The education of children about guns in the United States is a very important, and very under discussed issue. Guns are ubiquitous here. We have more guns than people. And guns, being instruments of death, are dangerous if mishandled. In my opinion, a US parent not speaking with their children about gun safety, and how to behave around guns, is about like an Australian parent not speaking with their children about venomous snakes. No, a gun doesn’t have a mind of its own like a snake does, and isn’t going to bite you while you sleep, but they’re still dangerous, and good parents should talk with their children about gun safety whether they’re pro gun or anti gun, whether they’re gun owners or gun teetotalers, whether they’re in the gun culture or not. Every culture, if it’s a United States culture, needs to talk about guns to their kids. Like sex, or drugs, or Rock and Roll. And the gun talk needs to happen way earlier than the sex or drugs talk, in early elementary school. But there’s no good template about how to have this talk, at least that I’ve found. I thought it might be helpful to share my stump speech, and a story about the most interesting time I gave it.
I don’t have a lot of guns, by gun culture standards. We’ll say “quite a few but less than ten.” The scary black tactical stuff and the pistols live in locked cases away from view, but the long guns with wooden furniture live in a locked display case in my living room. A 20 gauge over-and-under shotgun. A side-by-side 12 gauge double-barrel that’s so old it’s probably dangerous to shoot. A Ruger 10/22. An old .410 from the Sears Roebuck catalog. A Korean War–era M1 Garand. It’s what Redditors might call a Fudd Case.
July 4th 2018, my wife was struggling with cancer and had a break in her chemotherapy, so she invited all her old high school girlfriends to our home for a cookout. They brought their kids. It was a good time. Half a dozen very liberal moms talking about momstuff. A dozen kids playing in the yard, generally in the 4–7 age bracket, give or take. Other than my children, and those of the one Army wife among them, none of the kids had ever been around firearms. I didn’t think twice about it until one of the boys came up to me with big, wide, apprehensively curious eyes and said, “Mr. BJ, are those guns?” Referring to the display case. They were obviously guns. This wasn’t an honest question. Somewhere in the back of his mind, the actual question was very likely “This is the first time in my life I’ve been near a gun, may I see it?”
This is a cultural danger that manifests to kids because of our current gun policy tug of war, and probably leads to some of the gun accidents we see among children. Guns permeate our media, our movies, our TV shows, our video games, our news. When Minecraft lost its spot as the most popular kids’ game in the country, it lost it to a version of Minecraft with dancing and guns, we know now as Fortnite.
All kids are naturally going to have a curiosity about the things that permeate their environment, and this is especially true for kids in which those things have been culturally forbidden. Liberal moms, particularly those of boys, need to understand that this curiosity is natural. And my wife’s friends were definitely sharp enough to understand that, despite their choice to keep guns out of their home. So I told the kid what any red blooded gun owning man surrounded by liberal women during an Independence Day cookout would tell that curious boy.
“Go ask your mom.”
Then I stopped him, and I told him to wait, and I went and asked her myself.
I knew this liberal mom and I had different opinions about guns, but I also knew she felt safe in my house because my guns were locked up, and she trusted my responsibility. As I approached her, I was reminded of one of my favorite gun safety commercials, which probably didn’t get a lot of play because TV channels are wary about putting vibrating dildos in prime time.
I also knew that she, being a smart lady, probably understood that the “gun safety talk” was an important talk to have with kids, ranking up there with “talk to your kids about drugs” and “talk to your kids about sex.” I also knew she probably didn’t know what to say. As a now single father, I will one day tap one of my lady friends to talk to my daughter about her period. This was curiously similar.
I’ve heard gun owning parents say things like, “I don’t need to worry about the loaded gun in my house because my kids have been taught gun safety.” This is a wretched thing to think. Even if your kids are the most responsible kids in the world, your kids have friends, and you don’t have any idea how responsible they are.
