What Do You Teach Your Kids About Guns?

two handguns, one real and one toy

A boy in a nearby town was accidentally shot and killed by his best friend this weekend.

The exact details are unknown right now, but it’s still so sad. The boy who died was 14, and his best friend is 15. According to the news stories, authorities are assuming that they were just playing with the gun and didn’t realize it was loaded. If you happen to have guns in your home, please, please, please, make sure your kids can’t get to them.

I learned something new about the gun laws in my state. Apparently it’s illegal to point a weapon at someone, whether it’s loaded or not. A person found guilty of that offense can be sentenced to a year in prison.

The young man who was holding the weapon is looking at the year in prison for pointing the weapon plus 15 years for manslaughter (if he goes to trial and is convicted). On top of that he can’t avoid serving the life sentence of carrying the memory of his friend’s death and his own part in it. My heart goes out to everyone involved in the tragedy.

When our boys are old enough we want them to learn how to handle guns properly and with respect. The hope is that we can impress upon them the importance of handling a weapon responsibly. If you’d asked me about this ten years ago I would have told you that we wouldn’t allow the children to have guns or gun toys.

Yeah. Right. 4 boys later I just try to play it cool and not make too big a deal about any of it. My current reasoning is that if we tell them not to shoot at people and stay calm they won’t get all weird about it. We don’t have any real guns in the house so them finding one to play with here isn’t an issue. However, that still leaves the rest of the planet.

So that brings me to my questions: What do you teach your kids about guns? Anything? If so, at what age do you allow them to shoot a gun and what kind? Did you teach them yourself or send them to a certified gun safety course?

I’ll get things started by answering in the comments.

Earnest Parenting: help for parents who want to talk to their kids about guns.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Bruce April 9, 2008, 2:29 pm

    I can’t remember not seeing guns in our locked gun cabinet. We weren’t even allowed in the room when they were taken out until we were old enough. You had to earn that right of passage, to just be in the room. Then we watched, then eventually we handled. Ownership of your own gun for hunting came at age 14 if you showed you could handle the responsibility. I learned by age 6 or 7 what a gun could do from cleaning game my father had shot. It was an important part of our diet in those days. When I got to the Army via the draft, I could handle the M16 and shoot it well. It was a big help. I never played with guns – you could loose your privileges and trust that way. You had to be able to handle adult responsibility to handle a gun. I was not allowed to hunt with friends because of the risk that two or more boys could forget the rules for a moment, alone I never had that problem.

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  • Tara April 9, 2008, 2:44 pm

    I grew up on a remote subsistence trapline in Alaska. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned to shoot a small rifle (six, maybe?), but I grew up around guns, seeing animals shot and shooting them myself. Unlike kids who are raised with restricted access to glamourous gun toys, I knew exactly what would happen if I pointed a gun at someone and pulled the trigger.

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  • jrc April 9, 2008, 11:51 am

    I grew up around guns, and I teach my child what my father taught me. Guns are NOT toys. You NEVER touch one without an adult there to assist you. You NEVER EVER EVER point a gun at someone, whether it is loaded, or not. The mechanics are taught – parts of the gun, how to switch the safety on and off, how to clean and disassemble, how the bullets reach the chamber, etc. We were brought up to have such reverence for them that it never even crossed our minds to “play” with a gun or disobey any of the familial rules surrounding them.

    I’d guess that this would not work for all families, but it has certainly worked well in our family for generations.

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  • Mel April 9, 2008, 2:55 pm

    I did not grow up around hunters and my hubby doesn’t hunt either. Growing up though we did have a shotgun that my dad and brother occasionally shot at a target. It was very rare and mostly I think the gun was kept just because it was a family passdown thing. Hubby enjoys shooting and before we were married went to a shooting range with friends often. I am not afraid of guns but highly respect them and want the same for my kids. My husband showed my summer how to shoot a bb gun that he had from when he was a kid last summer and Dylan really enjoyed it. Dave explained all the rules and of course was right there beside him the whole time while Zoe and I were inside. We do have shotguns in the house in one place and bullets somewhere else. I want Dylan to respect a gun and not be so curious that he will try to sneak to investigate it or God forbid think it is something to play with. Most of the time when these horrible things happen it is because kids are playing and I think it is because they are curious more than anything. We stress more than anything that guns should never be pointed at people or pets and this means even play guns.

