At what age should I introduce my daughter to guns?
July 28, 2017 7:51 AM   Subscribe

I have a five year old daughter who is the most precious person in the world to me. We're gun owners and believe strongly that gun safety should begin at a young age.

The idea is take away the mystery, the "Ooooooo!" factor and you erase a lot of problems of introducing kids to guns later on. The question is how young is too young? I'm thinking at the age of six if she shows a fair amount of (age appropriate) maturity she should be able to have her first .22 rifle. We can go to the range and make her first trip a family affair. Strict supervision, of course. Safety first--treat every gun like it's loaded, never point it at something you don't want to destroy, never put your finger on the trigger until you have sight on target, never pull the trigger until you are sure you want to hit the target and anything behind it.

But before ANY of that happens she should be introduced to the guns that already exist in the safe. Magazines out, no round in the chamber etc. First introduction type stuff, "These are guns. You must treat them with respect. If you don't they can hurt you worse than a grizzly bear. These will be locked up, but if you ever find one anywhere, don't touch it, and go tell an adult right away." That kind of stuff.

So how old is old enough for this kind of introduction?
posted by anonymous to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
From sad news reports toddlers are not just clever enough to open kid safe bottles but play with any dangerous object, so as early as a question of "what's that mommy". But not that different than stoves or electrical outlets. Don't glamorize but be clear it's not for playing.
posted by sammyo at 8:06 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]

I don't know if Metafilter is really the right venue for this question, but since you asked, I'll repeat what the American Academy of Pediatrics says. In their view, no one under 18 should own a gun or even live in a house with a gun, largely because of the increased suicide risk in teenage years. Furthermore, there is no evidence that early childhood gun safety courses are effective:

The absence of guns from children’s homes and communities is the most reliable and effective measure to prevent firearm-related injuries in children and adolescents. Adolescent suicide risk is strongly associated with firearm availability. Safe gun storage (guns unloaded and locked, ammunition locked separately) reduces children’s risk of injury. Physician counseling of parents about firearm safety appears to be effective, but firearm safety education programs directed at children are ineffective.
posted by crazy with stars at 8:09 AM on July 28 [108 favorites]

I have a different viewpoint, but believe in safety, so I've introduced the concept in detail in museums (we have museums with lots of real guns), talked about the different parts to demystify them, and talked about why they exist. My kid is 5.
posted by Pacrand at 8:10 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]

My experience with guns started at about 8 or 9. We had a long gun in the house. Gun safety was taught in a way that when I was looking for something in the attic at probably 10 or 11 and came across the bolt, independently, I had a moment of "what's this weird mechani... oh, the rifle, the bolt and the ammunition in 3 different places, that makes sense" moment.

So I think if safety is taught right (you don't store the firearm assembled, it's always loaded even when it's in pieces, you don't point unless you intend to shoot, you don't shoot unless you intend to destroy your target), teaching with a bolt action long rifle at 8 or so is probably reasonable.

I'd also note that, based on my own experiences and with my neighbor friend who had his own air rifle, that you store the firearm safely, and say "only when I'm with you", but make that "only when I'm with you" super accessible. "I want to go shoot", "okay, let's make that happen". That way there's no incentive to do it without you around (ie: bring it out to show to friends, sneak it out, etc).
posted by straw at 8:15 AM on July 28 [10 favorites]

I was about 5 the first time my dad took me to a shooting range, but gun safety started way, way before that. My dad was very, very clear, even when we were playing with toy guns (which made him uneasy), that you don't ever point a gun, loaded or not, finger on the trigger or not, at anyone or anything you don't fully intend to kill. Forever.

We had guns in the house, locked away in a safe stored in an inaccessible place that was never disclosed to us (probably some closet behind a bunch of hoarded crap) that came out every 6 months or so for cleaning, going to the shooting range occasionally, and (constant) lectures about how guns are dangerous and will kill you and kill others, period. Neither my brother nor I ever "owned" a gun, they were all my parents' and we sometimes got to see and handle them, that was all.

