This article is from the Firearms Safety & Children FAQ, by Patrick Casey (firstname.lastname@example.org) and John Gunshenan (email@example.com) with numerous contributions by others.
"Gunproofing your children" means teaching them that guns are not toys, and
teaching them firearms safety and responsibility. Nothing left to a child's
discretion is fail-safe, especially where peer pressure may reign. But
training your children in the basics of firearms safety gives them a better
chance of escaping danger or harm should they ever encounter a gun beyond
your control, a better chance than children still in the thrall of fatal
curiosity, awe, and ignorance.
In movies and television, guns are icons of power. The good guys have them,
and use them to restore right and order. Even on the old "Adam 12" TV show,
these two quintessential Officer Friendly types had more gunfights in one
season than most big city police do in their whole careers. Not only does
the mass media present a distorted view of the frequency of firearms use,
it is even worse when it comes to teaching judicious use, proper sporting
use, and gun safety.
For small children, the first thing to teach them is the Eddie Eagle
message (stop, don't touch, leave the area, tell an adult). This can be
taught as early as age three or four. As they get a little older -- and
after they understand and practice the Eddie Eagle rules -- teach them the
basics of safe firearms handling.
There are four firearm safety rules taught by Jeff Cooper of the American
Pistol Institute. Follow these rules and you cannot ever have a mishap.
Even if you violate one of them, you are still all right; it takes multiple
errors to cause an accident.
1. All guns are always loaded
2. Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to
3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on
4. Be sure of your target and what's beyond it
(for more on these basic points, send mail to Patrick)
Many gun owners use the natural curiosity of their children as an
opportunity to teach gun safety. At Patrick's house, for example, the
children can see and handle firearms whenever they ask. We first review the
Eddie Eagle rules, then the golden rules of firearms safety. Then the guns
come out. Questions are often asked -- how does this part work? what does
that do? If any safety rules are broken -- even inadvertently -- the guns
get put away.
Another good thing to do early on -- and repeat from time to time -- is to
take the children to a shooting range to demonstrate what a gun will do to
a milk jug, liter-sized Coke, or watermelon. Children know that the people
they see getting shot in movies are actors, and that after "getting shot,"
they later get up and go home. Shoot a water-filled milk jug with a .357
pistol or a 12-gauge shotgun. Have the child hold that (shredded) milk jug
up to their chest. Help them understand that, while shooting can be lots of
fun and a recreational activity they can practice into their 90s, guns are
not toys; their power must be respected.
Also, think about using cleaning as an opportunity to teach gun safety. If
you try to 'hide' your gun cleaning by always doing it after the children
go to bed, you will only increase their curiosity (they'll eventually catch
you anyway). Don't do things that encourage them to get into the guns when
you're not around. I almost always clean my guns when the children are
around, and they often ask to help. Here's another chance to go over the
Eddie Eagle rules, the golden rules of safety, and to respond to their
natural curiosity (also a way for mother or father to get some free help).
Allowing the children to assist in such a 'grown up' activity may also
increase their general maturity level, build pride in competence, and
improve general safety awareness and practice. A note of caution though ...
if your children help with gun cleaning, make sure they wash their hands
with soap afterwards. While most of what you clean up is powder residue, be
especially careful about the small amounts of lead that might be cleaned
out. If the children help with cleaning, make sure they wash their hands
and faces -- with soap -- afterwards.