Several years ago I read Gun-Proof Your Children by Massad Ayoob, an excellent short primer on introducing children to firearms and how best to maintain a safe household that has both children and guns in it. Ayoob’s premise is simple: the best way to protect your child from drowning is to teach him to swim, familiarize him with water, and give him plenty of adult supervision in the pool — and that the best way to keep kids safe around guns is to follow the same course.
I took his advice to heart.
It was only a matter of time before my kids began showing some curiosity about guns in general, and my guns in particular. I never shied from the subject, but rather indulged their (many) questions and made it a point to show them my guns any time they asked. I wanted to demystify the topic, take away the forbidden fruit. Now, years later, my kids still ask me from time to time to see and handle my guns, and I haven’t changed my approach.
But as they’ve grown (my son is now 8, my daughter 10), they’ve become more sociable, gaining friends whose houses they visit and who regularly visit ours. I’ve told them repeatedly that the rules don’t change when they’re at someone else’s house, and they certainly do not change when their friends are at our house.
The ground rules I’ve laid are:
1) Anytime you want to handle my guns it’s okay — as long as you’re with me!
2) When handling a gun, always make sure it’s unloaded and keep it pointed in a safe direction (both of which I determine before anyone touches anything).
3) If you ever see a gun, and you’re not with me, find me or another adult immediately.
Still, always in the back of my mind, I’ve wondered, Has this done any good? My biggest concern is other people’s kids. I was confident in my kids, but when you factor in another child, things can get complicated. Kids are a little like criminals at heart: put more than one of them in the same place and they’ll quickly conjure up some trouble.
I wondered what might happen if one of my kids’ friends came across a gun in our house. Would he want to touch it? Of course!
But the bigger question was, Would he try and talk my kid into “playing along” — and would it work?
I got the answer this morning.
Last summer I bought a Henry .22 single-shot rifle for each of my kids. I keep them stored with the rest of my guns, in an out-of-way place where kids are unlikely to come across them, and the ammunition in a different place altogether. We’ve been out shooting a few times, and I always insist that we clean and store the rifles afterwards. Well, the system kind of broke down. After we went target shooting back in October I put the guns in our basement laundry room, where we clean them. One distraction or another kept us from getting to them, and 3 months later they still sit in the laundry room, propped up against a wall near my work bench. I’d removed the bolt from each rifle, rendering them inoperable.
A friend of my son, who is 3 years his elder, came over to play today. Right away my son took him downstairs to the basement play area to show him the many new Lego sets he got for Christmas. The office in our house where my wife and I have our desks and computers is right above the laundry room, and sitting in the office you can easily hear anything that happens below. Some of the Lego stuff was in the laundry room (my son had put them in there to hide them from another kid a few days ago).
We heard the door open, and almost immediately my son’s friend said, “Hey, what’s that?”
Instantly my son was shouting at the top of his voice, “Put that down! Put that down! Put that down!” and we heard the friend say, “Alright, dude, calm down.”
“If my dad finds out….” my son said, as he escorted his friend from the laundry room.
End of story. There was no danger — the bolts of the rifles had been removed — but my son didn’t know that. Given the opportunity to do the wrong thing, he did the right thing. His friend, who I’m certain has not been familiarized with guns, did the wrong thing. I don’t think this happened by accident.
If you have children and guns, please read Gun-Proof Your Children. Do this even if you don’t have or like guns; there’s a big, gun-filled world out there, and your kids will discover it sooner or later. Follow Mr. Ayoob’s advice. I know now that it has worked for me.