*This is the first article in a three-part series about keeping little ones safe while protecting your family. Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF!
Kids & Guns: 5 Simple Steps to a Safer Home ⇐ Claim Your Guide
My children aren’t perfect (profound revelation, right?). Though I love them with every ounce of my being, I often feel like they are intentionally conspiring to step on every toe, cross every line and get on every last nerve. I don’t know about you, but as an instructor, parent and former child, I believe that children need boundaries, rules and some good old-fashioned tough love. Enough of all this “let them explore who they are” drivel and the “let’s approve of everything our kids choose” madness. To be productive, respectful contributors to society, our little ones need to be monitored, reprimanded, listened to and taught. And sometimes those lessons need to be repeated — a lot — no matter what the topic is. From learning to save money, share toys, show empathy, put things away, give their best effort and leave firearms alone, kids need direction.
Of course, as we all well know, kids still make mistakes, and they still make bad choices. Teaching them about safety — especially firearms safety — never ends. That’s why we can never let our guards down. Our children are always watching us, always listening. They are always absorbing and observing our beliefs and our values, and like it or not, they’re often mimicking our actions. As parents who choose to have firearms in our homes and in our lives, we must never disregard the foundational safety rules, overlook the value of safe storage or underestimate the power of preparation and planning. Never compromise these things. Never believe it’s OK to skip a step or to bend or break a rule. We can’t get complacent or comfortable. We have to be vigilant, and we have to be committed to constant, consistent teaching and instruction.
1) Safely Store Personal-Protection Tools
As a friend and retired NYPD detective lieutenant said to me, “Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and a hidden gun is likely not hidden from them at all.” In fact, research has shown that children who live in homes where guns are kept are almost always aware of where the hiding spots are located, even if the parents believe the children don’t know.
This can be dangerous. First of all, not telling, training or teaching children makes the topic of firearms taboo. And that often makes it even more intriguing and appealing to them. If children have not been taught from early on that firearms are not to be touched, they may make a poor decision and get out a gun and play with it (or worse, fire it). Beyond that, younger children, especially toddlers, have to be protected and watched. My toddler is at that stage right now where she throws open every drawer and cabinet door and pulls out everything she can get her hands on. If firearms were in any of these reachable areas, that would be an unforgivable error.
Kids and Guns: A True Balancing Act
So how do we store guns and keep our children safe? Balancing between having a gun available for when you might need it and keeping guns and ammo safely stored is not an easy task. From a legal standpoint, it is imperative that you are fully aware of local, state and federal regulations pertaining to the safety and storage of defensive weapons in your household.
Of course, most parents would agree that there is no such thing as being too careful with children and firearms. There are too many terrible examples of young ones who have been injured or who have injured others. Thus, access to firearms in the home should be available only to those who are trained and know how and when to use them. Fortunately, there are many effective options for keeping firearms out of little hands. In addition to rigorously teaching gun safety, every parent needs to choose what method or option works best for his or her family.
Safe in the Gun Safe
For the majority of gun owners, a safe is the No. 1 common-sense, go-to option. After all, a good gun safe is fireproof and theft-proof, and it is designed to deter the most crafty, power-tool-wielding grown-up, so there’s an excellent chance that it will keep firearms out of the hands of even the most high-spirited or unruly toddler. And a safe is a practical and sensible choice, especially in homes with multiple guns to store. With that, gun safes are available in all sorts of shapes and sizes that fit varying space and budgetary needs. They can also feature some pretty cool options. Some even utilize unique technology such as biometric locks, which open with the swipe of a fingerprint. Others have radio frequency identification, which accesses the gun via the wave of a key fob, bracelet, card or sticker.
While nothing is ever foolproof, a gun safe is a big deterrent for children of any age and activity level. Will guns become unnoticed and uninteresting when they are locked away? Not probable. Will a safe protect your children in every situation? Not possible. But storing firearms — unloaded and separately from ammunition — in a secure, locked safe is arguably the most effective way to protect the little ones in your home.
Hidden in Plain Sight
While not quite gun safes, there are some options that effectively store guns while keeping them well-hidden from unauthorized users. Aside from clever concealment furniture, shelves, clocks, mirrors and benches, there are also books, bookshelves and hanging garment bags with hidden compartments designed specifically for firearms storage. These types of concealed spaces and hollowed-out areas are handy and convenient, but they don’t — and won’t — fool children. Kids are smarter than we give them credit for, and a gun stored in the pages of a particular book or behind an unusual mirror is likely not hidden from them at all. It is much better to talk about gun safety and to be open and honest about the location of firearms within the home and to teach children upfront about respecting guns and leaving them alone.
Kept Out of Reach
Many gun owners choose to keep guns in hard-to-reach locations, such as on top of an armoire, in the back of a drawer or up high on a shelf. Out of sight, out of mind is often the first layer of safety. For instance, a gun stored unloaded with the magazine out in a hard-shell case on a high closet shelf may be out of sight, out of mind and out of reach for children, but it’s still easy enough for authorized users to access in case of a dangerous or unsafe situation. The key issue here is selecting a place that isn’t tempting to kids. And never be fooled; the secret location is most likely not a secret at all.
