Last Saturday, my awesome friend, Sharon, invited my family over to her home to learn how to handle, store, and use firearms. I was momentarily hesitant, but I recognized this as an excellent opportunity for my kids to safely explore an interest in firearms. This is the story of what I learned when I introduced my kids to guns.
It’s no secret that guns are not my forte, but my kids are curious about them. I know that part of my discomfort with guns is that they are totally unfamiliar to me. I’d never handled a gun (before Saturday) and I’d prefer to shoot a camera if I’m going to aim something at an animal. But guns are a big part of American culture – history, entertainment, defense, sport – and I appreciated the idea of introducing my kids to firearms in a controlled, safe environment.
The Day I Introduced My Kids to Guns
Sharon did an amazing job of patiently and methodically introducing my kids to firearms. There was no rush to handle guns or to please eager kids. After seating my family around a picnic table, Sharon brought out several types of firearms, including a pistol, rifle, and BB Gun. Each gun was empty of bullets, something she clearly emphasized. Despite this fact, the weapons were consistently handled as though they were loaded. Kids did not touch them until they learned the rules of handling guns and demonstrated the maturity to follow them.
When Should I Introduce My Kids to Guns?
My family received this invitation based on my kid’s demonstrated interest in learning about guns. While my 3 year-old accompanied us on the outing, he was not interested in firearms, nor was I ready to let him handle a gun. If I’m totally honest, I wasn’t really ready to introduce any of my kids to guns, but I recognized the value in shaping their introduction to guns. What age is right should be guided by experts and your own knowledge of your family.
At one point, Sharon kindly, but firmly told my middle son, “If you don’t pay attention to these instructions, you don’t fire a gun.” Shooting took place in a safe, controlled environment with adult instruction and supervision. Kids used ear protection and were never allowed to pick up firearms without supervision. The boys actually got a bit annoyed with their parent’s reminders to not casually touch the guns, but we were firm in our boundaries and they never became casual around them – even when they were not loaded.
Guns are Not Toys
While the boys definitely enjoyed shooting, they did so understanding that guns are not toys. They are not part of a harmless, bloodless video game world without consequences. Handling a gun properly requires attention, care, and respect for yourself and those around you. You must plan, prepare, and be consistently responsible in order to handle, fire, and care for guns. If they were not ready to first learn and listen, they were not ready to handle firearms.
Guns left the realm of fantasy and mystery Saturday, with real-world applications in sporting and collecting. The hope is that my kids will never see a gun and pick it up for play or as a joke because someone taught them the seriousness of handling a gun and the potential for harm. My older kids now know what a gun feels like and the seriousness of a bullet hitting a target.
Initiating the Conversation
I was able to talk with my oldest son about why guns interest him. He shared how he is interested in the different styles (as you would for any collector’s item) and in shooting at a target. This allowed me to better understand his interest and share something new with him. It also allowed me to discuss the difference between using a gun for harm (and my concerns about this) and using a gun for sport. I had to let go of some of my fear and bias to help him explore the world and make educated decisions.
My oldest son has asked to return to shoot, but his younger brother appeared more interested in the bow and arrow. My daughter and youngest son would rather play with the dog than shoot a gun. My somewhat irrational fears of creating a gun obsession or worrisome interest in guns proved unfounded. I now feel as if guns can be part of a healthy conversation in our home and that I know how to move forward if one of my kids wants to pursue a future interest in guns.
Facing My Own Fears
I even fired two guns to see what it felt like. I confess that target shooting definitely had some appeal and I was pleased when I hit a target. Despite this positive experience, I still hate the pistol and the sound it makes. Something about it unnerved me when my kids used it. I felt differently when they aimed a rifle. Both of these were in a very safe, controlled setting with training and supervision, but the sound and impact of the bullets still bothered me. To be honest, just searching for photos to use with this blog post brought up similar uneasiness. I’m sure media has a great deal to do with these feelings and I will continue to explore them.
Putting Guns into Perspective
So, here’s what I learned when I introduced my kids to guns: Shooting a gun did not erase my concerns or lessen my convictions around improved gun regulations. I don’t plan to purchase firearms any time soon. The experience did, however, put my concerns into perspective. It helped me to better understand my friend and respect her hobby. I appreciated the skill, knowledge, and care she showed, I understood her passion for an unfamiliar sport/hobby and compared it to things I am passionate about. Her kindness also enabled me to offer an experience to my children that I lacked the knowledge and skill to provide.
Saturday proved a fun and important experience for our family. Wouldn’t it be amazing if everyone who wanted to handle a firearm had this kind of introduction and training? Thanks to Sharon for approaching me – her liberal, gun-fearing friend – with this opportunity and for her patience and kindness to my children.
I am aware that this is a sensitive topic. I shared this experience on my blog because friends encouraged me to share with a broader audience after writing about it on Facebook. Please keep comments respectful and constructive. Please do not use this as a space to link to other pages without permission. Thanks for reading!