Teaching Kids Gun Safety

If you weren’t raised around them, guns can be a bit scary, and for good reason. The same justified fear goes for motorcycles, swimming pools, ledges, the forest at night, and pretty much all objects (and animals) that pinch. Thankfully, we as parents get multiple opportunities throughout life to educate our children about the rational dangers of certain items and balance them against the irrational fears that don’t deserve our attention.

Based on certain data, I can reasonably conclude that at least a few people reading this have recently purchased a gun for the first time. To that I say: congratulations! Owning a firearm is a precious right and a tradition that dates back several hundred years. Across that time many people have taught themselves (and their children) how to handle those firearms responsibly and safely, for defense, survival, and sport.

This time/age/epoch in America is highly uncertain and it is driving many people to consider personal protection in order to eliminate unpredictable variables, such as not knowing when (or whether) aid will arrive in the time of crisis. And that is perfectly okay, but when owning a firearm – just like owning a vehicle – the owner needs to be well educated on the function of his or her tool. Subsequently, the adult owner is morally required to pass the same information along to his or her children and/or spouse. This column will not train you, but I do hope that it will present some food for thought while also offering some resources.

The Four Basic Rules

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

Some of us love that movie. Some don’t. But the quote is terribly untrue unless you violate the basic gun safety rules, of which there are four. Don’t worry if you have never heard of them, my five-year-old hadn’t either until I read Safety On to him and now it’s his 54th favorite book, just behind the entire Berenstain Bears series. But hey, progress! And he now knows all of the rules by heart and with nearly no prompting.

The book is an introduction to firearms purposely written for children – and their parents to read to them – in order to establish the fundamentals before they ever touch a gun. There’s no need to be frightened by firearms if you know the basics, which I will cover here, but you really should check out the other children’s firearms books by The Pew Pew Jew. His various materials are educational, funny, and opinionated.

Anway, in an order that makes sense for my column and its flow, here are the Four Basic Rules of Gun Safety:

Rule #1: Treat every gun as if it is loaded.

This is universally applicable to all guns, whether they shoot real, actual bullets, nerf darts, airsoft pellets, or hose water. People can get seriously injured (or at least mildly annoyed) if you mistakenly shoot a gun that you think is unloaded but is not. Doing such a thing is one way to experience what is called a negligent discharge and it is responsible for several hundred deaths per year. Some tips to avoid such a thing can be found here but the point of this rule is to respect the idea that if you believe every gun to be loaded until proven otherwise, you and those around you will be much safer.

Rule #2: Never point a gun at anything you don’t intend to destroy.

This one is less universally applicable because it’s pretty tough to destroy much with a squirt gun, unless it’s the outdoor radio that’s broadcasting the Giants game while they’re losing to the Pirates in the bottom of the 6th on a Sunday afternoon. No, that’s not oddly specific, why do you ask?

The point is that if handled properly, your firearm will only ever discharge its ammunition in the proper direction and at the intended target. Again, this keeps people safe, and speaking of targets, the next rule addresses that. Also, don’t be careless with your handling in front of WIll Smith:

Rule #3: Always know your target and what is beyond it.

Many people in Nevada have shot in the desert, into a paper target, with a mound of dirt directly behind the target that will easily absorb the rounds as they pass through the target. Do not take that for granted. I know a guy who lives on a couple hundred acres that go straight back from his house, which is in the middle of practically nowhere. His backyard is lined with trees, after which there’s a field, another field, and still another field. The property is great for bird and deer hunting. Shooting there seems pretty safe; just set up a target and go for it, right?


Even though it is private property, the wildlife that roam there cannot be well seen through the trees and a rifle round can travel several thousand feet. Accidentally hitting an animal would be considered poaching, ranging from a misdemeanor to a felony. That is a mild outcome. A worse outcome is to hit your hunting partner and become an enduring worldwide example of carelessness. Mock the former VP though we may, this happens all the time in bird hunting when people get excited and fail to see what is beyond the bird(s) they just flushed from the terrain.

I underlined “and what is beyond it” because knowing your target is way easier than knowing what is beyond it, especially in live-action scenarios. For those who choose to carry a concealed weapon into the public, this rule is perhaps the most important one if you ever have to engage a threat.

Rule #4: Always keep your finger out of the trigger guard until you are ready to shoot.

This is another rule that prevents accidental discharges. In the movies you see people doing it incorrectly all the time, whether they be the cops or the robbers, and it is patently unsafe.

Something else you see in the movies and TV – especially from the 90s and earlier – is pointing the gun in the air as people clear buildings, chase down suspects, or reload in between shots at one another. That violates Rule #3 but while I am referencing my childhood memories, I figured I would mention that as well. As it turns out, Axel Foley did not do it right, so don’t follow his example and hold your gun in the air while you’re deciding what to do with it. Also note the finger constantly in the trigger guard.

