Street Smarts: Guns and Kids

Now that I’ve officially earned my field commission as a Grandfather First Class, the subject of children and firearms takes on a new importance.

Not that firearms safety was ever an afterthought in our house when the kids were young. But now, faced with a whole new generation of concern and worries, I’ve started to re-examine how I did it before and how I now plan to safely and successfully integrate a whole new generation of youngsters with firearms.

The primary concern about kids and firearms is making sure they can’t access them without proper supervision. This point is pounded home constantly, and several states have enacted laws that criminalize unsafe firearm storage, yet tragedies still occur. Aside from just plain stupid people who leave guns lying around when kids are present, let’s take a closer look at what non-stupid, properly trained, more-or-less intelligent people sometimes do that could potentially be a serious issue.

For starters, don’t ever think that placing a gun “up high” is safe from small children. If you’ve ever watched a toddler build an improvised ladder out of toys to reach the cookie jar on the kitchen counter, you know that the “safe” top shelf of the closet or bookcase is a challenge rather than a deterrent. I know you wouldn’t do such a thing, but sometimes we want to keep a gun handy “just in case” and besides, “It’s really hidden up in the closet.”

Don’t.

One unique responsibility that has arisen now that we are practicing grandparents is “the sweep” that takes place before we have small visitors. Suffice it to say that, after several decades as a cop, I’ve made a few enemies, so I do keep firearms handy in several locations around the house. The guns aren’t lying around in the open, but they are not secured enough that I’d even remotely consider them “child safe.”

That is why my wife and I conduct a sweep and cross-check each other afterward to make sure no firearms are left in any location where a toddler could access them. This seems simple enough but is easily forgotten when unexpected visitors show up. It’s wonderful to have family drop by, but we have both committed to making this immediate-action drill the first priority whenever the kids show up.

When it comes to locking up guns, I’m not a big fan of trigger locks. They’re better than nothing, but the most inexpensive locks are fairly easy to remove either using force or basic lock-picking techniques—something that is a highly popular subject of internet research among the male junior-high crowd.

Instead, even a cheap gun safe is worlds better. Round or combination locks are exceptionally difficult to pick, and a brute-force attack is out of the question because even the most clueless Mom or Dad would quickly notice a buggered-up safe door.

It’s also important that firearms aren’t treated as “forbidden fruit.” If something is off-limits and considered totally illicit, children of any age will expend all manner of energy and ingenuity to access and examine them.

If kids inquire about your guns, use age-appropriate, non-dramatic language to explain that they are dangerous if misused, much like chemicals under the sink, electricity, and the family car. Then, when the kids are old enough, explain the basic firearms safety rules and discuss enrolling them in a shooting sports program so they can learn both the fun and responsibility of firearms.

Above all, emphasize that an adult must be present to handle firearms. This is where the NRA’s Eddie Eagle program shines. In a nutshell, it teaches children to “Stop! Don’t Touch! Get Away! Tell an Adult!” if they discover an unattended gun.

Also talk to your kids about what goes on in other homes, because you might be a safe, responsible firearms owner, but not everyone is. In fact, it’s not unheard of to find guns lying along the road or even in playgrounds. It’s far better to assume that your child will someday end up around unsupervised firearms than to hope such a situation never arises. Again, use the Eddie Eagle model to teach them what steps to take if they discover a gun.

My vote for the most glaring example of poor judgment is the parent who says, “My kids know not to touch my guns.”

Really?!?

I dare any man of a certain age (pre-internet) to claim he was unaware of the Playdude magazine their Dad had hidden in his sock drawer or that stash of unmarked videotapes in the back of the closet.

Likewise, by the time you were a teenager, you probably knew where the Christmas presents were concealed, where the key to the liquor cabinet was hidden, and how to slip out of your bedroom window without raising parental suspicion.

Still believe your kids “would never touch your guns”?

Sorry, you’re wrong. I know; they’re nice kids, respectful, honest as the day is long, and they’ve been taught properly, but you’re just mistaken in this regard. Keep your guns locked up until your children and (sometimes more importantly) their friends truly grasp the significance of firearms and the inherent dangers. I’d say around age 40 would be fine.

And by the way, I’m not saying my Dad had anything hidden in the sock drawer.

It was the underwear drawer.

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