My brother and I are both adults now. I own zero guns. I know there's a (special in some way, something cool apparently though I've never seen it) gun my dad has that he's promised to me if I decide I ever want to own a gun, and I've considered getting a FOID card, but right now I don't really have any interest in owning a gun. I'm not afraid of guns, and I know what to do if I ever find myself with a gun in my hand, but I have zero need or desire for a gun in my life.

On the other hand, my brother owns a LOT of guns including some big scary rifles and has an "apocalypse box" full of ammo and open caries a handgun. He's doing everything completely legally and doesn't have kids or houseguests who could hurt themselves with them, but my dad thinks my brother's gun ownership/use/fetishization is irresponsible.

One parenting style, two very different outcomes.

tl;dr It's never too early to teach your kids gun safety. But no child needs to own a gun. Ever.
posted by phunniemee at 8:21 AM on July 28 [30 favorites]

I think the standard advice about sex ed applies pretty well here: It shouldn't be a one time, sit down, give a long lecture. Rather, it should be a series of ongoing, repeated short discussions and reminders. Don't give more information than the child should handle; answer questions, but don't answer more than she asks.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 8:22 AM on July 28 [24 favorites]

You sound like you're looking for a set age, but it really depends on the child. My rule of thumb for teaching young kids anything is "when they show an interest". Because that's when they're most apt to handle/experiment with said interest.

But yeah, you're then teaching a young kid how to use a weapon that could kill someone, including them or yourself or another loved one. So keep the guns locked up until they're much older and have shown over several years that they're capable of handling it responsibly.

Because they're kids and may not quite understand that dead is forever. Or they may and just lack the emotional control (especially with the hormones of puberty) to care.

Good luck and please think about this carefully. There's nothing wrong with waiting years to do this.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:24 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]

I grew up with rifles (for hunting) and we were always aware that there existed my dad's (and mom's) guns from a small age; that's how we got delicious venison! The guns were always kept locked, and the ammunition was kept in my dad's trunk with the jumper cables and other car things.

We had a bb gun in elementary school (9yrs old I think?) for target practice and honestly that was pretty good for a while (and it got locked up with the big guns, but the bb ammunition just kind of sat on a shelf in the garage). A BB gun was honestly enough; because quite frankly, some kids don't care/aren't interested; and some kids are too spacey to even be trusted with that. My brother got a rifle for hunting at age 25 or 26, I have no interest in one.

We were taught that you only ever point a gun at someone to kill, and you never point a gun at anyone or anything unless you are willing to deal with the consequences (jail, guilt). I feel like we got a lecture yearly a head of hunting season about gun safety, but I don't recall any sort of emphasis on training/we never went to a range.

Additionally, my parents did not let us play in the house of any neighbor who did not lock their guns up, and they were those parents who asked about gun safety. (and were disregarded as liberal ridiculous folks for it). My parents also told us why they wouldn't let us play at their houses, and made it know that that was unacceptable behavior.
posted by larthegreat at 8:24 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

I had a childhood friend whose family did this. I'm not sure if she was quite that young, but certainly elementary school aged. Later in life she told me that the tactic worked, in that she and her brother no longer had any curiosity about the guns and they were never interested in playing with them after the lesson was over.

The flip side is my dad was a cop and he literally never introduced me to guns. I was never curious about them either. I learned to shoot when I was in college, because my roommate wanted to bring a gun into the house for safety. As she'd never shot a gun before either, I insisted we go do so. (Fun fact: she decided against getting a gun after actually using one).

For any subject that I want to teach my young children about, I start with books and videos and talks long before we ever get to real-world application. Now is the time to instill your values on the subject, why we have guns, what we use them for, what other people use them for, safety practices, etc.

