I assume this topic is probably a controversial one that many have a hard stance on. To each your own, but if you’re not educating your child on firearms and firearm safety you are playing with fire. That may seem counter-intuitive to some, especially to those who consider guns bad or dangerous. The problem is it doesn’t really matter what you think of them. Kids are by nature curious and most will be intrigued by the mystery of a firearm, even more so if you spend a fair amount of time demonizing them. It’s human nature to be captivated by the forbidden and we can find examples of such behavior all the way back to the Garden of Eden. So while you may not care for guns, or own any yourself, I believe you should attempt to educate your children on them (or have someone else) so as to take away a bit of the curiosity.
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All that said this article wasn’t written for the anti-gun crowd and in general I don’t spend much time trying to proselytize to those of that mindset (polite conversation aside), however since it’s really the kids at risk here I thought I’d at least give a little effort in the opening remarks.
Now for you gun-toting warriors out there, I thought I’d share my approach to educating my children with firearms for your consideration. I’m not going to tell you this is “THE WAY”, but it certainly is ‘a way’ and one that I have found to be effective. To the point that as of yet I have not had any issues with my children secretly trying to play with a weapon, or executing flagrant safety violations in practice. That’s not to say they are perfect and don’t get plenty of critiques, but the safety and marksmanship fundamentals are well ingrained.
How Young Do You Start with Kids and Guns?
I’ll start by saying that each of my kids is an unknowing gun owner within their first year on this big rock. Gun culture is part of our family’s way, and I have truly enjoyed buying or assembling each of them their first firearm during their birth year. I’m not much of a sentimental kind of person but do hope these firearms are something they pass down to their kids. It is however a while before they actually get to fire it. In fact, we don’t actually even start training or familiarization with a real firearm at all.
Airsoft Pistol as an Introductory Tool for the Kids
I have a little cheap airsoft pistol that I picked up years ago strictly for the purpose of this task. That being to educate my young children on the basic parts, and handling of a pistol, along with overall firearms safety rules and practices. I don’t have a hard set age we begin working this as each child develops differently, but I start as young as possible. As soon as I deem they have the basic intelligence to understand simple instruction and coordination to walk around while holding an object I begin the process. This has typically fallen in the area of 2-3 years old for our children.
Since this is an internal family function and not a Modern Warrior Project course I can tell you that I don’t have a standardized lesson plan drawn out for this or any specific grading criteria for the process other than my best judgment, and continual check on learning with them. I will go ahead and attempt to somewhat walk you through the process from memory for a better understanding of what it looks like.
I introduce them to the pistol (during all of this I’m referring to the airsoft gun until otherwise stated) and explain that it is a gift for them. I then go on to explain that it can be a great tool, but can also be very dangerous and hurt them or someone else if not handled properly. Due to the young age, you have to walk a very tight line here so as to instill healthy respect but not fear. In general, kids are pretty easily scared, especially by a parent telling them something could hurt them. If you go overboard the fear of the weapon will be a challenge to walk back and continue on with productive training. I immediately begin to reinforce (through explanation at this point) trigger and muzzle discipline. Eventually, we get to everything as appropriate. For instance, we don’t talk treat all weapons as loaded here, because they wouldn’t understand what loaded means yet.
This is a slow process over time. A few minutes here and there when time and opportunity present itself. This process goes on for months to a year or so with a gradual progression of explanation and eventually handling. I work for the most part in the following order. General Safety and proper respect for the firearm, Broad part identification, and operational understanding (trigger, magazine, barrel, etc..).
I gauge learning and understanding by conducting checks on learning questions randomly on topics we’ve covered in the past. After I feel the knowledge is appropriate and retained we move to handling. I work this in by initially running through basic operational stationary handling. Such as teaching grip, magazine release, loading, etc…, all the while reinforcing the firearms safety rules. It is inevitable that they will begin to point in the wrong direction, creep the finger into the well, etc during this initial handling. I know this and actually find it to be a good learning reinforcement. I quickly and generally physically address it. Such as quickly grab the barrel and force it back in the proper direction (or stop from leaving) and explain the importance yet again. I believe these abrupt (not to be confused with harsh) corrections help to create a stronger mental mark in their behavioral pattern.
Once I feel we have mastered the basics above (over numerous sessions without error) I then begin to work on free handling the pistol. To do this I begin to have them walk with it muzzle down and do a task here and there (nothing crazy, maybe grab the pistol and go shut off the bathroom light for me).