I will repeat it here: DO NOT put your finger on the trigger until you plan to shoot. And then, after you are done shooting – even once unless you plan to keep shooting – remove your finger and place it alongside the barrel (the part where the bullet comes out) and pointed down range. Or, if you are handing the gun over to someone, point it at the ground, with your finger positioned similarly.

That covers the four basic rules but the article is not done, mostly because I have a lot to say, but also because we have at least two more basics to cover. I began this column by referencing first-time gun owners. If you are among them, this next section is as critically important as the first one, so please read carefully.

Safe Storage

No one likes discussing this, especially in a culture that has been fed fear to the point of delirium, but here we go.

You’re actually not that likely to have a home invasion so your gun needs to be locked up. More on why in a moment, but first, some statistics to quell the fear. And before that, a brief analysis of the purpose behind the fear.

Fear as an emotion serves to tell the brain that a threat or danger is present. The brain then tells the body to act. This works really well for advertisers who need to sell you something or for media outlets who need to sell ad space to those advertisers. It literally activates the brain to engage in a defense response and you know what? It works. Security companies are booming now, and if you’re one of the ones who just purchased a firearm, you likely did so because you perceive a threat against which you want to defend yourself and your family.

So what do we know about home invasions, exactly? It turns out they’re a statistical anomaly, at least compared to some other threats about which we probably pay less attention. A report issued in 2010 by the Bureau of Justice Statistics explains that although more than 3.7 million burglaries occurred annually between 2003 and 2007, a person was present in only 28% of those. That’s still a lot (a little over a million) but among those, violence was perpetrated only 26% of the time. That is just 7% of all home invasions resulting in violence, or roughly 270,000 occurrences. Here’s what’s really wild about that: nearly two-thirds of those acts were perpetrated by a person known to the victim. Mathematically that brings the number of random, stranger-induced home invasions to 94,500 annually.

Yes, that still seems like a lot (and since 2010 the home invasion rate has dropped), but let’s compare it to the rate of suicide with particular attention to firearm suicide. Say what you want about the politics of some organizations, but the numbers do not lie.

So what does this mean for you and me, the gun-owning parents? It means we need to lock up our damn guns.

To paraphrase an internationally known firearms instructor friend, ISIS isn’t going to kick in your window at 3 a.m. so you don’t need a bunch of guns staged around the house like you’re going to go all John Wick on them. In fact, it’s way more likely that you’ll be burglarized in the middle of the day and those guns you have tucked behind the pillows and above the fridge will be stolen and used in another crime. Or your kid(s) and/or their friends will find them after school and shoot themselves or someone else.

Lock up your damn guns.

If you’re really afraid of ISIS, get a biometric pistol safe and practice unlocking it as often as you practice putting rounds on target. Get so good at unlocking and accessing it that you will be prepared if and when that time comes, which it statistically won’t. At least not compared to accidental discharges or suicide attempts by disenfranchised teenagers (and children as young as nine years old), which are seemingly increasing by the month during this seemingly neverending fiasco of a pandemic.

Lock up your damn guns.

The Cheerful Conclusion

It’s not all doom and gloom. In fact, if you recall my earlier explanation about fear’s purpose, you might realize that I wrote those last several paragraphs to activate your limbic system purposely to do something. That something I hope you do is to train yourself and learn. Many resources are available online and in-person locally to help with that. These are good people with extensive experience who will make the journey toward personal protection quite comfortable and not at all intimidating. And especially for your children.

Of course, I would be remiss not to mention mental health resources such as the national crisis line and local outfits like my company (shameless plug), or national resources such as Psychology Today, which will connect you with a licensed professional in your area, or Walk the Talk America, which offers free and anonymous mental health screenings while bringing together the cultures of firearms and mental health.

Reno Dads is proud to tread into areas that are typically avoided by “polite society” because we recognize the value of the sunshine. It helps us grow and connect as people, and I want to encourage discussion toward commonality, not avoidance leading to tragedy. It’s okay to own guns and it’s okay to acknowledge that we are all scared and struggling in some form. Both can co-exist and certainly do.

These are weird times and it does well to state what is on our minds, bringing it into the forefront in order to help one another. Avoidance only hurts us, which in turn hurts our children. Let’s be better than that. Let’s connect and admit we don’t know everything we pretend to know. Let’s be humble and honest. Let’s model that for our kids. Let’s be the dads that our kids think we are.

4 Comments Add yours

  1. juliewisk says:

    Outstanding article. The Will Smith clip was a nice touch😉

  2. Racer88 says:

    Great article, especially since it used my video (Will Smith)! I’m glad (and flattered) that my video is helping get the message out. 🙂

  3. Thanks for sharing this invaluable information. It is a very important matter to teach children to understand and respect firearms.

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