Over the years, we’ve watched a variety of techniques used in teaching kids about gun safety and how to shoot. Here are some best practices on imparting responsible gun handling to children. In the paragraphs below, you will see that our recommendations are categorized by age groups. These categorizations are only guidelines. Since children develop at different rates, maturity and focus should be your guidelines when considering the material below.
Victoria (photo inset) was not born with a gun in her hand, but at 15 (when this photo was taken) she had better gun handling skills and technical ability than many adults who attend our courses. That did not happen by accident. Her parents were committed to teaching their kids to shoot. More importantly, next year when she heads off to college, serves in the military, or moves out of her parents house, she will take the understanding of safe, responsible gun handling skills and the ability to defend herself with her. That ability will place her on the low-end of the risk spectrum and she is much less likely to be a victim than her peers. It has less to do with her gun handling skills and more to do with her confidence and that she is morally and physically capable of defending herself.
Guns are not like other toys!
3 – 7 years old. It’s never too early to start teaching firearm safety. Toy guns should be secured in a similar manner to real guns. If you don’t have room in your armory or your safe, I completely understand. A separate toy chest with a legitimate lock will make the point. Guns are not like other toys and we don’t leave them laying around for criminals to steal, or irresponsible to people to play with. As soon as is practical, have them recite a firearms safety rule (We use Jeff Coopers – but there are other versions that will effectively impart the habits of action) if they want to play with their toy guns before it gets unlocked. Start with rule one & add on as they demonstrate understanding. If they violate the rule, the toy should go back in the safe. Memorizing verbiage is good start, but doing it is the important thing. I know five year old children who have the core safety rules memorized. Many have better muzzle & trigger finger disciple than some of the adults I see at ranges.
Get some chores done!
5-7 years old. Start with simple cleaning. Children in this general age group have a natural curiosity and tend to want to get involved in whatever their parents or grandparents are doing. Cleaning and maintenance can serve as a great introduction to firearms – and they can reach stuff you can’t! This is also a great opportunity to introduce the concept of correctly using safety equipment when cleaning and maintaining firearms. The use of gloves, goggles, and proper ventilation is recommended for adults but is absolutely critical for children due to the fact that they cannot process toxins as effectively or efficiently as adults can. A great first step on the journey toward safe and effective firearms handling starts with basic awareness and simple firearms maintenance.
Remember, if they see you doing things correctly, it is very likely they will too. If you don’t wear gloves when cleaning your guns, that’s your own bad plan, but please – don’t poison your kids with solvents & lead residue. I know a few families who spend an hour every other Sunday cleaning their firearms. As kids learn to safely handle and maintain firearms, they will no longer be enamored by the mystery of guns and, most importantly, they get to spend time with their parents. The maintenance piece is a great introduction to responsible gun ownership that can make guns an important and fun part of your child’s life.
Use real projectiles to introduce range safety!
7 – 10 years old. Start their shooting experience with airsoft guns, a BB gun, or a pellet gun. Something with little to no concussion, impulse, or felt recoil. Although they may not meet the definition of a firearm, they definitely need to be stored in the real gun safe. Shooting any of these items should also include setting-up & taking-down a target with an adequate backstop. This is great time to start the discussion on safe range set-up, suitable targets, and to go in depth on rule four. You can really impart responsible ownership and handling skills with a BB gun if you put a little bit of effort into it. Marksmanship fundamentals are not easily acquired with air driven firearms so I don’t recommend spending a lot of time on it at this stage. This should be all about safety, fun, and responsible handling which are the critical foundation for the the next step – accuracy.
Marksmanship and hunting!
8-14 years old. The next step in the transition is ideally to a .22 caliber rifle or pistol. From the perspective of teaching kids to shoot, this is the best money you will spend. Make it their gun(Christmas, birthday, etc…) and additionally – make it theirs to clean & maintain (hopefully during family gun maintenance time)! Add the dry practice drills that are going to make them effective shooters in small doses. While reinforcing the lessons previously learned regarding safe, fun, and responsible gun handling is appropriate; These types of weapons are accurate enough to learn the fundamentals of aim, trigger control, and the capabilities/purposes of responsible gun ownership. Tagging-along on a short hunting trip is good idea at this stage as well, if its something you do, to introduce one of the purposes of firearms.
12 – 18 years old. Start them off in the practical gun arena with a 9mm pistol and a .223 rifle. Both have low recoil but are adequate for self-defense. If you start with the pistol – the trigger control will transfer over to the rifle more easily. If you start with the rifle, you’ll spend less time teaching them not to anticipate – so that is trade off you’ll havre to make a decision about. This is when you can really start teaching kids to shoot, but unfortunately this is also about the same time they stop listening to their parents! Consider some formal instruction if you’re not getting through. Three key things need to happen at this stage. They need to master trigger control. They need to take personal responsibility for safety and responsible gun ownership. They need to have some fun doing it! This is the baseline for their future skill with firearms and, more importantly, it will establish the mentality they will carry about guns & gun ownership for the rest of their lives.
Consider some out side help!
14 years and older. Shotguns & larger calibers should be introduced once they can effectively shoot the 9mm and the .223. Everyone should go hunting – at least once in their lifetime. The ability to hunt, clean an animal, and prepare it is a life-long survival skill that every person should probably have. Additionally, this is a critical time in introducing the purpose of firearms to children and young adults. Firearms were ultimately designed for hunting or self-defense. Everything else is some sort of modification of their original purpose. Sporting clays are fun, and they may improve bird-hunting ability, but the concept that guns are for sport only and not functionally designed to end life is simply an irresponsible and inaccurate characterization of their purpose. Hunting is a great way to introduce to the purpose of firearms.
Turning over the keys
We often are asked “when should my kids have access to firearms unsupervised?” On a hunting trip, sending two reasonably experienced and responsible 16 year olds out for two or three hours is very different from handing them the keys or combination to the safe at home. The pre-fontal cortex is not fully developed in human beings until about age 25. The key element with gun ownership and the pre-frontal cortex is impulse control. It is as much of a physical development issue as a maturity issue.
All else being equal, 25 years old is the right age for people to own guns unsupervised. The legal ramifications of turning 18 makes that simply impractical, and every adult should have the ability to defend themselves. This is the toughest call as a parent that you will have to make. Even the military controls access at all points to firearms so the concept that an 18 year old is mature enough to serve in the military is absolutely irrelevant to responsible individual firearms ownership.
Under no circumstances should minor children (under 18) have access to firearms unsupervised – regardless of the maturity of the child. At 18 they can purchase their own rifles & shotguns in most states. If they are moving out of the house & off to college or to get a job, you need to make the call on your child’s maturity as it relates to safe and responsible gun ownership. If they are staying home, you should also consider giving a responsible young adult the combination to the gun safe. Certainly not if there are indicators they don’t have the maturity. At that point, legally they can own them without your permission. Better that you shape that independent ownership incrementally while you have time and they are still in the house.
Wrapping it all up!
Teaching kids to shoot is as much about the gun as it is about the responsibility that goes along with it. Firearms are a great way to spend time with the family and you can start demystifying guns very early. Take the fear & curiosity out of the equation as soon as possible. Regardless of your stance on private gun ownership, every child deserves the basic information to be a safe gun handler. Denying them that information is probably the most irresponsible decision our educational institutions and government have made. It simply leads to very preventable gun accidents.
Have fun, stay safe and – take a few minutes to actively contribute to your children’s safety!
~ Aegis Academy