When it comes to safety, there is essentially nothing a parent would not do to keep their children out of harm’s way. No matter how many times a parent tries to explain or convey the importance of only being around guns while in the presence of an adult who knows what they are doing, there is no way to control other people or to always have a role in what your kids may be exposed to outside of your own home.
It can be frightening or even taboo to talk about gun safety issues in many circles, but the reality is, accidents can happen if you are not educated, realistic and willing to help your children understand some of the issues and situations they may face as they grow into adults.
Children are exposed to unnecessary violence through videogames, television and media all the time, but they can be taught about safe gun practices, helping to keep them out of unnecessarily dangerous situations. If children are too desensitized, they may not take gun safety as seriously as they need to, and this is vital for parents to rally against.
Brian Murphy, a senior instructor at the Frisco Gun Club, in regards to parents teaching kids about gun safety, says, “Parents have more resources than they might realize at their disposal. There are courses, such as ours, as well as many websites that offer help in assisting parents. We have also found that gun safety for kids is not much different then gun safety for adults.”
Know the Facts
Here in Texas, you do not need a permit to purchase a handgun or long arm rifle. However, the buyer must be at least 18 years old to purchase a long arm or 21 years old to buy a handgun. As much as it hurts to think about, this does not mean that minors and younger kids do not have access to these deadly weapons. According to the 2016 data from the Gun Violence Archive (gunviolencearchive.org), 632 children (ages 0-11) and 2,880 teens (ages12-17) were killed or injured by a gun. The source also claims that there were 1,982 accidental shooting incidents. According to a study published in the Journal of Pediatrics about firearm storage practices, more than 1.69 million American children are living in homes with loaded and unlocked firearms. Let that sink in for a moment. There are ways that parents can be sure their own guns and any firearms at a house that their child will be in are stored safely, out of sight and out of mind from any children.
Communicate with Other Parents
In many family homes, there is often at least one gun, whether that is used as a form of potential protection, hunting or part of a collection, parents must be conscious of who comes in and out of their home.
Guns may be properly stored unloaded in a locked gun safe but it is important that you, as the parent, are completely aware of what types of weapons your child may see or have access to. You do not want a child playing hide and seek at the neighbor’s house to find a gun improperly hidden behind a jacket in a closet. Remember, kids are curious, at no fault of their own.
Should a child be faced with a dangerous situation as referenced above, they need to know how to react. Firm rules about never touching a gun or any other kind of weapon when you are not present is an absolute must. Their immediate response should be to get an adult if a situation is unsafe. Reinforcement that guns are not a toy can be provided even when kids are playing with water or Nerf© guns. For example, they should never point the gun toward another person, even when playing.
The conversation can be awkward to have with another parent, but if the situation is not safe, it is not worth the risk. It may even be that your kids will not be able to go over to some of their friends’ homes if you do not see eye-to-eye with parents … and that is OK. You are not the bad guy, even if your young kids do not understand the gravity of the situation.
You may find yourself needing to ask parents where guns are stored, if they are locked up and if they are completely out of reach/access to the children. Will children be supervised the entire time they are in the home? Are there areas of the home that are off limits? Guns should always be kept unloaded, locked up and stored apart from ammunition. Is this the case in your own home, as well as your friends’ homes?
With gun violence among youth on the rise, parents can never be too careful. When parents have all the facts and can help educate their children about the possibility of finding themselves in a dangerous situation, a child will be able to detect if they, or a peer, is in harm’s way and can remove themselves from a situation.
The Frisco Gun Club, located here in Frisco, offers a Youth Introduction to Firearms course. During this course, children of all ages learn to safely handle and shoot rifles and handguns. There is classroom instruction on gun safety and etiquette. The instructor also teaches participants how to properly hold firearms and what to do if a firearm is out and there is no adult present. Additional topics of concern for kids who may be around firearms are also addressed. Mr. Murphy says, “When discussing gun safety with kids, we recommend that parents remove the mystery out of guns — that the firearm is merely an object that must be handled with great responsibility. We discuss how to react if a child finds a gun at a friend’s home, or even if they find something in their own home and no adult is present. We prefer to ask open-ended questions in regards to scenarios, to get the kids talking about how to respond and why they should take certain steps.”
Sometimes, if a parent does not feel comfortable talking to their child, it may be because they are uncomfortable around firearms. Parents can take part in the Frisco Gun Club’s Introduction to Handguns class, designed for those who have never fired a gun before.
Safety at School
An unfortunate reality of our changing world involves school shootings. It seems like every day there is a tragedy involving gun violence at an educational facility. A school shooting or act of violence would be any parent’s worst nightmare. Do your kids feel like they can talk to or come to you if they see or hear another child talking about bringing a gun to school? How would your child react if they were being bullied? Do you make sure to communicate constructive ways for a child to handle anger that does not involve any form of violence?
Local school counselors are a great resource for children. Sometimes, a child will not want to go directly to a parent with scary news or an uncomfortable topic. Reinforce that there are many adults in their lives that they can go to when they need to tell the truth, help protect themselves and their peers and discuss problems.
Many children will participate in recreational hunting with their family or friends. This will create a situation that looks more out-of-the-norm than normal for children who have not been exposed to that hobby, especially when it comes to handling guns. Does your family have rules in place for who kids can hunt with?
In Texas, hunters are required to participate in and pass a hunter safety course, administered by the state. Hunters are also required to obtain a license annually. This is an excellent opportunity for a parent to work one-on-one with their child to make sure all of the safety precautions, rules and gun handling procedures are completely understood and reinforced before a hunting trip is ever scheduled.
Concealed Handgun Licenses
Children may be alarmed when they see that someone has a concealed weapon. While it is important for your kids to not yell out or draw attention to the person, it is also important to explain to them why someone may have a weapon on their person.
To obtain a Concealed Handgun License (CHL), you must be 21 years of age and meet a large number of safety parameters and pass an educational course and extensive background check. There are a number of locations that do not allow a CHL holder to carry their firearm, for logical reasons. However, some children are shocked when they see someone with a legal weapon. Informing kids of local gun laws and reminding them that not everyone with a gun is a bad guy, helps relieve any confusion or tension that might arise in public.
The Police are the Good Guys
It is sad to have to worry about how children perceive police violence, especially after the recent police shootings in Dallas. Kids are likely inundated with scary information, both true and false, and may feel hopeless when it comes to trusting people they have hoped would help keep them safe. Children should always be reminded that the police are here to protect and help them. Knowing that police carry guns to protect citizens may help children understand their role in the community.
At the end of the day, you are allowed to make tough choices for your kids. The number one rule for parents is that if they do not feel like a situation is safe, eliminate the situation! Do not leave kids to fend for themselves and become a statistic just because a topic is difficult or uncomfortable to discuss with others. If you stay educated on safety, teach precautionary measures and understand changing gun laws, you can help provide your family with valuable information they need to stay safe.