By Ron Mullins and Thom Bolsch
As adults we learn from those who are more experienced or from our own experiences. Children are no different in how they learn. However, learning about firearms should not be from personal experience!
When I grew up, there was an adult that provided a foundation for the safe use of any and all projectile devices. Regardless of whether the device was a bow and arrow, a BB gun or a real firearm; a parent, grandparent or organization provided the basis for safe use and operation of firearms. The most noteworthy institution is the NRA. The NRA is the first and foremost promotor of safe and responsible use of firearms.
Today, we need the educational foundation we had in the past to keep our children safe around guns; as avoidance and abstinence have not been effective!
It has been proven that awareness of a subject brings positive change regarding the activity or involvement with respect to that subject. Awareness programs about drinking and driving, teen pregnancies and STDs have proven to positively impact the outcome of participation in risky behavior. Even if guns are not in a home, would the safety of a child benefit from knowing and understanding safe handling of a firearm? The answer is YES!
A few years back I taught a group of women the basic fundamentals of firearm safety and use. One of the attendees had never touched a gun and was very apprehensive of taking the class, but was invited by a friend and decoded to accompany her to the class. Providing a basic foundation on how a firearm works, it’s basic function and the safe handling of a firearm was instrumental in reducing her anxieties about firearms and contributed to her enjoyment of the afternoon activities. Will she buy a gun and join a shooting group? Probably not, but she is no longer terrified of a chunk of metal!
The same can be said for the education and awareness of children. If we acknowledge their curiosity and provide a foundation for safe handling based on the child’s level of curiosity and understanding; we can address the potential risks of that curiosity and provide a foundation to remove that risk.
For a little background…
If you are of a certain age, you grew up spending hours enacting battles in the back yard with toy soldiers, as well as ‘playing’ war in the neighborhood with the other kids.
I had an interest in guns, but we did not have any guns in the house. I read about them, watched them used on TV and pretended my BB gun was real. Wishing for years to have my own real rifle. I remember that the only item on my Christmas Wish List was a lever action .22 caliber rifle. Each year I’d be first to grab the Sears catalogue and dog ear the page with the guns and encircle ‘my’ rifle on the page. (I was in high school when I finally got that gun; and I paid for it with my own money.)
Back then, guns were part of the American Heritage. Good guys carried guns on TV and confronted the bad guys. Guns were ‘good’; and they represented ‘goodness’ in conflict. Children were provided an education associated with guns that went a long way in keeping them from engaging in the riskier activities of the un-safe handling of a real firearm.
Attitudes about guns began to change around the late 70s and early 80s; about the time the majority of the population could be found in the city and suburbs and not in rural America. The Christmas movie “A Christmas Story” released in 1983 is what I consider the focal point of that change in attitude. It changed the dialogue for parents about guns; ‘guns were now bad’. “A Red Ryder BB Gun, could shoot someone’s eye out!” And just like that the American mindset flipped regarding firearms.
Hollywood perpetuated that mindset with more bad guys shooting innocent people on TV and in the movies.
Today, few children have any experience with a real firearm. Although there are more firearms in circulation, fewer homes have a gun in the home. Additionally, a large portion of society, has a perception that guns are bad and people that have guns are bad people. This is a myth brought on by misunderstanding and the promotion of said mindset from a liberal, anti-gun campaign.
Regardless, curiosity and the intrigue of shooting a gun is still there with just about all children. The act of shooting, both good guys and bad guys is romanticized in Hollywood. The indiscriminant barrage of bullets from bad guys towards good guys and vis-versa tantalizes the immature brain with mythological ideas of shooting. And there are few enthusiasts or programs around today to counter the myths of Hollywood shoot-em-ups!
Additionally, through the complex dynamics of computer imagery, the youth of today can experience an extremely realistic depiction of war, the act of killing and the joy of conquest without the psychological foundation of understanding the difference between a game and the real world. They have no one to provide any guidance on the safe handling and operation of a real firearm.
Proper gun handling is not taught to the youth of America as it was when I was a young Boy Scout. There are fewer institutions and educational programs providing proper firearm safety education. As a result, a segment of society has attached a kryptonite persona around firearms. And we have generations of youth that are unfamiliar with the safe handling of a firearm but idolize the act of killing in video games!
You can’t satiate the curiosity of the gun by saying “no, don’t touch”. That only fuels the desire to touch. Satisfy the curiosity with education and an understanding of function.
This strategy works in the kitchen with knives and stoves; it works with firearms just as well. I have friends that have taught their children gun safety from as early as 4 years old, and progressed with that training through their teen years. Providing enough information to satisfy the curiosity while also reinforcing the dangers and safe handling of a firearm. All the while filling the curiosity while removing the mythology and intrigue of a firearm.
We have to recognize that a firearm is nothing more than a bunch of pieces of metal. Just like a knife; if handled properly, it provides benefit – improper handling imposes significant risks!
You can start your child’s education (and your understanding of how to provide that education) of firearms with the NRA Eddie Eagle Gunsafe® Program. Gunsafe® is an online program for pre-K up to 4th grade that helps children understand the actions to take if they find a gun. It also helps parents teach their children how to treat firearms.
As a refresher on firearm safety; the key to the safe operation of a firearm includes:
1) ALWAYS TREAT A FIREARM AS IF IT IS LOADED UNTIL PERSONALLY CONFIRMING IT IS NOT,
2) ALWAYS keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot,
3) DO NOT point the firearm at anything you don’t want to destroy!
Note: It’s best for a parent or grandparent to provide instruction in firearm safety, but if you don’t have the knowledge or equipment; seek out a professional instructor or look for a Youth Firearm Safety course in your community. (In The Woodlands, Saddle River Range offers both individual professional instruction as well as group courses for young shooting enthusiasts.)
Most accidental shooting incidents are the result of an individual that is unfamiliar with firearms coming in contact with a firearm. Training and educating our youth about the proper, and safe, handling of a firearm is instrumental in keeping our children safe. The key to firearm safety is knowledge and attitude – understanding the safe operation of a gun and having a mindset to respect what the gun can do!
Stay Alert, Stay Safe,
© Copyright 2018 Ron Mullins and Thom Bolsch
All rights reserved.