I recall years ago browsing through studies conducted with children and firearm safety slightly appalled at the data that was being analyzed. Multiple universities had publications stating that children were safer in homes where firearms didn’t exist. Since over 50% of homes in the US have firearms (reported) in their home that seemed like an extreme statement to make. The data backing up this statement was taken from experimental situations where young children were given basic gun safety verbal instruction and then left in a room with an unloaded firearm as a trial. When children failed to keep a safe distance from the firearm and alert an adult it was suggested that firearm safety instruction is not an effective method of safeguarding children from firearm accidents. Page after page I kept waiting for the professionals to suggest the burning question in my mind, but what about consistency?
As with any and all forms of training when it comes to youth, consistency is everything. You’ll see this concept set as the template in every form of youth education that I create curriculums around. As a homeschool mother to my own three children and years of experience tutoring young adults in classical education models, it is the only proven way that children develop a conceptual understanding and ultimate memory for such an important topic. Because of the way children’s brains develop and the way their behavior works in environments of distraction (like the exact environment a child will most likely be in if they were to accidentally stumble upon a gun that wasn’t properly stored and secured) we must cultivate an education model that meets them exactly where they are.
Children require consistent and disciplined instruction on concepts as important as one such as this where their physical safety-ultimately their life-and the lives of others are at stake. A sprinkling of instruction scattered throughout their childhood years won’t form the layers of protection that we seek to fortify, and it is only through the dedication to a lifestyle of safety where targeted and practical lessons sit at the forefront in frequent and developmentally appropriate lessons that real change will occur.
The great news here is that we, the responsible adults able to make impressions in the lives of the children that we love most, have full and total control over how and when we bring these lessons to life. The hardest part: simply getting started.
The first thing that I do with ANY concept that I will be introducing to children doesn’t involve any material or supplies-it simply requires our time and undivided attention and has benefits for the family far beyond that of their safety. It starts with a conversation.
I use the art of conversation to gauge and understand what the children already know-which will usually surprise you. Expect for them to have misconceptions and false principles that have already started to etch themselves onto their framework of understanding-especially when it comes to a topic that can have such a polarizing stigma.
Be mindful not to create an air of pretension where the child believes you to be in constant critique of their answers. Ask open ended questions that allow them the space to explain and present their understanding. Once they have concluded their responses, you can then correct any misconceptions through positive and clear explanations. Use words that are developmentally appropriate and simple to understand, and then continue to build and grow from there.
Amber’s Tip: Take notes after the conversation for your own records so that you’re able to reference them in the future to see the growth that will take place, and to also help you build a more personalized experience for future children or generations that you will be helping with this subject matter.
Set the groundwork
As you engage in the initial conversations with your children, set the groundwork for what is to come. Let them know that you will be having these conversations more regularly.
I recommend a set day once a month to revisit this conversation. This could include a focused lesson on one component of the four rules of firearm safety, a secure training scenario, watching the Eddie Eagle video as a family and following it with questions, or other examples that we will revisit later in the blog)
I also recommend a simple conversation/table topic at least once a week. These are simple and involve simply asking your child a scenario based question, allowing them to answer, and then discussing why. I call them table topics because they work well around the dining room table during mealtime, but you can also utilize this training method in the car while carpooling or before bed-both are proven time blocks when children are most attentive and conversationally engaged. Ideas for these table topics can be found in our Family Firearm Safety PDF.
I love beginning any firearm instruction by introducing children to some common nomenclature that they’ll encounter when learning about or discussing firearm safety.
One really simple way to do this is by going over the anatomy of a gun. Our Family Firearm Safety PDF has labeled diagrams of guns that you can use in your teachings. In understanding the function of each part children will gain a more conceptual understanding of a firearm which works to begin removing the novel curiosity that often propels children to explore a gun when they come into proximity with an unsupervised weapon.
I encourage you to also teach children that guns look a variety of ways and come in many shapes and sizes. Rifles and shotguns, which are prevalent in hunting cultures pose just as much of a risk to children when left unsecured and loaded. For this reason, our PDF diagrams include both a pistol as well as a long gun example.
