In 2007 my husband and I brought our baby daughter home from the hospital. Amongst the tidal wave of emotions I experienced during my first few months of motherhood, there was a dawning reality that this child’s survival depended on the lessons I succeeded or failed to teach her. The overwhelming magnitude of this responsibility, coupled with the unbearable thought of failing to fulfill it, caused enough anguish that I almost wished I had never had a child. The mere thought of losing my daughter was too horrible to imagine.
I know I am not the only parent who feels this way. Our sense of justice screams that children should not have to suffer, so we endeavor to danger-proof the lives of our children as much as is in our power to do so. As soon as they are old enough to comprehend, we choose to educate children about specific dangers.
One area which was and continues to be of great concern to me is how to protect my child, and other children, from the tragic results of negligent or improper use and storage of firearms. With a police officer as her dad, and a firearms instructor for a mom, I knew that my daughter was going to grow up in a home with guns either being worn or stored at all times. I also knew that she would not always be at home or under my supervision. Would she be able to recognize danger if I’m not there? How do I ensure that she will never, EVER be endangered by the presence of firearms in her environment?
The truth is that the direction your family takes to address this issue may be as unique as your child. I would like to share with you the approach we have taken in our family to teach our daughter about safety and responsibility.
Fast forward seven years to a recent conversation between me and my daughter during an after-school car ride home. Being at the age when “Because I’m your mother and I say so …” is no longer a satisfactory explanation to the question “why?”, I found myself over-explaining the reasons my husband and I have certain rules for her conduct at home and at school, most of which are based on safety concerns. After many minutes of debate, in which I felt I was losing to a seven-year-old, I finally ended the discussion with this thought:The truth is that the direction your family takes to address this issue may be as unique as your child.
“Every rule I have for you is to keep you #1 – ALIVE and #2 – OUT OF JAIL.”
#2 – OUT OF JAIL
To accomplish this goal, we guide children away from behavior that is dishonest or harmful to themselves and others. Sub-lessons in this category may include how to avoid becoming a bully, the importance of being truthful no matter what the cost, showing kindness to others, or becoming an honest and thorough worker. The ultimate goal, of course, is to teach kids how to become productive and happy members of society.
#1 – ALIVE
This task encompasses educating children on all potential physical dangers that might lead to death or serious injury. While children grow up, we gradually help them become alert to the life-threatening dangers in their environments, while shielding them from some of life’s scarier realities. Through heavily censored cautionary tales we teach kids to avoid strangers because they might “take you” or “hurt you.” We teach children to look both ways before crossing the street, wear seat belts in the car and helmets on their bikes, and not to play with fire or power tools. But are we and should we be teaching children about firearm safety?
Firearms are inherently dangerous power tools, similar in nature to most of the contents of any basement/garage workshop. No reasonable person would think it appropriate to let a child handle a nail gun or power saw without intense supervision, or to leave such a machine readily capable of use in an area where a child might stumble upon it.
Firearms fire due to intent or negligence. It takes human interference to discharge a firearm, and human error to discharge a firearm that unintentionally causes injury to another person. Most unintentional injuries at home involving a child and a firearm are due to negligent handling or storage on the part of the gun’s owner.
When it comes to injuries involving inherently dangerous power tools, complacency is always the smoking gun. It is commonly known that the Four Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety are:
- Treat all guns as if they are loaded;
- never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;
- keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on your intended target and you’re willing to shoot; andShielding children from the KNOWLEDGE of guns only protects them while you are watching. Teaching them how to be safe and responsible with firearms will give them a foundation of correct skills and attitudes that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
- know your target, backstop and beyond
My daughter was four years old when we taught her the Four Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety, and explained the reasons why we treat guns with respect and not as toys.
We discussed with her the appropriate and inappropriate times to handle firearms and what to do if she were to come across a gun in a circumstance that was not appropriate. We told her that if she were to see a gun and there was no adult present, or she didn’t have a good feeling, then she was to “Yell ‘GUN! GUN! GUN!’, then Run, Run, Run,” getting as far away as fast as possible! My husband and I felt that this was simple for a young child to remember, and would also cover a variety of circumstances where our daughter might be at risk due to the presence of a firearm in the wrong hands.
When gun owners follow the Four Cardinal Rules of Firearm Safety, regularly and properly maintain their firearms and store their firearms so that they are NOT ACCESSIBLE to unauthorized users, then it stands to reason that any “gun accident” we hear about or read in the news is not an accident but was due to “negligence.” Someone did something they weren’t supposed to do (broke one of the rules), or didn’t do something they were supposed to do (improper storage).
In my home, we chose to teach our daughter firearm safety as soon as she was old enough to become curious about guns. Shielding children from the KNOWLEDGE of guns only protects them while you are watching. Teaching them how to be safe and responsible with firearms will give them a foundation of correct skills and attitudes that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Frequent A1F Daily contributor Corinne Mosher is a Kansas State Rifle Association Training Committee member and professional shooter.