    Very interesting post…thanks for posting!

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  • Birney Summers April 9, 2008, 1:50 pm

    We started with a BB Gun But before I allowed that all toy guns had to be removed from our property. First teach them
    1. Treat all guns as being loaded at all times.
    2. Never point a gun at any animal or person that you do not intend to kill right then.

    After those two topic are embedded then start teaching the details.

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  • Amy April 9, 2008, 2:43 pm

    @jrc: Thanks so much for taking the time to comment. We don’t have guns in our home currently, although it’s something I’m interested in. (With apologies to my very anti-gun mother…Sorry Mom). For me the interest is self-defense and not hunting. As a terribly picky eater, I don’t care for the meat from various hunts. The boys see their much older cousin with bb gun privileges at Grandma’s, and we’re all very adamant about no touching, no going with him to hunt, etc. But we do have all the toy guns and they definitely shoot darts at one another. That’s what I wonder about…will they transfer play behavior from the toy guns to real?

    @Birney: Great to see you here, thanks! I love the point about aiming only when you intend to kill. That’s a good way to help them take it seriously. I talked to them about the local incident while explaining why I won’t let them play shooting video games that look real. It’s one thing to play Super Mario and fling little star bits, quite another to simulate picking up a real gun and destroying something. I totally love the idea of ditching toy guns. What a great way of separating the two. Thanks for sharing.

    @Bruce: Oh wow. I love the way your family taught reverence and responsibility. The point about two or more boys together getting silly really hits home with me. Twins can get into so much trouble so fast! The boys are in Scouts and I fully intend for them to take the appropriate gun safety courses as they reach the appropriate ages. We’re thinking they could handle bb guns this summer with intensive supervision. (The older boys, not the 5yos). I’m glad you commented, thank you very much.

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  • JoLynn Braley April 9, 2008, 4:21 pm

    What an important reminder Amy, and something I don’t normally think about.

    I, like some of your other commenters, also grew up with guns in the house and my dad taught me how to hunt and fish, as well as how to shoot bow and arrow….he actually taught me a lot, he would do fabulous on Survivor. 🙂

    I don’t have guns in my house and also don’t have kids to worry about, but I do think it’s important to educate children even when you don’t have any guns yourself. You’ve gotten some great tips here in your comments.

    Oh, and my dad has always kept his guns in a locked gun cabinet.

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  • Raymond Chua April 9, 2008, 7:50 pm

    It is illegal for the public to own or carry gun in my country.

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  • Amy April 9, 2008, 11:25 pm

    @Tara: Excellent point. Thanks for sharing your experience. I bet you’re a pretty good shot!

    @Mel: Happy to have you here. Sounds like you’re handling it the way we want to. I like how you kept the younger one inside; that really impresses the importance of the situation on the child.

    @JoLynn: Thanks! Sounds like you’d do pretty well on Survivor yourself.

    @Raymond: Really? Wow. So do you think that’s a good law? Or would you prefer people have guns?

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  • Raymond Chua April 10, 2008, 12:28 am

    I believe that’s a great law.

    Gun is too dangerous to be carried around. Stress has attacked more and more people nowadays and that means more and more people are going to use gun inappropriately.

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  • Blaine Moore April 10, 2008, 10:27 am

    I don’t own any guns, but I’m glad that I have the right to do so should I choose.

    I’m not sure why I grew up with a respect for guns. I’ve never felt a desire to play with them.

    My uncle has 2 daughters, and he’ll be teaching them to handle his rifles once they are a little older (the oldest is 5 now.) Maine has some great hunting laws to encourage kids to learn to hunt and has weekends set aside where adults are not allowed to hunt but kids are, both for bow or gun.

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  • Paula Lynn April 10, 2008, 8:07 pm

    I grew up with parents that hunted, I was taught to hunt while I was a teenager, I am certified in gun safty. I have 3 children that are and will be learning gun saftly.

    We live in a Suberban area that borders a very bad area. I do have guns in my house, but they are disabled. If someone COULD get to them, they would have to figure out where I put the missing pieces. I know that at that same time, if I had an intuder in my house, that I would have the same struggle, I won’t be saying “Mister burgler, can you wait a minute, I have to put the fireing pin back in my rifle.” it just isn’t going to work that way, I will have to hope that the site of the gun will be enough of a deterant.

