Most of us grew up in homes where there were only two rules about dad’s gun: Don’t touch it, and don’t ever touch it.
Fear of the consequences was enough for me when I was a kid, but there’s a good chance there are those who broke both those rules at some point or another when parents weren’t around.
As a mom, veteran, hunter and as a professional competition shooter, I’m a huge advocate of passing on the tradition of safe and fun enjoyment of the shooting sports. They’re an indelible part of our heritage as a nation, and all of us can take pride in the results of our collective work to promote gun safety and responsibility.
But as gun owners, we also ought to acknowledge that the “don’t ever touch it” mandate may not be the best approach for passing on that heritage, or teaching kids anything about gun safety.
Passing on that tradition starts with a conversation. Parents and caregivers talk to kids about big issues like drugs and sex and alcohol; we also should talk to our kids about gun safety.
If you don’t, they’re going to learn about guns from someone else, on TV, in the movies or on the street—and chances are they won’t be learning what you’d want to teach them. Even if your kids aren’t asking questions about the guns in your house that doesn’t mean they aren’t curious or, worse, think they already have the answers.
They are curious—perhaps even curious enough to pick up a gun and play with it when you’re not looking, a potential disaster for you and your family.
As I talk with other parents, usually the biggest question is how to get started. There are definitely different ways to have the conversation depending on kids’ ages.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation, through its firearms safety education program, Project ChildSafe, has a helpful video, “Talking with Kids About Gun Safety” on its website that offers tips and advice on just what to say. (Full disclosure and shameless plug: yes, that’s yours truly in the video…)
For all kids, young and old, there are a few things you can do to make sure it’s a meaningful discussion for you and your family. First of all, parents should be on the same page, and try to have the talk with your kids together if you can so you’ll know they’re not hearing different messages.
That means parents need to discuss the best way to talk to with children before you have “the talk.” Who knows, you might learn something from each other on the topic!
From there, you know your kids and what it’ll take for them to put the phone down, make actual eye contact with you and have a conversation without distractions. There’s nothing wrong with “incentivizing” their attention on this – kids need to know it’s a serious topic, but if they’re already curious, chances are holding their attention won’t be too hard.
The key is to remember this is a conversation, not a sermon. Kids should be encouraged to ask questions and tell you what they think they already know about guns and gun safety. Ultimately, it’s all about de-mystifying what guns are, how they work and how to be safe with them.
One conversation also isn’t enough; it’s important to reinforce this talk regularly, adding detail and context as kids get older. Use examples from real-life to help them to better understand your rules, so they remember what to do in situations when you may not be around.
I started talking to my daughters about firearms and hunting safety when they were around three years old, and my husband and I continue to talk to them about firearm safety and answer their questions now that they are in grade school. It’s a conversation that will evolve.
Finally, and I really can’t emphasize this part enough: walk the talk. Set an example with your own thoughtful, safe handling and proper storage of guns—especially storage.
Too many tragic stories about young children being hurt or killed by a gun they found and played with involve an adult who thought their kids knew better, and certainly should have known better themselves. Simple steps for safe storage can prevent this from happening.
To be clear, I’m not saying your gun should be completely inaccessible when you need it. Many of us own guns because we want to protect ourselves and our families. That’s the right of every law-abiding American; we all want to feel safe in our homes.
Don’t let the biggest threat to that safety come from an unsecured gun inside your own home. Protecting your family also means doing what you need to do so a loaded gun isn’t picked up by a child. Storing guns responsibly means that when the gun is not under your immediate control, it can’t be used by any unauthorized person – like a curious child.
There are plenty of options available for safe storage and not all of them are expensive. Gun safes, vaults, lock boxes, trigger locks and more, as well as a slew of great educational resources with discussions of best safety practices, safety videos, and safe storage options, are readily available.
As a trained athlete in the shooting sports, I’m deeply familiar with the need to handle firearms safely and responsibly. Shooting sports are some of the safest sports because of strictly-enforced firearm safety rules and procedures.
It’s been my responsibility to work and train hard to get to where I am today. That responsibility extends all the way to how I store my firearms when I’m not using them. Storing my firearms safely and securely protects me, my family and my community.
It’s something I committed to when I chose to represent my country in this sport. It’s a commitment all of us who call ourselves responsible gun owners should be willing to make.
For more information about firearms safety education, visit www.projectchildsafe.org.