As a parent, there are few things that I want as much as being able to share the things I love and enjoy with my child. This includes my love of hunting and guns. With all the gun-related incidences lately, and the fight to preserve our second amendment rights, concerns about gun safety are at an all-time high, especially where children are concerned; and at our home, these issues are NOT taken lightly.
As a child, I grew up knowing what guns were, watching my dad and uncles shoot them, and sometimes toting an old side-by-side double barrel shotgun while hunting birds with them (even though I’m pretty sure I could not hit the broad side of a barn with that thing). However, guns were not mysterious… they were not bad… they were not evil. I knew what they were and I knew they were a tool for entertainment and hunting, but I never once considered them malicious and it never once crossed my mind to use them on another person.
I want to raise my daughter the same way. Emma turned 3 only a few shorts weeks ago, but gun education starts early around here and she has been exposed to them often and knows exactly what guns are. At age 2, we started simply with the question, “What do you do if you find (or see) a gun?” The correct answer was to tell Mommy or Daddy (we wanted to keep the answer as simple as possible considering she was only 2!).
As her third birthday approached the answer to the question slowly started to change: tell Mommy or Daddy, or Grandma or Grandpa, or whatever grown-up she can find. We have also added in another little question, “Do you ever touch it?” The answer, of course, is no. These questions will slowly evolve as she gets older and as she can better understand and comprehend different, and even unexpected, situations.
These questions are also not asked formally. This is just something we talk about whenever guns are present, such as if we are out target practicing, going hunting or cleaning a gun. Then again, these questions are also asked randomly and whenever I think of it, like while typing this post. Any parent can tell you that young kids are sponges, they soak up everything… words, attitudes and behavior. Making it informal, makes it easy to learn. There is no pressure and no unnecessary anxiety that can seep from the formal lectures usually given by nervous or uneducated parents.
As parents you should do everything you can to prepare a child for unexpected situations. The most important rule of thumb, in my opinion, is to create a response in your child to completely remove themselves from any dangerous situation. At her age, the response to not touch and go find an adult immediately, is appropriate. As she gets older and the more we expose her to all types of guns, people and the hunting world, the way we approach the gun safety issue will change.
With that said, there are firearms in our home. However, just as we embrace the philosophy of education, we also do our best in prevention. Not only do we utilize gun safes and gun locks, but the entire room where guns, ammunition and hunting gear is stored, is both locked and completely inaccessible. However, not everyone cares that much, some people do not care at all… and that is when gun safety and education are crucial in your child’s life.
A few months ago I discovered that the NRA actually has gun safety materials for children, including workbooks and an animated DVD. They can be used by anyone, from educators to parents, and the four basic rules of the program are, if you see a gun, to:
- Don't Touch.
- Leave the area.
- Tell an adult.
Nevertheless, if you have guns in your home, use them regularly for hunting, or if you associate regularly with anyone who does, I encourage you to make gun safety more than a one-time program and a DVD. Like I said before, kids are sponges. If you don’t care, they won’t care. If you are scared, they will be scared and nervous. If you hide it, you will only entice their curiosities. However, if you are real, candid and honest with your children, they will mirror that attitude with you… that can mean the difference between life and death. Which would you choose?
(For more information on the NRA gun safety materials, visit http://eddieeagle.nra.org/)