Do you plan to let her shoot at a range? You might ask them what age they recommend.
posted by vignettist at 8:25 AM on July 28

Seconding 8 or so, since ime that's the age when complex reasoning about actions conditional on social contexts really kicks in. Before then, it can just be another boring grown-up-specific tool that's dangerous and off limits for kids, like the food processor or curling iron or gas stove.

I do think that a good media diet is an invaluable part of gun safety, as well- no dumb superhero stuff with glamorized/ unrealistic portrayals of weapons, no shoot-em-up kiddie cartoons. If you like and respect guns yourselves and want your kids to do so, then actively cultivate a household culture that views them as tools and technology, not sexy mystery superpowers.
posted by Bardolph at 8:28 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

I don't remember a time I didn't know what guns were and that they were dangerous so I imagine my father started in on gun safety when I was younger than your daughter is now. I started out shooting BB guns when I was probably 7 or 8 and I could have progressed to handguns or rifles had I wanted to but guns had no appeal for me as a teenager. I'm 40 and I still have no interest. So yes to the safety aspect starting now, but it is my personal opinion that six is too young for the range.
posted by crankylex at 8:30 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

I grew up with guns, but at that age the message was far more "this is dangerous and do not touch them" than anything else.

By the time I was 8 or 10 I was dove hunting with my dad, though, and by 12 I had a shotgun (that, obviously, I wasn't allowed to so much as touch without adult supervision).
posted by uberchet at 8:31 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

A lot of gun ranges, 4-H, boyscouts have gun safety courses for youths that might be a good place to start, if only because kids listen to strangers way more than they do adults about things like this. The minimum age for a hunting license in most states is I believe 10 years (I was told this by a friend and have not researched it). Most gun training courses start at 13 years (which does seem strange to me they're not both available in the same age range) so you might want to look at those as a guideline to the the ages to start. The NRA has a gun safety program which offers some good tips, videos & tools, about training younger children your daughters age on what to do if they see a gun. (Stop, don't touch, tell an adult basically).

The only gun I'd feel a 6 year old should be around would possibly be an small air rifle or pellet gun of some sort. You could teach her all the proper handling skills until they become second nature to her, it would also help you get a feel for when she can moves on to something where such skills become life & death matters. Don't be disappointed if your daughter isn't really interested in guns. My father got my brother & I both air rifles as kids and we had no interest in going any further with it, hell my brothers gun never got used after the second week he had it.

From a childs mentality POV, the guns in the gun safe should be kept on a strict, these are off limits until you are old enough to have done x class or whatever. Even letting her handle them supervised might give her too much confidence and also the idea that she's OK to handle them if she sees one sitting around out of the safe. Kids abstract reasoning skills don't really even start to kick in until their tweens.
posted by wwax at 8:32 AM on July 28 [4 favorites]

Has she demonstrated the ability to do _anything_ exactly correctly every single time?
posted by turkeybrain at 8:36 AM on July 28 [41 favorites]

at age 5 all she needs to know is that she shouldn't be playing with one or staying around if someone else does because accidents are common and deadly, even among people she otherwise trusts. If she's curious about them of course you can show her a schematic of how they work, but there's no reason I can think of to have her handling one.

I learned to shoot at about age 25, FWIW. I was beyond the major depressive incidents of my adolescent and college years, so it worked out well and I enjoy the occasional target practice at the range. My husband was taught all about gun safety as a kid, grew up in a house where everything was responsibly stored, ammunition in the safe etc, yet guess what - he did try to kill himself with one of his dad's guns as an adolescent. Luckily it was a rifle and his setup didn't work somehow, but if it had been a pistol, things would have gone very differently. Education is no armor.
posted by fingersandtoes at 8:44 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]

I don't remember when my dad first showed me guns. I think he was cleaning a gun and probably talked to me about it, if I try to remember really hard.

The basic message has never left me though. These are for adults. Do not touch them. If you want to know more about them, ask me. If you find one out somewhere, do not touch it, come find me or mom. If other people are playing with guns, DO NOT ENGAGE, get an adult.