Four Rules of Gun Safety
The four rules of gun safety were first created by the late Colonel Jeff Cooper to develop a simple and streamlined method of teaching basic gun safety to anyone regardless of age or experience level. Introducing children to the four rules of gun safety is another tactical way to streamline their firearm education. The key is progress, not perfection, and it may take them a while to grasp, understand, and recall the four rules with accuracy.
As the adult, you must first have an understanding of these rules and work to include them without fail in your firearm habits. You can start by watching this video on our YouTube channel for a simple explanation on the four basic rules of firearm safety.
Another vital insurance is that you know how to properly unload and carry out a 3 point check on an unloaded firearm (chamber, magwell, bolt face) before allowing your children anywhere near a firearm for lessons. You could also purchase a “blue gun” that can function as an inert option for your firearm instruction. I like to use one that functions such as the one found HERE, so that I can showcase with better accuracy the mechanisms of the gun and actualize just how easily an accidental trigger pull, etc can happen.
In teaching the four rules of gun safety you might begin to wonder why we would explain things to children like trigger discipline and understanding what’s behind your target when we are trying to teach them to stay away from guns-not to shoot them-and that’s a really good question! The purpose is that you are building an umbrella of safety around firearms under which they will grow and learn. You are showcasing that even adults must follow firearm rules unfailingly, and in learning the rationale behind these rules, they are learning in totality what it means to respect such a powerful tool. Before you know it, your children may also be at the age where they are joining family and friends on hunting or shooting adventures, and having this solid foundation will be a priceless security that has already been refined.
Below are the four rules of gun safety with examples as to how to showcase each concept in a tangible way. The full breakdown of how to implement and teach the four rules of gun safety can be found in our Family Firearm Safety PDF.
- Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
Explain that guns use ammunition to shoot a projectile. One example of a conversation that I have with my children goes like this: “When this bullet is met with force within the gun that happens when the trigger is pulled-the ammunition has a small explosion within its container (show a bullet or a shell for reference) and the projectile comes out of this end of the gun with an incredible amount of force. This is why we always assume that a bullet is loaded into this gun and can fire as soon as this trigger is pulled-that way we as adults treat the guns very carefully and always check to see if the gun is loaded or empty, and why you as children should never touch the gun and should instead find an adult as quickly as possible.
- Never let the muzzle point at anything which you are not willing to destroy.
It is important that children understand where the muzzle of the gun is at and therefore can understand why we never want anything that we are not willing to destroy to be on the other end of that muzzle. Children also tend to point the gun directly at themselves when they encounter an unsecured firearm and this rule is helpful in creating an awareness around why doing so is detrimentally unsafe.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
Have a child make a fist and then say “boo!” (they’ll most likely get the giggles if they’re young enough) and you can then ask them if they clinched their fist. Explain to them that this is a natural reaction when the body meets something unexpected and this is one reason why it’s so important that our fingers are trained to never rest on the trigger until our target is in our sights and we are ready to shoot.) Show them what “trigger discipline” looks like.
- Always be sure of your target and beyond.
Set up a foreground object like a large book, a large stuffed animal, or another object that is easy to see. Place a few other objects behind it in various places. Have the child stand about 10 feet in front of the primary object with their eyes focused only on the primary object. Have them attempt to name to you the objects that are in the background. Explain to them that bullets have the potential to affect anything that is behind the main target and it is an important practice to recognize what is in the background.
The Legacy You Build
I firmly believe that our children hold the legacy that we want for the future, and while the right to bear arms is a fundamental part of our society-protecting the family was always part of that right’s intended purpose. Families have found their way to a state of complacency, outsourcing what used to be a common theme running through most every home. It is up to you to teach your children how to be responsible in the presence of something as powerful as a live weapon. I promise you this- no one else has the ability or the influence to bear that role with as much gravity as the keeper of these little leaders. Regardless of which way the political stance on guns seems to sway, guns are and will always be a presence in the lives of an American child. They will exist in and around homes, businesses, and places that your children visit. We cannot control every situation that they are put into, but we can control the way we teach them to respond-not react. Teach them to respond with confidence and clarity the way a leader should-and one by one these leaders will begin to influence others around them-and generations after that.
Building a legacy can start with something as simple as a conversation.
We’re here with you every step of the way.
Other resources from Fieldcraft on this topic: