Teaching your kids to use firearms properly and safely is a sacred trust. It is a skill that can provide them with a lifetime of enjoyment, a lifetime of increased safety from the dangers of the world, and a lifetime of meat in the freezer. The ability to use a firearm is a critical survival skill in terms of security and defense as well as in providing food for the table. Shooting and hunting are great family bonding experiences, an opportunity for a parent to pass along acquired knowledge and share quality outdoor time with the kids.
Skill at arms is also, and perhaps most importantly, a fundamental tenet of freedom and liberty as an American. As our Founding Fathers well knew, an armed person is a citizen while an unarmed person is a subject. It is critical to teach kids this culture and tradition along with the other elements of their firearms training; rest assured they will be taught quite the opposite in school.
One of the biggest questions when it comes to introducing kids to guns is, “When do I start?” The simple truth is that there is no simple one-size-fits-all answer. There is a lot of variation in kids and this needs to be taken into account. The best answer is, “As soon as possible!” As soon as they are able to talk and follow simple instructions, they are ready to start. Even before they are old enough to hold, let alone shoot, a gun they should be included in family range time.
My wife and I are now the proud parents of three- (almost four) year-old twin boys. The boys are still too small to participate in the shooting, but they are learning a lot nonetheless. They are learning to use eye and ear protection whenever shooting is taking place. They are learning where to stand in relation to a firing line. They are learning that all guns are treated as loaded until proven otherwise, and even then are viewed as suspect. They know that guns should be pointed down range, and never at other people. They are learning the basics of firearms and range safety. The boys love going to the range with me and their mom and their older siblings, and as I often say familiarity breeds confidence.
As far as first guns go, in my house there is no choice other than the time-honored Daisy BB gun. My three older kids cut their teeth on the same little Daisy and the same Red Ryder that my brother and I learned on back in the ‘70s. The twins will get their turn shortly. Four or five is the right age to get kids going on small air rifles.
10 Commandments of Gun Safety
Most of us probably remember “The 10 Commandments of Gun Safety” that came with our first BB gun; they are still a good place to start when teaching your kids about safe gun handling. As a refresher-
- Always keep the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. NEVER ALLOW THE MUZZLE TO POINT IN THE DIRECTION OF A PERSON.
- ALWAYS TREAT A GUN AS IF IT IS LOADED EVEN IF YOU KNOW IT ISN’T.
- Only load or cock a gun when you are shooting.
- Check your target and beyond your target.
- Anyone shooting or near a shooter should wear shooting glasses and ear protection.
- Never climb or jump with a gun.
- Avoid ricochet.
- Keep the muzzle clear.
- Guns not in use should always be unloaded.
- Respect other people’s property.
I remember reading those rules as a boy, and I remember the sense of awe when I read that my new daisy was a REAL gun. Some of these rules go out the window when you start keeping guns for self-defense purposes. For teaching kids initially, however, they are appropriate. If you do keep loaded guns in the home, and loaded guns are the only effective ones, extreme caution should be used in keeping them clear of small hands.
Beyond safety, early lessons should center on shooting accurately with iron sights. I do not recommend optical sights until iron has been mastered. Shooting with open sights puts you more in touch with your weapon, and requires more skill to master. Sight picture, shooting positions, and trigger control are key elements.
At the range, I have trimmed the safety rules down in accordance with current NRA training:
- Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.
- Finger off the trigger until ready to shoot.
- Keep the gun unloaded until ready to shoot.
Even some of this short list goes out the window with defensive handguns, but kids don’t need to be thinking or acting in those terms, so this is a good set of range rules for you to start the kids out on.
Some personal lessons
When it comes time for the first powder burning gun (at between 8 and 10 years of age, depending on the child), my suggestion is the bolt action .22 rifle. We made a couple of mistakes in first guns. The first mistake was getting all three of the older kids youth sized single shot 20 gauge shotguns. As it turns out the light gun combined with the fairly heavy load kicks like a mule and is quite intimidating to small girls. We very nearly turned my youngest daughter off to shooting, and her shotgun went unused for quite a while after the first two shots. The second mistake was making my oldest son’s first rifle a semi-automatic .22. With an auto loader, the urge to fire rapidly is just too overwhelming for a 10-year-old boy (even for a 45-year-old man, but I have already learned the fundamentals, so it’s OK!). In hindsight, a .22 bolt gun, or a single shot in .410 would have been better choices.
In some defense of the single shot 20 gauge, my son got his first turkey and his first hog on the same day with this weapon. The turkey went down to a 3’ magnum loaded with #4, the hog fell to 00 Buck. If nothing else, this demonstrates the versatility of the shotgun. The youth size will also be good as a pack or camp gun when the kids grow up.
In my house, we do not differentiate between sons and daughters when it comes to shooting. I know that shooting is not seen as feminine by many, but girls grow into women that need to be able to defend themselves in an increasingly dangerous world. I think the key to raising armed daughters is to get to them before society has had the chance to stigmatize weapons in their eyes. My girls, now 11 and 15, have been handling firearms since they were 5. My older daughter has developed a fondness for 1911 pattern pistols and now shoots a GSG 1911-22. I think she might be the only girl in her class who can present her weapon at the low ready position while scanning for threats!
Teaching your children to shoot and introducing kids to guns is an important American tradition. Good shooting skills can feed your kids, protect them, and help keep the free. A good foundation begins with the basics, and proper safety procedures are the backbone of a good program. Start them as soon as they are physically and emotionally mature enough, and continue training them as they grow. Firearms training is a lifelong endeavor. Your kids might as well get started, and they will thank you later.