Why I Teach My Kids to Shoot Guns
Having a loaded handgun pointed at you as kid isn’t something you easily forget
by PJ DelHomme
I was around 12 years old, my son’s current age, when I rode my bike over to a friend’s house. In the 1980s, I lived in the panhandle of Florida where guns were as common as rebel flag curtains. My family owned neither guns nor rebel flags.
This friend and his brother looked like Tweedledee and Tweedledumb, just not as clean or intelligent. Dee wanted to show me something in his parent’s bedroom. In between the mattress and box spring sat a handgun. All I remember is the pearl handle, and Dee pointing it at my face. I laughed it off but remember being uncomfortable. After all, we played soldiers with fake Berettas in the woods all the time. Thirty years later, as a father myself, I realize how serious the situation was and could have been. And now, thanks to COVID and general societal unease, the number of new gun owners has given me pause.
The New Shooter
In 2021 alone, there were 5.4 million new gun owners in the U.S., according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. These aren’t folks who already have guns; these are people like my mom who have never owned or operated a firearm in their lives. Yet they felt the need (for numerous reasons) to buy a firearm—in mom’s case a semi-auto 9mm, quickly exchanged for a hammerless .38 revolver. A good move on the swap, yet I’m still on the fence about her owning a handgun. She’s in her 70s now, and I don’t know if she has ever shot it. The concealed carry class is not on her to do list. Now, think about that five million figure for a minute. Let’s assume a generous 80 percent of these new gun owners know how to handle a firearm and store it safely. That leaves one million new Tweedledees out there putting others, like my kids, at risk.
Of course, I am assuming careless people exist. I am not aware of any surveys asking gun owners, “Hey, are you an idiot when it comes to gun safety and storage?”
Be the Example
So, rather than pretend guns don’t exist, I choose to teach my kids about them, the proper way to handle them and the immense responsibility that comes with living with them. Why?
For starters, I own guns. Even though they are locked away and not under a mattress, they are still in my house. As a gun owner and parent, it’s on me to make sure they are handled safely and responsibly, by me and my kids.
Second, not everyone stores their guns responsibly. Tweedledee’s parents are one example. Here’s another. Last year I was helping a neighbor (who has kids my age) clean his garage. On the floor was a gym bag with a handgun and a loaded clip—just hanging out next to the dog food. Were my kids to find it, my sincere hope is that I had done my job and they would walk home immediately and tell me. I have since spoken to both my kids about it.
Take Them Hunting
Rather than just tell my kids guns can be dangerous, I show them first-hand. We plink soda cans, shoot targets and hunt deer. In every outing that involves guns, there are steadfast rules about muzzle control, situational awareness, proper use of the safety and the list goes one. Because both kids want to one up the other one, they want to be a better marksman than their sibling. It’s a game but one in which they learn how to be safe around firearms. When they screw up and forget where that muzzle is pointed, they miss their turn, get a lecture and earn the right to wash and vacuum the truck.
While neither kid of mine has been with me on a hunt where I killed an elk or deer, they have seen me shoot a grouse in the head with a .22. It was, to say the least, an experience none of us will forget—the spurting blood, the flapping wings on headless carcass, the breast meat breaded and fried to perfection. They understand that my rifles are used to take the life of a living thing, and I hope that levity translates to the handgun sitting inside the locked closet as well. Yes, they are only kids, but they seem to understand what firearms can do to a living creature, be they four-legged or two. It’s a heavy load for a 9-year-old, and I’m okay with that.
If and when my son or daughter has an encounter with their own Tweedledee, I want them to know how to come out of it alive. Better yet, I hope they avoid the situation altogether.
Firearms safety is a key component of the USA’s Get Youth Outdoors Day community outreach events. Check our calendar for an event near you.