Like, as an adult, my core reaction is like, don't touch that, go find your dad. So the imprinting is pretty strong.

I like the idea of talking to her probably at about age 5. That's when my meaningful memories start - anything before that is pretty hazy. I like the idea of doing it in terms of something like cleaning the gun or some other thing that is not just *showing her a gun.* You're cleaning the gun, you put it back together properly, you store it properly. There are activities and this is Serious Business.
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:50 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

So. This is wildly dependent on what kind of community you live in, but if my nephew or goddaughters came home and related to me that their little friend Suzy was talking about the guns in her home, how she had her own .22 rifle, and spent time at the shooting range, they would never, ever be going to your house for playdates again.

I don't say this as a judgment, just that as you plan her introduction to guns you might want to take into account any social isolation she could experience. I (NYC metro born and raised) would find this terrifying and not let my kid come over. My boyfriend, who grew up in Montana, might be a lot mellower about it.
posted by lalex at 8:52 AM on July 28 [20 favorites]

Since guns are in your home and I assume she's got family or friends who own guns, yes, I'd teach her now that guns are very dangerous and if she sees a gun or ammo, she should leave it alone and find an adult right away. I regularly visited my grandparents (who owned hunting rifles) and this was my only gun instruction until age 11, when I inherited a BB gun. I'd occasionally find empty shotgun shells in the field behind their house and would run and tell someone every time, and was always told I had done the right thing.

As far as owning/using a gun at six - forgive me for getting dark here, but I think to handle guns properly and respectfully also requires a certain loss of innocence. A kid has to have a solid comprehension of death before they can be introduced to gun ownership. I'd want a kid to understand that this can't just "hurt" you (for little ones, "hurt" often just means a scraped knee, a banged elbow, "hurt really bad" is maybe a broken arm at worst?), it can KILL you, easily, and death is permanent. I think most kids don't really grok death until seven or eight at the earliest, and even then it's pretty abstract unless their family has known some personal tragedy. I grew up in a rural, hunting focused area and many of the hunting family kids in my school began "graduating" to an actual .22 around age 11 or 12, under heavy supervision and formal classes.
posted by castlebravo at 9:01 AM on July 28 [12 favorites]

I don't think most 6-year olds could fully understand the simultaneous message of "this is your rifle and here's how to safely handle it" and "never touch guns and tell an adult." Our local police department offers safety lessons for kids ages 5+ that includes traffic rules, bike safety, fire prevention, etc. They also discussed guns and told all the kids never to touch a gun and to tell an adult if they find one, which as mentioned above is also what pediatricians recommemd.
posted by areaperson at 9:13 AM on July 28 [8 favorites]

If you don't they can hurt you worse than a grizzly bear.
Does your child really understand death? If not, they are way too young for a gun. Go with what the pediatricians recommend; that is the only right answer to your question.
posted by sockermom at 9:17 AM on July 28 [18 favorites]

So joining the NRA right now because you like gun safety is like joining the Klan because you like crisp white sheets, but in the 90s they did have gun safety programming for children emphasizing what to do if they find a gun. Stop--Don't touch it--Go away from it--Tell an adult.

This is all the gun safety a child needs to know before age 10-11. It is your responsibility to keep them away from her.

When she's 9 or so you can consider using bb guns or air rifles with you, subject to the same safety considerations as any other gun.

At 10 or 11 consider hunter safety classes.

You'll have a better grasp of the situation when she's older; for now just focus on the "don't touch them" thing.

My dad is and was a gun nut but we were not allowed bb guns and we did not have any shooting time until we were physically capable of handling the smaller caliber long guns. I hate those little squirrel guns, no child of that size should be handling a weapon.
posted by Hypatia at 9:23 AM on July 28 [7 favorites]

I grew up in a house with guns, and I'm not automatically against responsible households having guns for hunting or range shooting, but even I think giving a six year old their own gun is batshit insane. I have a five year old niece, and I wouldn't trust her with a sharp pair of scissors, never mind something she could accidentally kill people with.

