Gun Safety and Our Children: Modern Considerations
Familiarity can be the difference between a dangerous fear and a safe understanding.
How do our children perceive this world or danger?
The world we live in is constantly changing, and unfortunately, not always for the better. Things that were at one point in time good are sometimes found to be major influences in negative behavior. The world is constantly becoming more dangerous and it directly affects the ways that we raise children. As time goes on, it seems that adults have to teach children at increasingly younger ages about the things in the world that can harm them. Thanks to the pressure society and pop culture puts on youth, there is a strain to grow up as quickly as possible. Kids are being taught as early as elementary school about safe sex, sexually transmitted diseases, and drugs. Granted this education is intended to avert participation in such activities. However, unfortunately, it can never truly be thwarted. One particular example of how things have changed is the influence of guns in the world today. Gun control is widely debated across the country and, due to a history of several horrific public shootings, schools treat the subject in their halls with a likeness to discussing terrorists in airports. Recent events have led kids with imaginary weapons in school and playgrounds to become deemed dangerous enough to receive school board attention. The question here is this: should children be safely exposed to guns while growing up or should they be sheltered until they are old enough to understand the depth of harm that could come from such weapons?
It is not without reason that parents should be concerned about this topic. There are many cases of both accidental and criminally inspired youth shootings in the past. It is far less unheard of for adults to be involved in the same. A substantial amount of each could have been prevented with the proper education. In either case, several things can be taken into account. Questions that should be asked in these situations usually seem to allude to parental fault. Was the child or adult properly educated about gun safety? Did the child have easy access to weapons at any given time? What safety and security measures were in place to prevent the child from retrieving the weapons? Other factors reach into the realm of psychology and lead to dealing with youth criminal punishment. With all these things in mind, it can be difficult to decide how to appropriately teach a child about guns without giving them the means to carry out an unimaginable crime.
The task may not be as difficult as it seems, regardless of your moral attributes as the adult. Relate this to knives within the household. At some point a child learns that there are different kinds of knives, some being more dangerous than others. This is accompanied by them learning not to handle the more lethal knives until they are “old enough.” When do they learn not to stab people with those? Answer: This is instilled at an early age and is carried on for the rest of their lives. We teach this to children trusting that they won’t decide to turn a knife on someone in the future. The same trust should be applied to gun safety but with much more consideration of age and maturity.
At the earliest ages appropriate, the basic rules are only required. In this stage, guns should be conveyed as very dangerous and should not be held; however, children should be able to identify a gun and be comfortable telling an adult when they see one. (Family gun rules which ban even the use of the word gun, may instill more fear while also creating a fear of telling an adult when they feel unsafe.) This is generally necessary until children are strong enough to be able to load a gun, which is when training becomes paramount, This is because the strength of the growing child makes curiosity so much harder to control. In other words, you can't always keep an eye on your child in a world full of variables. At this age, their understanding should expand to guns being "bad" if they are being held by strangers. It can be difficult to explain that police, military, and family members are not bad for having guns but not impossible. Without such a clarification, a stereotype might be learned that since guns are bad, so are people that own them. This is generally the concrete level of mental acuity for this age group.
As a child matures they will be exposed to guns on television more frequently, thanks to popular shows like NCIS, CSI, and Law and Order, as well as in the real world. When children become mature enough for such shows, it may be good to allow them to see how a gun works so that they can grasp how much damage can truly be done. This can be done by taking them to a range to experience it and to allow them to decide for themselves that guns are dangerous. By safely firing into a stack of magazines, they will be able to see that a bullet might look small but does a lot of damage. This visualization, coupled with the loud noise, will send an age appropriate message and create a vivid memory. When they learn to think more abstractly, they will infer that the damage done to magazines is dramatically more severe on a person. The fear of guns has led to many accidents that education could have prevented. When faced with a situation that could become precarious, a child with experience could be the difference between life and death.