I asked permission from the gaggle of moms talking about momstuff to talk to the kids about gun safety, and the response was a unanimous “yes”. And I gathered the kids, pulled a few guns out of the cabinet, pulled out a shotgun shell, a .22 LR round, a .30-06 round, and we had a discussion.
The conversational template goes like this:
Every time we get the guns out of the cabinet in my household, we cover Jeff Cooper’s Four Rules. Treatments of this on the internet are everywhere, and regular OSD readers already know them, but if you’re new around here, here’s the gist:
It’s important, when talking to kids, to clarify Rule 1. It’s not saying “always keep your guns loaded”, it’s saying you always must treat any gun you see as if it’s loaded, for safety reasons. Only after we’ve gone through these, does the key go in the gun cabinet lock.
Next we talked about how guns work. This isn’t the most important thing for the discussion quite honestly, and is something that a non-gun-owner reading this article probably won’t be able to do at all due to a lack of knowledge and props, but it got their attention in a way you rarely see in elementary school kids. Eyes were wide and nobody goofed off when I racked the Garand’s slide and broke open the 20 gauge.
I explained that the thing that killed you was the projectile, not the gun. That an unloaded gun can’t kill you, but a bullet can even if it’s not in a gun. So we looked at some cartridges. Big ones, small ones, shotgun shells. How they fit in the gun, action, triggers, safeties. Then when they were glassy eyed at being exposed to the stuff, we got into the most important things to talk to kids about, leading us to what I call Rule Zero. I asked them questions, and if they answered wrong, I corrected them. I prevented my kids from answering, because they already knew.
BJ: “What’s a gun for?”
Kid: “Killing things.”
BJ: “Good. What kinds of things?”
Kid: “Animals. People.”
BJ: “Are there any guns that can’t kill people?”
Kid: “No. All guns can kill people.”
Here’s where the smart kids start to challenge the lecture, and ask questions, and where the real learning begins.
Kid: “But you said an unloaded gun is safe.”
BJ: “It is. How do you know if a gun is loaded?”
Kid: “You check the chamber…”
BJ, interrupting: “No. You do not check the chamber. When you are older and supervised by an adult you check the chamber. At your age, you act as if the gun is loaded, you don’t touch it, and you find an adult.”
This is the synthesis of the entire lecture. When talking to small kids about gun safety, you should be planning for the metaphorical dildo video above. The scenario for which you are preparing your kids is the scenario where they encounter a gun and a responsible adult is not around.
BJ: “What if you see a bullet?”
Kid: “Find an adult.”
Now we’re getting somewhere. Bullets are generally pretty safe things, but if you whack on one with a hammer, or some kid throws it in a fire or sticks it in the microwave, who knows what could happen. The bullets kill you. But the next question is the most important – the Rule Zero question.
BJ: “What if you’re in a room with another kid, and that kid picks up a gun?”
Kid: “Tell him to put the gun down.”
BJ: “No. No no no. If you are ever around another kid who picks up a gun, you run. Get out of the room, or away from that kid as fast as you can and find an adult.”
This is the scenario you occasionally see on the news, and it’s exacerbated by our cultural schism over guns. Some kids know how dangerous they are, some don’t, and the ones with less exposure to guns are the ones that are more dangerous around them. You can never count on another parent’s kids being responsible, so you must teach your kid to do what’s best for him or her.
A close friend of mine has twins about my son’s age, and he actually tests them on this. He will leave an (unloaded) pistol on the coffee table and then watch from the next room, to see if they pick it up. To see if they find an adult. They find an adult. If they didn’t, he’d sit them down for “the talk” again. This is wise parenting.
If you happen to be a gun owning household, and you happen to want to raise your kids to be shooters, then when the time is right you indoctrinate them on proper gun storage, maintenance, and such. But good parents of all stripes need to start with the basics of how to behave around unattended guns. Every parent needs to have this discussion with their kids, whether they’re gun owners or not, no matter which political tribe to which they subscribe.
Because the guns are out there, and they’re not going anywhere.