our kids that we own handguns. Maybe it’s uncomfortable to you to have to teach your child about something like this — but it’s also uncomfortable, to say the least, to get a phone call from the emergency room where the doctor’s are trying to put your child’s body back together, not to mention the discomfort for the child unlucky enough to have pulled the trigger. TEACH YOUR KIDS. If I had my way, this sort of careless negligence — having a gun in the house and not teaching your kids about it, or storing it unsafely — would be a criminal offense punishable by twenty years in prison. I’m sick of hearing about tearful adults whose negligence resulted in the death of a child treated with kid gloves and handed kleenexes. Just like drunk drivers, they probably aren’t evil people. But just like drunk drivers, their thoughtlessness results in violent death and dismemberment. It is unconscionable to have a firearm in the house and not teach your kids about it.

There are a number of parts to doing this:

* teaching our kids about them mechanically and safety-wise;
* teaching them what to do if they should see one;
* and showing them the force of a handgun in vivo.

The NRA has a nice program at http://www.nra.org/eddie/eddiemain.html called Eddie Eagle that promotes child gun safety, also. And there are certain choices of equipment you can exercise to minimize danger as well.

This is distasteful to many people who dislike handguns, or think of them as something fit for “tainted” adults but too dirty for children, whom we like to enshrine as more morally pure. This is a misguided and deadly thing to do — we cannot afford to enshrine our children. The world has things in it that can be deadly if approached without knowledge; we must provide our children with that knowledge. It is the responsibility of all adult animals to provide their young with the knowledge they need to survive.

But how?

When your kids are old enough to get into the top drawer of Daddy’s dresser, they are old enough to find that handgun — and the ingenuity of your kids will best your attempts to hide things. (When you were a child, how long did it take you to find out what was in your parents’ closet, just because you weren’t allowed to go there?) It’s oblivious, shortsighted, and dangerous to expect your 10 year old child to not know that you own a handgun just because “Gee, we never TOLD little Johnny we had a gun! I don’t know HOW he could have known!”

* “Mommy, how does that work? Can I see?”

At around the age of 4 or 5, they are starting to watch TV and learn the nonsense it teaches them about guns; at this age, they are also, however, usually too weak to work the action on a double-action revolver, or to pull the slide back on an autoloader. This is the time to start educating them. Teach them the difference between a loaded and an unloaded gun, and how to tell the two apart. Teach them the basics of safety — to always assume a gun is loaded and therefore dangerous if it’s not in the hands of someone who is educated. If they are strong enough, teach them how to unload or otherwise disable a gun SAFELY.

Also, do NOT NOT NOT simply state, “Touch that gun and I’ll tan your hide!” This tells the kid that the gun is off-limits and therefore irresistible, and it does not impart knowledge! A far better approach, and that used by the parents of the man who taught me to shoot, is to involve your kids in the gun cleaning, show them what it looks like and how it works (Distasteful? Wake up — so is a white coffin), and tell them explicitly that they may look at the guns whenever they want — NOT to play with them, but to learn about them — as long as they have your supervision. They are not to take out or look at the guns alone. This approach imparts knowledge to offset the effects of TV, and removes some of that illicit veil from the devices. When the latest action hero holds one, it’s a thrill — when Mommy is taking it apart and explaining it, that illicit air is dissipated.

* “Mommy, Janey showed me her parents’ gun today.”

If your child should be in another playmate’s home and that child should show them their parents’ gun, your child should leave immediately. However (and this is a big point), your child should also NOT scream, “I’m TELLING!!!!” at the top of their lungs and run out. If the other child is not properly educated (and if they are waving around the family handgun to other kids, they AREN’T), they could pull the trigger. This you DON’T want. And when your child arrives home and tells you what happened, you should call the other child’s parents, not with the intention of ratting on the kid so he gets spanked, but instead to say, “This happened today. I think it’s time to give the kids a gun safety talk together and take them to the range.” Be cooperative and pleasant.

* “Mommy, can I go shooting with you this weekend?”

And do take them to the range. Many kids (and a hell of a lot of adults) have a very skewed vision of what guns, especially handguns, are like and what they can do. On television, the hero shoots the bad guy once, he falls over, and that’s it; guns are seen as delivering what Ayoob called a “sort of remote-control punch” — BAD, BAD image as well as being entirely untruthful. You can show your child the truth even with a small .22 by bringing them to a range and showing them what the device is capable of doing. One woman interviewed in Paxton Quigley’s Armed and Female stated that she preferred to use filled soda cans. Other people use fruit. (And — always! — ask the range director if you can do this before splattering atomized orange peel or Dr. Pepper all over their backstop!) At any rate, what you want to do is simulate the damage that a firearm can inflict on a person or property.