Finally, they are ready to fire, the airsoft that is. I will then begin working on some actual static firing drills with them. I maintain this enduring practice and instilling proper gun safety over time until I feel they are ready to actually go to the shooting range and fire a real gun for the first time. As for what age that is, it is really kid dependant, but mine generally end up there in the 4-5 year age range. I’ll note here that it’s not with a pistol at that age (that tends to fall around the 7-8 year mark if I remember correctly), but I’ll talk about some other training that goes on as well once we get all the fundamentals above locked in and are still awaiting the first range trip. The bottom line here is I’m not basing this on age so much as maturity and physical size and ability. My kids are mature enough to fire a pistol at 5, but physically just too small to gain any real value from the ones in our arsenal.
Gun Training for the Kids Before the Range
At a certain point during the above training, I begin to introduce them to real firearms as well. I don’t have a specific timeline for this other than my opinion of their knowledge retention and general interest. They somewhat seem to go hand in hand as one would expect. I have one son who has loved all things weapons since introduction as a result he has been relatively fast through the process. Whereas I have another son who could honestly care less to shoot, and has been likewise slower in it.
The real firearms training is very similar to the airsoft as far as the process goes. It begins with introductions, part identification, operations, dismantling, cleaning, etc… I don’t do the movement exercises with these as it is redundant and I feel that lesson is captured sufficiently with the airsoft gun. During this process, they also learn of the three primary small arms platforms (Pistol, Shotgun, and Rifle) and are introduced to their own personal firearms. Gun safety education is a consistent lesson being emphasized along this entire journey.
They will have the chance to handle all types of platforms, participate in the disassembly and cleaning, and learn the major parts of them. As they progress we start working on a more comprehensive understanding of operations with tasks such as functions checks. They also attend the firing range over this period with me and if the opportunity allows I let them shoot their airsoft gun in between some of my firing time. This exposes them to the actual sound and visuals of the weapons in operation. As I stated earlier in the article there is a fine line between scaring the child and fostering the proper respect for the potential destruction a firearm can inflict. I like to expose them to this destruction when the opportunity arises. If you’re a hunter expose them to the kill. Some other options are allowing them to see you shoot something that will have a destructive effect (watermelon with a shotgun, Tannerite, etc…). I feel this real point of reference is better than simply a described and imagined destruction. The bottom line and goal of this process are to make it enjoyable and educational for them.
Time for the Range
When they reach a size capable of firing a weapon they do. With all my children they were ready to shoot mentally before they were at the right size physically. They have to be able to at least hold the weapon and reach the trigger. Once they reach this size they get some range time. One thing I will caution here. I’ve seen a number of videos with people allowing the kick of a shotgun to surprise a new shooter or other ‘funny’ surprises. This is not a good practice and absolutely stupid to do to a child. Such an experience will create fear and a training scar that will not be easily overcome.
They all start with 22LR as the caliber they first fire, and overtime as they advance in skill and size we continue to move up through the platforms and calibers. At this point, you simply continue to progress training as you would with any other shooter. The exception to that statement is I never disregard the fact they are children, and as such provide an appropriate level of supervision.
To encourage growth and enjoyment in the area of firearms I keep a footlocker with multiple pellet guns, bb guns, and professional style airsoft guns available for their use. Once they have demonstrated responsible behavior and discipline (range time) they are allowed to use these at will on their own as long as they tell us. They have a number of fun targets they can set up in the backyard and simply enjoy some shooting.
I’ll also note here that if my kids ever want to see or handle any of my firearms they know all they have to do is ask me or their mom. I always make it a priority to accommodate this request as soon as possible. I feel this helps mitigate the potential to try and sneak and look at dad’s gun, while also contributing to their growing understanding. Not surprisingly the ‘can I hold your xxx’ wears off pretty quickly and it’s really not that often the request come in.
Conclusion of Children and Guns
I firmly believe that exposing a young child to guns with adult supervision and a good proper education can drastically reduce accidental shootings. When curiosity is replaced with understanding and respect the risk is greatly mitigated. I exercise a short version of this principle with my children when they are very young. I explain the stove is hot and then hold their hand over it (while on) long enough for them to yank it away. Not so close or long as to actually burn them, but long enough to set that marker in the brain that this can hurt me. Ultimately I’m doing the same with firearms. They learn to like and appreciate the capability of them, but also hold a strong respect for the potential harm misuse or mishandling could cause. Do you have a similar or different method or some techniques you have found to be effective? If so, let us hear about them in the comments below!
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Modern Warrior Project Co-Founder
As a 20-year Army Special Operations veteran with numerous deployments and extensive S.E.R.E. and Personnel Recovery expertise, he is a respected leader and trainer with extensive experience in planning and executing high risk, low visibility evolutions in volatile and austere areas across the globe. He is married to Jennifer Blevins of Beaumont, Texas and is the father of five.