The basis for most concerns stems from the fact that children are curious. The world is gargantuan and there are new experiences and discoveries every day, especially in the youngest years. As much as we would like to keep them away from certain influences, it can be nearly impossible without blocking the entire outside world as it is. We simply cannot control the childish impulse of investigation when we are not around. Furthermore, we unfortunately cannot guarantee that a babysitter or neighbor will keep careful enough watch either. Children have a way of knowing where keys are to safes and can be exceptionally efficient at getting into trouble. By taking the time to do some training with a child, you lessen the curiosity. This, of course, runs the risk of turning the curiosity into an interest instead of disinterest. Fortunately, the management of an interest like this is no different than managing interest in a sport. Productive ways of channeling it include the Boy Scouts of America and other such outdoors clubs. There are even competitive shooting teams. These are ways of maintaining age appropriate gun safety as the child grows.
When considering gun exposure in youth, we must examine how early they experience guns. Even the popular Power Rangers have blasters used against their enemies in battles. Things like this can be brushed off as fantasy or pretend, but still raise the need to educate at some point. Whether the children want to pretend to be Power Rangers, Jedi, army men (or women), or even be pretend hunters, they will be teaching themselves their own versions of gun safety and it will be wrong unless someone teaches them. Laser tag, water guns, Nerf, or just plain sticks are commonly used as fake guns and will not make for good examples of safety measures since they are used for pretend shooting. This type of child play will happen at some point and is not uncommon. The key is to provide a basic scope of reality in that real guns do very bad things. Without proper education, curiosity could get the better of them. With training they will know what not to touch, definitely not to point guns at people, and depending on the type, how to unload it safely if left with no choice. This is necessary because some guns can be easy for a child to load and unload, depending on the type. At the parents’ discretion, this knowledge should be taught at a range when the child is old enough to shoot under supervision. An alternative is rubber ammo which will not fire. Rubber ammunition is made for this very purpose, as well as for testing weapons' functionality or for reloading drills.
The best way of going about the education is to enroll in a firearms safety class. There are many different classes available; however, classes that are taught by firearms stores, outdoors stores, established ranges, and from police or military are the most dependable for detailed information. It would be a good idea to participate in such a class with your child so that you have an understanding of what they have been taught. This could also be an excuse to get out of the house and spend some time with that child. There is no reason this can’t be turned into a positive experience for the entire family!
Over the course of history, guns have been used for five main things: war, policing of societies, hunting, competition, and regrettably, crime. What was created to be used for helping in providing food for families was turned into a weapon to be used by man against man. This unfortunate use of a tool shuould not have to mean that the tool itself is bad. Recent events have shown that even the Bible can be used for evil, whereas one man decided to burn a Koran in the name of Jesus. This act reflected poorly on Christianity and is against the teachings of the Bible itself. The act of that individual was not without support from others and was not an isolated incident. Keeping these acts and others in mind, it would still seem that most people understand that individuals with that mentality act as extremists against the teachings of the given religion. This is also found in Muslim extremists who claim the United States must be defeated. The common ground here is that both examples are extremes and that neither the Bible nor Koran are bad. Circumstances like these can exist in nearly any context, but illustrate that a lack of understanding can be detrimental when forced to deal with it. The lack of understanding in those examples led to more extremes like riots and reactions from the extremists. In the case of guns, it is unfortunate that guns cannot be un-invented, and they certainly cannot be removed from the country completely.
With all of this in mind, there seem to be two options: avoid guns altogether in your life and control as much of your child’s as possible, putting their future at risk; or, have and provide your child with an understanding of firearm safety to be ready to deal with the unknown if it comes. As an adult, you have probably managed to steer clear of guns, or be safe with them, or you wouldn't be reading this now. But when considering the path the world is heading in, do you want your child heading out into it unaware and uneducated? The beauty of the United States of America is that the freedom is yours.
"The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." -Edmund Burke