The filled soda can is wonderful for that — DON’T USE AN EMPTY! The terrible damage that a bullet inflicts on a body comes about because of the way the interior of the body — the fluidy internal organs — transmits the shock wave to the rest of the body. When you shoot at a hollow can, you just poke a hole in it. When you shoot at a filled one, the liquid inside transfers the jolt to the entire can and blows it to smithereens. This is what happens with a person — and it’s surprisingly violent with a filled soda can. It may shock you as well as your kids.

If you have male children, this is an especially important demonstration since little boys are just learning their roles as males in this culture (and some screwed up roles they are but that’s a rant for another FAQ!) and handguns are linked arbitrarily but undeniably to masculinity. Even if a little boy is unsure of himself around guns, he may act macho because he thinks he should. Hearing the sound that the firearm makes and seeing the destruction on the other end of the range when the soda can is blown to confetti is a good way to make him lose his “macho,” and set his mind to learning.

The Right Equipment for Maximum Child Safety

You can also help defuse the combination of handguns and little kids by the proper choice of handgun. An autoloader with a stiff slide is a FANTASTIC choice since you can keep it loaded and ready within less than a second for you, but unusable by your youngster, who is too weak to cycle the slide.

Another wonderful option is called a Magna-Trigger conversion, available on Ruger and Smith & Wesson revolvers. (For additional information, send $3 for a brochure to Tarnhelm Supply Co., Inc. 431 High St., Boscawen, NH, 03303-3800, or call 603 796 2551. You can also link to their web page at http://www.tarnhelm.com/.) This is a special compltetely ambidextrous modification to your revolver which renders the gun unusable by anyone not wearing a special magnetic ring. Don’t let the mumbo-jumbo fool you; this is an extremely reliable conversion. You can simply wear your ring to bed and around the house. If your child gets hold of the gun, they will NOT be able to do a thing with it, but the minute it’s in your hand, it’s live. (This is also true with robbers or muggers — and another great reason to get a Magna-Trigger conversion even if you don’t have kids. In the extremely unlikely event that an assailant is able to get your gun away from you, they can pull the trigger until Doomsday — you’re safe.)

Gail Devoid, president of Tarnhelm Supply, recently wrote to me and offered to send me a converted Smith & Wesson revolver to test-fire. If the Magna-Trigger sounds like something you’re interested in, you can read my review of it here.

Another modification called Magloc exists for semi-automatic handguns, but I have not operated it and hence can say nothing about it. More information can be found at http://www.smartlock.com/. I would be more than willing to review it, should the company ask me to do so (hint hint).

As far as rendering a gun inoperable in order to protect children from injury goes, almost all of the advice commonly found will work wonders for doing just this — the combination or key lock through the frame, storing the ammunition out of reach or in a locked safe, and so on. The problem is that this will also render the gun useless for you in a pressure situation. I’ve already mentioned how very fine motor control goes to pot when you are hyped up on adrenaline, as you will be should someone break into your home. Are you really going to be able to fumble with that combination lock in anything remotely approaching enough time to use the gun to scare off that robber at 2am in dim light when you don’t want to turn on the bedroom light in the first place because you don’t want to let him know you’re awake? Are you really totally confident in your ability to get the ammunition out of the downstairs hall closet without alerting that rapist prowling around down there when the gun is in the nightstand next to your bed?

Put simply — HELL, NO! Rendering a gun inoperable without major contortions renders it totally useless. When a gun is needed, it is needed badly and immediately — the only person you’ll be stopping from using the gun is yourself, and that’s the last thing you want if the chips are down. Get an autoloader with a slide too stiff for your child to cycle. Invest in a Magna-Trigger conversion if you have a revolver. Better yet, just plain old TEACH YOUR KID ABOUT GUN SAFETY! The only weapon that can render a gun safe is the weapon of knowledge — and you don’t need a permit for that. As I’ve stated above, this may be distasteful to you — teaching your child the ins and outs of death-dealing machines — but in that case, you may be one of the rare parents who considers this more distasteful than going to a child’s funeral, even your own. This is an extremely difficult subject, make no mistake. If a parent has lost a child to such a cataclysmic tragedy, the last thing anyone wants to be caught dead saying is, “You could have prevented it.” But, and I am truly sorry if this offends anyone — the far, far majority of these tragedies ARE PREVENTABLE. An unpleasant truth, but it’s a truth that saves lives, so it’s worth the telling.

Larry Pearson is an NRA certified pistol instructor and a member of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, as well as a former police officer, former military firearms instructor and lifelong student of the martial arts. He also felt that he had something of value to share with the firearms community, and wondered which gunzines he should approach with the above essay. The problem was that he was dealing in ideas and concepts, and virtually all of the present gunzines only want articles about products and services so that their advertising department can sell space and everyone can make money. This is the American way. This is his first published work.

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