Every Parent’s Challenge
As a parent, you teach your child to make correct decisions. The guidelines you set help your child navigate a path between right and wrong choices. Discipline is extremely important for your child to learn to control behavior. Loving, yet consistent application of rules and consequences helps develop your child’s trust in you and your advice. It increases the likelihood that when you set limits for your child’s behavior around guns, or anything for that matter, your child will know that “no” means “no,” and that you mean exactly what you say.
Teaching your child to use words to express feelings of happiness or frustration, jealousy or anger will go a long way in reducing the potential that he or she will respond to an emotional situation with physical harm to others. A child raised in an atmosphere of respect and encouragement develops confidence and security, and is less likely to view a gun as an artificial means of acquiring power or self-importance. Raising a confidant, respectful, wise and loving child is every parent’s challenge. Growing up to become a safe and responsible adult is every child’s challenge. The example you provide and the limits you set will help both of you meet those challenges.
When to Teach Your Child
Timing is very important in successful teaching. Remember that each child learns at his or her own rate. When your child starts to ask questions or act out “gun play,” take advantage of this opportunity to discuss safe handling of firearms. Use your child’s natural curiosity. Be prepared to discuss, demonstrate, and answer questions. Keep your lessons simple, but credible. Emphasize the most important points, then repeat, repeat, repeat. Your child’s attention will invariably wander. Don’t be discouraged. Be patient.
Teach Facts, Not Fear
The first rule of safe gun handling for children is a rule as old as the history of parents and children: Don’t Touch! There is no safe gun handling for the very young. Once a child is older, if you own guns and your child is interested, consider going to a gun range. This removes the “forbidden fruit” attraction from firearms. It replaces it with knowledge and discipline. Teaching gun safety to your children requires familiarity with firearms. It underscores the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation’s strong recommendation that everyone should take a good gun safety course whether you like guns or not, or own guns or not. It is a key rule needed to take control of any situation where a gun is present and needs to be rendered “safe” to avoid any potential accident. You can’t do this safely without a basic knowledge of firearms.
The more versed you are in the facts of gun safety, the more credible you will be. This increases the odds that your child will use the information you share to make sound decisions around guns. If you are open and honest about guns, and if you’ve raised your child to be confident and secure, that child will be more resistant to irresponsible peer pressure to show off or impress in an unsafe manner. He or she will be more likely to avoid wrong behavior, and instead choose to be safe around guns, whether you are present or not.
Distinguish Between Fantasy and Reality
Many parents declare their homes a “no gun” zone free from real or toy guns. That’s a legitimate choice. However, some children will go to great lengths to create “guns” for play. Everything from sticks to plastic building blocks arranged into Space Invader ray guns are fair game for a child’s imagination. An active imagination is a healthy trait in a child. However, the ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy also is important. The child that cannot differentiate between
Never assume your child knows the difference. As a parent, you cannot begin too early in your child’s development to explain the difference between the fantasy world of the entertainment industry and the real world with real consequences for our every action. Make certain your child knows the difference between a real gun and a toy gun. Tell your child that guns used on television, in the movies, or on the video game screen are toys. Tell them that cap guns and plastic squirt guns are toys. Make it absolutely clear that BB guns, air guns, and firearms – rifles, pistols and shotguns – are not toys. If they cannot tell the difference, tell them to assume the gun is real.
If you allow your child to play with toy guns, use the toy guns to demonstrate safe and proper behavior with real guns. Do this over and over. Periodically, when they least expect it (when playing or watching an “action” movie, for example) quiz them on safe firearms handling. If you see an obvious violation of the principles of gun safety during a movie or television show, ask “What was wrong with the way that person held that gun?” That helps the principles of safe firearms handling become second nature to your children and to you.
Options for Safe Storage
The desire to keep firearms and ammunition inaccessible to children and others has spurred the development of a wide variety of techniques and products designed to meet each individual’s unique needs. Some store their firearms in locked display cabinets. Others use vaults, safes, and locked metal storage boxes. Still other approaches include a dedicated and secured room, or hidden storage areas behind bookshelves or in closets. A wide variety of trigger and action- blocking locks are available on the retail market. Always choose a high-quality, tamper-resistant product. The possible ways of keeping firearms away from curious children and irresponsible adults are limited only by one’s imagination and finances.
Practice What You Preach
Ultimately, you set the guidelines for your child’s behavior. Once you are comfortable with storage and handling procedures in your home, insist that they be honored at all times, whether you are home or away. These precautions still apply even if you have no children or if your children have grown to adulthood and left home. A nephew, niece, neighbor’s child, or a grandchild may come to visit. Practice safety at all times. Remember that gun safety in the home is not a one-way street. Follow the rules you set for your children. Any time you handle a gun, your child may be watching and learning from how you behave. Make sure that what you say and how you act around guns are one and the same. Finally, enlist your child as a gun safety scout. There’s no better way to learn the rules than to be asked to sound the alarm any time the rules of gun safety are broken.
A Note for Gun-Owning Parents
1. Gun safety begins with you……If you own guns, use common sense. Keep your guns and ammunition inaccessible to your child as well as their even more curious playmates.
2. Don’t leave firearms lying around……A toddler can stumble upon them. And never assume that simply because a very young child lacks finger strength that they can’t pull a trigger. A child’s thumb has twice the strength of the other fingers. When a toddler’s thumb “pushes” against a trigger, invariably the barrel of the gun is pointing directly at the child’s face. Get the picture? Another equally tragic scenario: A toddler finds a gun and begins pulling it by the barrel. In the process, the trigger gets hooked on an object. What happens with the next tug? Where is that barrel pointed?
3. Think about gun storage from your child’s point of view……Are places you think are safe truly within a youngster’s reach? Ever watch a child open a bureau drawer, then another and use them as footholds to climb to supposedly out of reach places? Ammunition, shotshells, and cartridges are not something that should be played with by a child. Keep your ammunition as safe and inaccessible as your firearms. How best to secure your guns in your home and keep them from a child is a question only you can answer. You know your home, your finances, and your child.
A Note for Parents Who Do Not Own Guns
Are you afraid of guns or opposed to guns on a personal, political or other basis? You’re not alone. Whether or not you’ve vowed to keep all guns away from your kids and out of your house, this Parent’s Guide to Firearms Safety was written for you, as well. As the primary caregiver of your children, you owe it to them to prepare for the chance that they will encounter a gun. If you know the basics of gun safety, you will be in a better position to help your child if he or she should happen to find a gun and you are the first adult on the scene. To control such a situation safely, you must have knowledge. That’s why we urge you and every parent to read, learn, and make the principles of Firearms Safety part of your life, whether you own guns, hate guns, or are personally indifferent to guns. If there’s one thing that safe and responsible gun owners and non-owners alike can agree upon, it’s that we want our children, our families, our homes, and our communities to be a safe place for us all.