When I was a child, you could first get a firearms permit at around the same time you started highschool -- around 13ish. Many of the kids in my 8th grade class took a hunting education course and got their permit afterwards. Canada no longer allows children under 18 to have firearms permits at all, but I assume if you're considering it for a 6 year old, the restrictions aren't that strict where you are. Still, the old restrictions seem much more reasonable than giving a gun to a 6 year old.

I grew up seeing my Dad's guns, and being told they were dangerous and not for me to touch/play with, so they weren't a mystery to me, but I didn't fire one until I was much older. By then I wasn't much interested. My brother got his first gun of his own when he was 14, I believe. Before that, he was allowed to fire my Dad's .22 for a couple of years but not his 30-06 because of the kick.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:29 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

Yeah reading your question again please please don't let your five year old shoot a gun! What are you thinking! They are still learning how to tie their shoes at that age! They don't understand death! They are still learning to color inside the coloring book lines! Are they actually going to hit a target? If yes, they just know the gun makes holes. If no, it's just a loud toy that makes noise. There's no "point it at what you want destroy" concept in the size of gun she would be shooting, it would ironically seem safer than it is.
posted by Hypatia at 9:33 AM on July 28 [16 favorites]

I'm thinking at the age of six if she shows a fair amount of (age appropriate) maturity she should be able to have her first .22 rifle.

My dad was really into guns when I was growing up, and probably started teaching me gun safety with a BB gun, telling me that once I mastered all the gun safety rules (Every gun is loaded. Never point a gun at anything you don't want to put a bullet in. etcetcetc), I could start using actual guns. I must have been like 8 or so when he started teaching me gun safety, and at some point, I was comfortable using a BB gun and really understood that guns are dangerous.

So, like when I was ten (and my sister was like 8) he bought both of us .22 rifles. Thing is, though, I had no interest in actual guns - I would much rather have just shot the BB gun in the backyard, but since my dad bought me the .22, he pretty much made me participate in his hobby, even though I wasn't really into it, and I felt obligated to keep going until I was old enough to have the guts to tell him I wasn't interested in sharing his hobby with him.

I think talking about guns and their power/danger can start as young as 5, but if you're really into guns, you may be letting that guide your opinions instead of checking to see how into guns your kid is. By 10 I was mature enough to have a .22, but I didn't really have any interest in them.
posted by 23skidoo at 9:37 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

I grew up around guns, and right now my nephews and nieces are in a house filled with hunting trophies with a gun safe in a locked room in the basement.

If my parents had bought me a .22 it would have been a waste of money, unless they wanted another rifle on their own behalf -- I just never felt an interest? Gun safety, sure. Even going to a range and borrowing one for family time, maybe. But going straight to a .22 and skipping even a BB gun strikes me as weird, honestly.

Is there a Daisy BB gun competitive group in your area? The town I grew up in had a team that went to the Nationals for that frequently -- if there is, you could look it up to find local parents to talk to to get a feel for this sort of thing.
posted by rewil at 9:45 AM on July 28

I'd say the right time to introduce guns to a child is first time that they are over 8 and you have to use yours to shoot varmints or hunt deer. Maybe even take her along.
posted by SaltySalticid at 10:00 AM on July 28

I grew up in a rural area where some people had guns. When I was growing up and with my own kids, I practice the rule that even play guns can ever be pointed at a person. I do not allow my kids to point nerf guns at people and I have them use squirt guns that don't look like guns and I do not use the word "gun" for them. This is because I want my kids to see "guns" as something separate that must never be pointed at a person. If a nerf gun gets pointed at a person, it goes into a long term "time out" to reinforce this point. (I see super soaker type things as different.) I also insist that all of this play must be with informed consent, so no pointing sticks or fingers at kids who aren't also playing.

My kids are under strict orders that, if a friend or playmate or their parent starts talking about a gun being in their home, they must call me. If anyone has a gun out or talks about playing with it, they are to leave immediately and go to a safe place to contact me. As a general rule, they are not allowed over to the home of anyone who has a gun in their home.

