Kids and Guns 101: Safety, Age, & Recommendations

Kids and guns–the idea is both terrifying to parents and thrilling to kids.

After all, what kid hasn’t wished for a BB gun or picked up a stick to play soldier or cowboy?

9mms like this Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander are a good option for kids (this is actually the author’s daughter’s gun).
9mms like this Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander are a good option for kids (this is actually the author’s daughter’s gun).

Truth is, young shooters can be just as safe (and honestly, safer) than their adult counterparts. They just need appropriate training and someone to mentor them in the ways of the firearm.

If you have kids of your own, why not get them into the shooting sports? Or hey, borrow someone else’s kids (yes, with their permission).

Here’s how to safely get kids into firearms and on the road to a lifelong obsession with all things pew pew.

Disclaimer: this is just a starting point. There are a ton of considerations for teaching kids to shoot. Use your head.

Table of Contents

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Safety First

This may or may not surprise you but the NRA’s Eddie Eagle really is one of the best kids-and-gun-safety programs out there.

eddie eagle with kids
Eddie Eagle teaching a class how to stay safe with guns.

Eddie Eagle walked my sixteen-year-old daughter through gun safety in a fun, relatable way more than a decade ago and I’m using it again today.

To this day Grace remembers the “Stop! Don’t touch! Leave the area! Call an adult!” mantra of Eddie Eagle which is proof positive of its effectiveness at burrowing into their brains.

Another good program is run Kids S.A.F.E run by Derek LeBlanc. The Kids S.A.F.E program is a lot more hands-on and although it is largely available on the west coast hopefully it’ll expand this coming year.

kids s.a.f.e. foundation
The Kids S.A.F.E. Foundation trains kids of all ages in gun safety.

Of course, that only covers what to do if kids find a random gun lying around (something you yourself are never going to do, right?), so how do you handle the actual shooting portion of gun safety?

Personally, I prefer teaching my kids about gun safety myself. If you’re going to have firearms in the house you both need to remove the mystique and teach them to be safe.

That means memorizing the four golden rules of gun safety. Not only did I and do I make mine memorize the rules I’ve made them recite the rules back to me every time we go to the range together. Every. Single. Time.

The four rules every shooter should follow:

  1. All guns are always loaded.
  2. Never let the muzzle cover anything which you are not willing to destroy.
  3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target.
  4. Always be sure of your target (my addition: and what is beyond it).

This means a few different things. Your kids must be both tall and strong enough and mentally mature enough to understand and follow through with muzzle awareness.

A tiny little kid is going to have trouble controlling an adult-size long gun. Conversely, a handgun is small enough it might be harder for a brand-new kid shooter to be aware just how quickly and easily that muzzle can swing around and flag somebody.

Hitting the range with ARs is my idea of the perfect way to spend time with the kids.
Hitting the range with ARs is my idea of the perfect way to spend time with the kids.

You, the parent–or responsible adult, whatever–are responsible for constantly monitoring their actions and ensuring they do not take on more than they’re ready to handle.

It’s also your job to keep an eye on them repeatedly. One safe range trip does not make an expert, especially with kids or anyone else with a short attention span (like my own ADHD self… it’s harder for some of us to focus than others).

Hand-in-hand with teaching muzzle awareness, we have triggers. Your five-year-old can indeed be taught to index their trigger finger high on the gun.

Just because their fingers are tiny doesn’t mean they can’t stay the heck away from the trigger. Teach them early, teach them young, and teach them safely. 

This is my safety
Not how you want to teach your kid to handle guns.

A great way to learn basic firearms safety is with empty guns at home (and then at the range). You can also use airsoft guns, BB guns, and Nerf guns (for real, people, you’d be amazed at the creative ways you can instill safe gun handling practices).

If you use actual firearms consider putting a chamber flag in and remember the safe direction and triple-checking the gun is empty remain A Good Idea.

9
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

If I have said it once I’ve said it a million times: safety is ultimately your responsibility and you should not expect a child to function like an adult with a firearm. It is your job to make it safe prior to teaching them to be safe.

Your. Job.

Age

Age of your child, not age of the gun.

What age you can start teaching your kids to shoot varies because no two kids are alike.

I am a firm believer in instilling safety from a very young age and I don’t say that only because guns are my job.

The author’s daughter with the author at the age of three, which is the age she started learning to shoot.
The author’s daughter with the author at the age of three, which is the age she started learning to shoot.

If you have a gun in your house it is up to you to make sure everyone–and I do mean everyone–in the house knows how to be safe with it. Then there’s the fact that seeing guns as a natural part of life helps remove the mystery, which is what we call A Good Thing.

It is up to you what age to start your kids with guns.

This all depends on your own skill and experience level, your comfort with teaching and supervising, and the maturity level and focus of the child in question. Kids are different. Use your own judgment.

Caliber and Platform

You’ll find a ton of curriculum and social media opinion out there about what caliber is the best one to start your kids off shooting.