    When I have people over to my home with children, I do disclose that there are disabled rifles in the home, and that they are unaccessable to the children. I feel that it is my duty to inform those parents that are putting me in charge of their children. And it opens up a line of communication with the parents that normally they wouldn’t even think about.

    My oldest is almost old enough for “Hunters Safty” classes. She is already awsome in archery, but she is going to learn it all. My middle child (a 10 year old boy) is learning to use a Bebe gun with his grandfather (my father). But he has not been unsupervised, and he too will have to have a “Hunters Safty” corse before he will be allowed to “hunt” with Grandpa.

    I was taught at a young age to respect guns of all sorts. They were a sorce that provided food, and other by products (fur, skins, and horns for furnature)

    My children have been taught the benifits of eating Venison over Beef, Game Birds over Chicken, and Wild caught fish over Fish sticks. In the long run, hunting and fishing are cheaper than going to the grocery store. Because We were taught to hunt and fish so we could live for a life time, not just for today.

    At the same time, where we live… My children see what guns do on a daily basis, there was a recent insodence where a 3 year old girl shot herself with the family’s gun, My 12 year old declaired that the “Stupid parents shouldn’t have had the gun where their kid could get it.” I have to admit that I am really proud of her. She realizes that parents have a responsibility to keep their kids safe. It is our responsibility to teach and theirs to learn.

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  • David Rogers April 10, 2008, 11:31 pm

    I grew up fascinated by guns – despite the fact that we have quite strict gun laws and at the time no one I knew had guns. For the past ten years – since a school massacre – its been illegal for anyone to own a handgun. Even out Olympic shooting team have had to train overseas. Despite this there have been numerous fatal shootings and stabbings on the streets. Strict gun laws don’t affect illegal gun ownership!

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  • Karen (Karooch from April 12, 2008, 4:44 pm

    Guns are not a part of most Australian households as they seem to be in the US, Amy. That’s not to say we don’t have them but most households don’t. And hand guns are even less common. I hope that we stay that way.

    Fortunately I have a daughter and no boys so the gun issue was never one I had to deal with.

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  • Amy April 12, 2008, 7:23 pm

    @Raymond: I wonder if you and I had switched places all our lives if we’d have opposite views on gun ownership. Our cultures do affect us so much, don’t they?

    @Blaine: I believe there are similar kid hunting weekends here in Michigan. I’m completely certain my boys aren’t ready for that yet…they get grossed out by raw meat in the kitchen. I know they wouldn’t like the process of cleaning something they’d just killed. Perhaps we’ll start with fishing.

    @Paula Lynn: You are very wise, my friend. I pray that you never have to face an intruder in the first place. I’m glad your 12yo is so smart! Hugs to her from me.

    @David: Excellent point, and a strong reason why I’m entertaining gun ownership after having been brought up in a home that was extremely anti-weapon. Once someone has started breaking laws, what’s one more? Gun laws only keep guns out of the hands of law-abiding citizens.

    @Karen: LOL on the daughter not being into guns. We’re back to cultural influences I think, because I know several women who hunt and/or own guns here. Gender is a factor of course, as it’s still a male-dominated issue. With 4 boys, I never had a chance on this one.

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  • Raymond Chua April 12, 2008, 9:55 pm

    Hi Amy,

    Our cultures really plays an important in shaping our thinking and behavior, 🙂

    Reply
  • tracy ho April 13, 2008, 7:18 am

    I am agaist gun owning , government should have strich law to protect the young & innocent to owns a gun ,

    Parent & all involve should be serious on this , life are short , appreciate our life ,

    Tracy ho
    wisdomgettingloaded

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  • Katie April 14, 2008, 4:10 pm