That being said, I have taught my kids about gun parts and I have explained why people use them. I've explained some safety things too. I don't want to ascribe a lot of power to guns or encourage them. But I have noted that my kids cannot resist even blasting nerf guns into people's faces, which is why I am concerned about overall decision making around guns.

I have experience with two (separate) children within my extended circle being shot dead, while playing with friends and guns. So that does colour things for me.
posted by Chaussette and the Pussy Cats at 10:03 AM on July 28 [10 favorites]

Basic gun safety, sure. Now is agood time to start instilling that. But I really don't think anyone under 18 needs their own gun, except possibly people with genuine concerns over bears and such.

Id say 5 years of verbal gun safety till 10, hands on with bb guns till 15, and then experience with real guns.

A .22 absolutely can kill someone
posted by Jacen at 10:26 AM on July 28

I taught my son to shoot at eight, and eight years old is about the average as well among my friends who shoot sporting clays, trap, and skeet. It's a rather responsible group of well educated and comfortable adults who value safety, training and education. No yahoos.
posted by lstanley at 10:33 AM on July 28 [5 favorites]

My father was a policeman, grew up in the country, and liked to hunt small game. So guns were always in our house. He gave my brother and I a BB rifle and BB pistol when we were about 10 or 11. With those, we learned all the gun safety that he could teach. When and where to point. How to clean and maintain. How to hold and sight. And so forth. If we didn't do it right, then the maximum possible negative consequences were not that great.

He would also take us rabbit and squirrel hunting. That way we got to see what he looked like while holding and using a gun. He modeled the safe behavior he wanted from us.

In the house: the guns were locked up and out of sight and the keys to the cabinet were never seen unless he was using them. Weapons and bullets were kept apart from each other. It was a serious and quiet moment when he would get out the guns for whatever reason.

Then, later, he took us to an outdoor shooting range to shoot half-broken clay pigeons off of fence posts with his rifles. We were probably about 16.

So it was a staged approach which I think worked well for us.

It was a measured, long-term strategy which neither overwhelmed us nor excited us. He neither aggrandized nor worshipped guns, but neither did he treat them lightly. It was the same thing he did with other dangerous items: kitchen knives, or power tools, or lawn mowers. Not reverence but respect for the potential of great damage.
posted by Mo Nickels at 12:31 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]

My background, for context:
I grew up in a city and we didn't have guns in the house. I spent about seven years in the army reserves in my early twenties, so I spent a fair bit of time with assault rifles and know a fair bit about gun safety. Now I live in a rural community with lots of hunting. I don't hunt or have guns.

Many people probably agree that young-ish kids would be fine with guns most of the time. But we probably also agree that most of the time doesn't really cut it with gun safety.

I teach grade 8. MANY kids that age (13ish) are very physically impulsive. They thwack their friends in the halls, push each other around, and fiddle with objects without seeming to notice. I would NOT trust kids in grade 8 with a gun unless HEAVILY supervised - like one kid supervised by an adult who's right next to them and doing nothing else. This is because, while many of them are athletically able, their bodies sometimes seem to do things they haven't planned. I would be much too worried that a kid that age would turn around on a range and point the gun at someone - and if someone's pointing a gun all over the place, I'm not going to trust them with that gun.

I used to teach slightly older teenagers. By the time kids are more like 16, the body control thing has calmed down, so I'd be much less worried about accidents. HOWEVER, I would also worry much more about those older kids getting drunk and doing stupid things with guns, or using hunting weapons for suicide. I would also worry about kids' friends getting access to them and doing those things. So, strangely, I would let a 16-year-old go hunting on their own before school (if they were serious about it, and subject to local laws), but I would lock them guns up when they got home and I wouldn't let them have the keys.