It is true that something like .22 LR is good because it’s mild, quieter, easier to control, and way less likely to create bad flinch habits, but that isn’t possible for everyone.

The Taurus TX22 is a decent little starter pistol in .22 LR.
The Taurus TX22 is a decent little starter pistol in .22 LR.

If at all possible start small and work your way up. If you want to start with a Red Ryder BB gun or an air rifle from Gamo, go for it. Once your child is proficient with those, move on to firearms chambered in .22 LR.

46
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

No, throwing a .380 ACP at them is not a good idea. Pistols chambered in .380 ACP tend to be snappy and more difficult to control. Smaller does not always translate to less recoil and muzzle rise.

When you make the move away from .22 LR handguns, go for a larger 9mm, not a teensy .380 ACP or .38 Special. Guns like the Ruger SR1911 Lightweight Commander in 9mm are slim enough for smaller hands, produce less recoil, and are generally solid guns.

845
at Kentucky Gun Co

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

As for platform, I taught Grace to shoot using a bolt-action Marlin with a tube magazine.

The .22 LR-chambered Marlin the author’s daughter used as her first rifle.
The .22 LR-chambered Marlin the author’s daughter used as her first rifle.

Today I also favor the Rossi RS22, a semiautomatic rimfire with an 18-inch barrel and synthetic Monte Carlo stick. It also has a ten-round magazine so you can teach kids to load and seat mags.

The Rossi RS22 is a magazine-fed .22 LR suitable for teaching your kids to run a gun.
The Rossi RS22 is a magazine-fed .22 LR suitable for teaching your kids to run a gun.

The Rossi RS22 ships with adjustable fiber-optic front and rear sights and is a nice teaching rifle right out of the box. It weighs 4.1-pounds, empty, and is reasonably well balanced.

100
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Remember, you are not going to start your child off shooting offhand, they’re going to be sitting at a bench. Start simple and move on from there.

AR-15s are actually stellar teaching platforms, too. .223 Remington has minimal felt recoil and it’s ridiculously fun.

The trick is finding one that is light and balanced enough to be easily handled by a child. Yes that takes us back to starting from the bench but eventually you’ll have them shooting sitting, kneeling, and standing, so unless you can and will buy an array of teaching guns keep these things in mind when you buy that first AR-15.

Grace zeroing a Remington bolt-action Model 7 in .308 Win.
Grace zeroing a Remington bolt-action Model 7 in .308 Win.

Shotguns are another area where the general consensus tends to be a deafening roar of “Use a .410 bore!”

If we’re talking about small children it is wise to use a .410 or 20 gauge rather than expecting them to run a 12-gauge right off. Realistically, whether you start with a .410 or a 20 gauge might be more about affordability than anything else.

If you buy a .410, is it ever going to see use or will it just serve a brief teaching purpose, then sit and collect dust? At least if you buy a good 20 gauge like the Remington 870 or 11-87 it will be useful for years to come for a variety of purposes.

Remington 11-87
Remington’s 11-87 in 20 gauge has been a long-time favorite of my now-teenage daughter’s.

A nice 20 gauge is great for not only the range but for hunting game like turkeys. My two cents is to get a 20 gauge, not a .410, but you do you.

355
at Palmetto State Armory

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

My current pile of youth guns for the littles includes the aforementioned Rossi RS22, a Remington 870 Express in 20 gauge, and my beloved uber-lightweight carbon-fiber Axelson Tactical Black Pearl in .223 Wylde.

For handguns the Taurus TX22 is a nice little teaching option – yes, I said Taurus. Don’t be a hater, dear.

300
at Cabela's

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

The guns you are using to teach your children are not the same guns you would use to defend your life. Unless you have endless resources you need to make teaching them affordable and that means affordably-priced guns that get the job done.

A teenage cheerleader and an Axelson Tactical AR-10: a perfect match.
A teenage cheerleader and an Axelson Tactical AR-10: a perfect match.

Yes, my Axelson rifle is on the high-custom-end but there are a ton of nicely-priced ARs on the market you can grab up.

Eyes, Ears, and So On

Protect your kids’ eyes and ears, for the love of all that is holy. Cheap foamies are not sufficient to guard their hearing. If possible, use electronic muffs so they can still hear you talking them through the steps.

Muffs are also more adjustable because electronic buds are sized for adult ears as a general rule. Of course, the good thing about teaching with smaller calibers is that they also create less noise.

Check out Walker’s Ultimate Power Muff Quads. They have four Hi Gain Omni-Directional microphones, 9X hearing enhancement, a 26 decibel rating, and independing AFT controls.

105
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Walker’s XCEL 100 Digital Electronic Muffs with Voice Clarity are less expensive than the Ultimates and also well-made and effective. Yes you are going to pay more for good electronic muffs but look at it this way: you are investing in your child’s hearing for the rest of their life, not just for ten minutes or one day.

61
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Eye pro should be worn at all times. If the eye pro is too big for their head it isn’t going to stay in place and it’s also going to be way less useful if something comes back at their face. SSP Eyewear offers a youth line with different levels of tint suited for varying weather conditions. Over the years I’ve become a huge fan of SSP Eyewear.