    Amy, I grew up in a house with one rifle that we were told was not a toy and we were never allowed to touch. It was never an issue as it was in the back of my Dad’s closet and we just weren’t allowed in there. For as long as I can remember there was a gun hanging in the back entry way of my Grandparents house that we could look at but not touch, when I was a teen my Grandpa set it up on the picnic table and let me try shooting a target. Once was enough between the kick and the noise (what was hearing protection back then) Later when I married I married into a family of hunters, every child that was born was around guns pretty much from day one but with a reverance for what guns meant dinner. Even with toy guns you were never to point them at a person we shoot at only what we intend to eat. When my sister had her son she was adament about no guns until a neighbor kid with no knowledge of guns found one and the automatic reaction of kids is to point it, that is when she realized my other nieces & nephews had a power, the power of knowledge. All of my nieces & nephews now have knowledge of how you have to have total respect for a gun and how it is always to be treated as it is a loaded gun. I personally do not belive in guns for protection much as I think by the time you get to it get whatever protection you to keep your kids safe off and it loaded whoever you wanted to be protected from already has you.

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  • Crissy April 15, 2008, 4:10 pm

    I grew up around guns and we were taught to respect them. They are not toys(Yes we had play guns) and should not be aimed at anything unless you were in mortal danger or hunting and will eat what you kill. I don’t own a gun but hubby is thinking about getting one and starting to hunt. I don’t have a problem with that and told him before a gun comes into the house he will have to sit down and talk to the kids about the difference in guns and what will and will not be acceptable for them to touch. Real vs play. He has a sister who when her son was born, stated that he will never play with any kind of gun. Since then he has several toy guns both dart and water. He doesn’t understand that pointing a gun at someone can kill or really hurt them. She believes it is okay for him to play with toy guns and not know about real ones. He is going on 13 this year. I let my kids play with toy guns and haven’t actually spoke to them about real guns but that will be coming very soon, they are 4 and 6 now so within the next year or two it will be time to sit down and discuss guns and what they do and how they work.

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  • Amy April 15, 2008, 10:36 pm

    @tracy: I agree with you about parents needing to be involved and responsible. Not so much on the government. When the state takes care of everything people have a tendency to be less responsible on an individual basis.

    @Katie: The toy guns no pointing rule is hard when you get to dart guns or water guns. I gave up on the no pointing rule, but plan to remove all toys if we ever get real guns. I really like the idea of separating the two.

    @Crissy: 13 and he doesn’t understand about real guns? Yikes! That’s really scary.

    Thanks so much for your comments and input everyone! I’m really enjoying it.

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  • online auctions January 19, 2010, 10:57 pm

    we have to prepare them children,what is good and what is bad from the child hood.Have to explain the reasons about the gun and other products which were not to safe for children custody at early ages of life

    Reply
  • Susan B February 28, 2010, 9:27 am

    Amy,

    Great site!! I also have four boys ages between 2-18. I grew up around guns and hunting and around age 3-5 the boys are taught how to use, fire, clean and take care of their guns. Around age 10, they are certified in pistols and shotguns. I also homeschool and they earn their NRA badges as part of our curriculum along with archery, martial arts and sword-fighting.

    They have play guns and know the difference, just as they have play cars and know the difference between something real and dangerous and something to play with.

    We have recently moved from a large place in the country on several acres to a rather bad part of town and I keep the pistols handy and loaded. This particular part of town has need of that kind of home protection and it’s not unusual to hear the police sirens several times a night in our apartment complex.

    I feel better knowing my children understand and respect guns and should the situation arise, be able to defend themselves and their brothers from harm. I feel if you buy a gun for protection, having it locked or disabled makes it into simply a cudgel and you might as well save yourself some money and use a baseball bat. I have a concealed carry warrant for my job and have spoken with several law enforcement officers in the area. They all agree with me on this and our children often shoot in competition together.

    I understand this is a rather different view than others may take, but I also feel strongly that if the bad guys have guns (and around here they do) , I want my family to be able to protect themselves accordingly.

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    • Amy February 28, 2010, 5:59 pm

      Hi Susan,

      Thanks! Wow, you get your boys into guns young! I respect that. I haven’t been comfortable with it quite that young, but then I grew up in a home where “gun” was a swear word. So I’m adapting (and keeping much of it far, far away from my mother). NRA badges, huh? I didn’t know there was such a thing. We’re doing Tae Kwon Do as a family. Sword-fighting would be great! I wish there was something like that nearby here.

      I think you’re right to make sure your kids can defend themselves and handle guns with respect. I sincerely hope you always stay safe.

      Reply