I can't imagine thinking a six-year-old has the world knowledge to have their own weapon or to use it yet. Yesterday I watched a six-year-old grab the hot part of a sparkler, right after it burnt out. Obviously, he burned himself. Why did he do it? I think it was a combination of misunderstanding something his dad said and poor impulse control. That kid (who's a great kid, and very mature for his age) should not have a gun.
posted by MangoNews at 12:52 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]

[This is a response from an anonymous answerer.]
I grew up in the suburbs with two law enforcement parents, and with many guns in the house - from my grandfather's hunting rifles to 70's era service revolvers to modern handguns. I was allowed to sit with them when they cleaned/maintained their guns, and encouraged to ask questions. I knew where some of the guns were, and was allowed to ask to see them any time, but not allowed to do so on my own, or ask when friends were over (not allowed to 'show off', I guess).

I was allowed to go with them to the range, if it was convenient, and allowed to shoot if the rangemaster didn't mind. This was all in the interest of demystifying and safety education, and it worked.. I didn't have to sneak to hold them or look at them and mostly didn't want to.

I'll admit that when I was a young teenager, and it wasn't locked away anymore, I may have gotten the little PPK-looking .21 out a couple of times, taken the clip+1 out and done some Bond-style posing in the mirror. This was, by all accounts, pretty dumb, but I knew everything to check and how to handle it safely.

As an adult, I don't own any guns and have never had a gun permit. I will eventually inherit several, which I may or may not keep for sentimental reasons. It's worth noting that there are no small humans in my life and I'm not sure if I would keep guns in my house if there were.

I would suggest letting her lead. See how curious she is when you maintain/clean your weapons, and introduce things as she seems interested.
posted by cortex at 1:17 PM on July 28 [2 favorites]

Weird (and maybe bad) analogy, but I remember when people flipped out at Steve Irwin for putting his baby next to a saltwater crocodile. What they didn't consider is that his child lived in a zoo, and knowledge, respect and lack of panic around these animals was critical to keeping the child safe.

I am in no way a gun person. At all. My approach would be similar with guns, or the stove and oven, electricity, or the blender. Earlier is better. You don't have to give the child a gun for him or her to know about and respect the rules around them. In fact, just giving a gun to a child as an introduction is a little like teaching a kid about not pulling the handle of a boiling pot by having them cook dinner. Basic safety should happen first. In short, start now. I have trust issues with people and guns, and I'll offer no opinion on when a child should own a gun, but I'd have taught safety and respect for guns even earlier than age five.
posted by cnc at 3:59 PM on July 28

Going to echo a lot of what was said above.
7 or 8 (First Grade) is when the Boy Scouts (well, cub scouts), will start allowing boys to shoot BB guns, once they are in 6th grade (11/12) they are moved to .22 rifles, then to shotguns at about 13.
With watching my son, it seemed to work well in terms of understanding. We had a BB gun at the house he could plink with, and he did that every so often with his friends from 7 - 11. Once he started shooting .22s, we took him out to the range anytime he asked for both rifle and shotgun.

I agree with you 100% in introducing firearm safety as soon as you can to pull out the mystique. I live in a rural town, where there are a lot of hunters. One thing I always wanted to make sure is that the boy knew what to do if he saw a firearm - how to handle it safely, how to make sure no one gets hurt, etc...
posted by niteHawk at 7:51 PM on July 28

The problem with this question is that the federal government has been prohibited from funding studies in gun safety and other gun related issues, which drastically reduces the amount of information available.

However, there has been some work done in examining the Eddie Eagle program and a similar but different behavioral program and their efficacy. The Eddie program is an NRA gun safety for kids program, and the studies examined children's reactions to guns after being taught the basic Eagle method or the behavioral method for very young children: if you see an unsecured gun, get an adult. The behavioral program had a similar message but a different instruction mechanism. In both cases, children repeated the messages of the program but when exposed to realistic toy guns in-situ did not actually follow the programs' training. (In fact, children who received instruction were MORE likely to play with unsecured guns than children who had received no training at all, but that information is not in the abstract. I believe I came across it when reading about this study in another context.)