2
at OpticsPlanet

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

Hats. Yes, hats. Do I get annoyed wearing a baseball hat at the range? Yes. Do I always wear one when taking classes and hunting? Again, yes.

Grace running an AR-10 in .308 Win on a deer hunt at the age of twelve.
Grace running an AR-10 in .308 Win on a deer hunt at the age of twelve.

Especially when you are dealing with the littles you need to consider protecting them from every aspect of flying debris including brass that comes flying back and could potentially get caught between their eye pro and face.

Do they always, always have to wear a hat? No, but it is a good additional safety layer. Consider it. 

Things to Remember

Break things down in bite-size pieces and brief lessons. Expecting a five-year-old to follow directions and retain an enormous amount of information all at once is ludicrous.

Confused
If your kid looks like this, it’s time for a break.

It just isn’t going to happen.

Kind of like asking them to sit their wiggly behind on a hard school chair for six or eight hours it’s asking a lot to expect stillness and attentiveness for long stretches at the range. Even the most interested kid is going to struggle.

Keep it simple.

Teach your kids that guns are tools, not toys. Guns require a high level of awareness and responsibility. Their use is a privilege (don’t get started on Second Amendment issues and rights, people, you know that is not what this is about). 

Grace with the Marlin at the age of ten, keeping the muzzle down. She’s always had better discipline and safety practices than most adults I know.
Grace with the Marlin at the age of ten, keeping the muzzle down. She’s always had better discipline and safety practices than most adults I know.

Start with single-shot drills. Don’t toss your kid a loaded magazine and let them go nuts. This is, of course, assuming you’ve worked with them on empty guns and dryfire already.

mcgroober
The first thing your kid’s gonna do if you don’t train them.

Once you’ve done that, then move on to single-shot drills. I know you want your kids to be having a literal blast at the range but you must start safely and cautiously.

Start young. Let your kids watch you clean guns, then teach them to help. Becoming familiar with handling guns while remaining safe and learning the parts of guns is an excellent way to build a solid foundation for a young shooter. 

20-gauge shotguns like this Remington pump-action are great teaching tools for kids.
20-gauge shotguns like this Remington pump-action are great teaching tools for kids.

Your behavior will influence your children’s behavior. If you handle guns carefully and safely, they will, too.

If you’re flip and inobservant, not really giving a crap where the muzzle swings, guess what? Neither will they. Model the behavior you want to see in your kids. This applies to more than guns.

For heaven’s sake don’t leave your guns lying around where your toddlers and grade-schoolers can get their hands on them.

Deer hunting with kids? Absolutely.
Deer hunting with kids? Absolutely.

Conversely, don’t give me that “I have to keep my home defense gun locked up because there’s kids” line.

If you have a self-defense weapon, carry it on your body. It is not difficult and it is a lot more useful when it’s immediately accessible than if you have to run for the safe if someone breaks into your home.

That brings me neatly to my final point: buy a tourniquet, learn to use it, and teach your kids to use it.

EDITOR'S PICK
55
at Amazon

Prices accurate at time of writing

Prices accurate at time of writing

You are statistically more likely to need and use a tourniquet than you are to ever need to use that self-defense gun. Your kids should be familiar with first aid–and that means tourniquets.

Above all, have fun. This is an awesome lifestyle and one you should be proud to pass on to your kids.

Conclusion

As for me and mine, you can find us at the range–or in a hunting blind. Or against a tree calling in turkeys.

Introduce your kids to the shooting sports. It instills responsibility, teaches dexterity, improves focus, and is a great way to spend time as a family. Go on, get thee to the range with your kids.

Did you teach your kids how to shoot and handle firearms? Looking forward to doing so? Share your tips and questions in the comments below! For a first gun, check out:

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3 Leave a Reply

  • Jessica W

    Got my precious child a Ruger American with an extended 25 round mag for her first gun then Moved on to a Smith and Wesson Compact 22. She is 10 and has turned into a gun/shooting enthusiast, and you can usually find us at the range with all our guns and a picnic basket on Family Fundays....

    2 months ago
  • Chad

    I am in 100% agreement about starting with smaller calibers for newer shooters. For various reasons, I’ve taken about a dozen newer shooters to the range in the last few years. I always ask them what their firearm experience has been, and I get answers like AK 47, Uzi, 10 gauge shotgun and 44 magnum. A few of them shot without ear protection! I reassure you, an hour of shooting 22 Long rifle form my pistol or long gun and maybe some 38 special out of a steel revolver, they had a much better time shooting these calibers than the ones they shot before.

    2 months ago
  • That One dumbass

    I was older when I started to shoot (finances are a bitch) but I do remember when I when on a vacation to visit my aunt and uncle when I was 11 shooting a 12 gauge mossberg 500 less than 2 years later already own 2 rifles, and am a avid hunter.

    2 months ago
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