My husband and I both grew up in houses with guns. I have been a gun owner since I was about 12 years old. We have guns in our house. My husband uses firearms for his job and we are both hunters. We also have guns on hand in case we ever have a home invasion, as terrifying as that is to envision.
As parents, we have had to outline a sort of “plan” for how we would deal with having children and firearms in our house and what our future looks like regarding both of them.
- Guns are off limits to kids. Period. There is no touching of a gun, playing with a real gun, anything until after our children begin to have a grasp of the finality of death. Psychologists say that around 6 years old (on average) is when children really start to understand death. Until sometime after they realize that a gun can cause death, they will not touch one.
- Hunter safety education is a must. I was given a .22 caliber single shot rifle for Christmas by my uncle and my parents put it up until after I had enrolled in and passed a hunter safety education course. If your child is ever going to handle a firearm, even if you don’t hunt, I highly recommend this safety course. The things that I learned in the class are imprinted in my brain (never point a gun in an unsafe direction, treat every firearm as if it is loaded, never put your finger on the trigger unless you intend to fire the gun, etc.) and remain part of my safety training to this day. You can find the course curriculum online, but I think that a real life classroom and hands-on approach is a much better way to handle life and death training.
- Guns are kept locked in a gun safe. Our gun safe has a combination on it. We will need to change the combination every so often, but this is an absolute for us. Guns will remain out of a child’s reach. I believe in discipline and I believe that your kids should listen when you tell them no, but the reality is that sometimes kids deliberately disobey their parents (duh) and this is not something I am willing to risk.
- When they are old enough… gulp. This one scares me as a mom. I know that my kids will have guns someday. I know that day will come sooner than I am ready for. My goal is to teach them how to safely use a gun, to treat every gun with respect, and to realize that even though a gun is a tool, it is a potentially deadly one. We will have a zero tolerance policy for safety violations of any sort and we will work our way up to “real guns.”
I realize that a lot of you can’t comprehend how I would ever let my kids have a gun, and I understand exactly where you are coming from. This is a part of our families’ heritage. This is who we are. We are gun-toting, don’t-tread-on-me, hunting, self-sufficient, gardening country people who take great pride in our survival skills. I fully expect to cook a skillet full of potatoes and squirrels that Clara and Cormac have brought home after a day out with their dad.
I do not take this decision lightly. When I was in middle school, one of my schoolmates was accidentally shot and killed by his best friend while they were out rabbit hunting. His name was Robert and we rode the school bus together for years. His best friend was in the backseat of a car and discharged his .22 caliber pistol through the seat and into Robert’s ribcage. It never exited him and caused severe internal damage. A tiny piece of lead took Robert’s life. His best friend carries that burden every single day.
That was my first experience with the death of someone I knew. It has forever shaped how I view guns and while I mourn the loss of 14-year-old Robert’s life, I am thankful that I knew at a young age how powerful that tiny piece of lead could be. It has shaped who I am, both as a girl taking a hunter safety education course and as a mother, facing the decision of how to protect my children and let them become skilled in how to protect and provide for themselves.