So, this is just one study, but if the goal is to prevent accidental gun deaths in your home, I would personally lean more towards gun security.
posted by xyzzy at 8:40 PM on July 28 [6 favorites]

So far, not one word about hearing loss.

It's not just about the gun. It's about the safety equipment for eyesight and hearing.

FWIW, my husband spends October to January with black-powder / riffle / bow-hunting seasons, stalking the white-tail deer. I've occasionally helped skin and process deer.
He occasionally offered to teach our girls about hunting, and they did some shooting with guns and bows as teenagers at his parents' property (also hunters), but they never went on an actual hunt. So the gear stays locked away until he wants to practice at the range or his parents' place.
His brother's children were raised in the country, however, and they have successfully shot deer. I'd say that began in their teens and continues to this day. Some of them are parents.

If you are old enough to ride a motorcycle, you may be old enough for a rifle, but that's a case-by-case call. Definitely, gun safety lessons as soon as possible, because you never know when someone will bring in a gun and leave it behind the kitchen door or on the dining table "just for a few minutes."
posted by TrishaU at 11:08 PM on July 28 [1 favorite]

You might want to listen to this This American Life segment. There's a brilliant bit where the journalist finally tells her dad - who's always been very sure that he educated his kids really, really well about gun safety - about the one time she, an ostensibly sensible teenager, broke the Most Important Rule in the house, and very very nearly paid dearly for it.
posted by Acheman at 2:07 AM on July 29 [3 favorites]

I grew up in Alaska, where just about everyone in my neighborhood had guns, hunted, and took gun safety very seriously. We had community youth training programs, and we all had the rules, consequences and seriousness impressed upon us from various sources. Still, my next door neighbor on one side lost his 12 year old son to a shotgun blast from his 14 year old son as they were fooling around while parents werent home, and the neighbor behind us lost his teen son to suicide from his gun.
posted by Rapunzel1111 at 10:11 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]

I grew up with parents who hunted to put meat in the freezer for four kids. By the age of five, I had seen both Mom and Dad shooting at the range and in the field, watched Dad cleaning guns and loading his own ammo (that was fascinating), gone on family hunting trips, and learned two basic rules of gun handling -- handle every gun as if it is loaded, and never point any gun at anyone or anything you don't want to kill. I knew, understood and respected those rules well before I started school.

In order to get a hunting license before age 18 in our state, you needed to take a hunter's safety course approved by the state -- sort of the equivalent of driver's training before you could get a drivers license. My parents enrolled all of us in that course as early as allowed, at age 11. Admittedly, their primary motive was to have more hunters from the family qualified to enter the tag lotteries, so the family could legally take as much game as possible. But the early education served me well, and I never felt I was pushed too early.

Unfortunately, I never learned to shoot well, so I gave up hunting as a young adult (though I still love venison!). I do keep a handgun and because my young nephews often visited and stayed in my home, with parental permission, they had seen it, handled it and learned the two rules by about the same age as I did. I was proud to learn that a few years later, those lessons may have prevented a tragedy. A friend of theirs was playing with an unlocked handgun he found in his home. My nephew insisted on treating the gun as if it were loaded ... so it went off pointed at the ground, instead of at another child. The boys were about 9.
posted by peakcomm at 11:10 AM on July 29 [1 favorite]

Our local chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation has a yearly event where kids learn about all weapons. My grandkids really enjoy it and safety is stressed from other grownups and high school students, which my grandkids would rather listen to anyway.
posted by PJMoore at 12:51 PM on July 29

10yo: bb gun with training from you
12yo: bsa-style range training w .22
14yo: shotgun .410, then ease forward
16yo: hunter's safety course
23yo: handgun range training

rent a public storage space. no firearms in the house now-18. the suicide risk is real and happened with my friend's 15yo one year ago.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:01 PM on July 29 [2 favorites]

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