Overall, when it comes to keeping guns out of little hands, what works best will be different for every family. As USCCA contributor John Caile wrote:
Our home layouts, lifestyles (urban versus rural) and family makeups are different. But no matter what our living situations, we all have a solemn duty to do everything in our power to protect the children in our lives, whether our own or our neighbors’. The alternative is a lifetime of guilt.
Just keep in mind that children learn best by observing the adults around them. As gun-owning parents, if we consistently practice safe conduct, our actions will teach safe conduct. And, ultimately, that’s the most effective gun safety there is, no matter where our firearms are stored.
Firearms Storage Tips
With safety always at the forefront, especially with children in the home, here are a few tips for making sure your firearms are safely stored:
- Store firearms in places where they’re accessible only to you or to designated members of your family.
- Use a storage location that is out of reach of children and that can be secured with some kind of lock. Gun safes, cabinets, vaults or other storage cases are all good options.
- Keep guns and magazines unloaded when stored.
- Store ammunition in a separate location that is locked and out of reach of children.
- Make sure keys or combinations are kept in a place where children and unauthorized users cannot access them.
- Get into a set routine for securing your concealed carry firearm and go through the same motions every time.
- Use a gun-locking device, such as a cable lock, as an extra safety precaution whenever and wherever firearms are stored.
- Remember that some states and municipalities have restrictions regarding how unattended firearms and ammunition should be stored in a home, business or motor vehicle. This makes it incumbent upon you to ensure that your storage locations and access methods fall within the local guidelines to keep you out of trouble on all fronts.
2) Educate Children About Firearms and Personal Protection
Many of us would love to create some sort of protective bubble for each of our children. We worry about their safety. We worry about their choices. We worry about bad people and the possible dangers all around them. But we can’t just lock them up or baby-proof the entire world. So it’s important that we are always vigilant about two things: teaching them and watching them.
Of course, what makes teaching young people about guns even more challenging is that it’s about more than the type and the size of the gun, the particular cartridge, the distance to the target, the recoil and the amount of experience a child has had with firearms. It’s not just about stance, grip, sight picture and trigger press. For any learning experience, it is also important to consider each child individually and to think about his or her character, temperament, strengths, weaknesses, emotional intelligence and learning style. It’s more than just determining the correct age; it’s determining the appropriate developmental stage.
Things to Consider
There are so many things to consider when teaching children. Think about everything involved with learning to drive a car. Most 15-year-olds are chomping at the bit to get a driver’s permit and to start practicing those three-point turns in the abandoned parking lot down the street. But parents know that not every 15-year-old should be driving. Some teenagers have small builds or limited strength and cannot safely maneuver those hulking SUVs. Some teens are too antsy or anxious and may need some time to mature or to learn to manage their moods. Similarly, while some 6-year-old boys may be interested in shooting, they may not be ready or able to handle a firearm safely. Likewise, while some 14-year-old girls may be “old enough to shoot,” they may be completely uninterested and distracted.
I mention all this to encourage gun owners to continue their safe firearms practice and training, to continue to foster an appreciation for the Second Amendment in their children and to continue to share their knowledge and know-how with others. But I also mention this to remind us all that there are many, many factors to consider when instructing children. What is acceptable, appropriate and right for one may not be for another. Don’t overlook the significance of ages and stages.
My husband and I have purposeful, valuable and meaningful discussions about safety and personal protection with our three children based on their individual levels of maturity and understanding. We teach them the basic firearms safety rules over and over — and over — again. We share real stories about bad people, about helpful law enforcement officers, about negligent shootings and about responsible gun ownership. We also teach our kids how to safely, confidently and proficiently shoot a gun. As role models who practice what we preach, we provide teachable moments so our children can see the good and the bad, so they can recognize the truths from the lies, and so they can continue to use safe and responsible habits, even when we’re not around.
Four ‘Additional’ Rules
Atop the universal safety rules, we teach our children four things about guns when they are old enough to understand. We teach them first that “every gun is real.” In today’s world, real guns can look fake, and fake guns can look real. So we play it safe and tell our kids that every gun is real. That way, they treat every gun with respect, even water guns and Nerf guns.
Second, we tell our kids that “every gun is loaded.” This way, they always assume that any firearm in front of them is ready to use and thus is off-limits to them. That’s why the third thing we stress is: “No, don’t touch.” That’s an important one. Unless a parent or a responsible, trained adult has given them permission (or has determined that the gun in front of them is just for blowing bubbles), our children are not to touch any firearm. Finally, we tell our kids that if they ever come across a gun, they must tell an adult. We don’t want them to be exposed to any potential temptation, and we don’t want them to be checking things out for themselves.
With Age Comes More Responsibility
For older kids, typically around 7 to 12 years old, USCCA contributor Michael Martin suggests that:
Depending upon your child’s maturity and his or her ability to grasp all four universal safety rules, as well as his or her physical ability to handle a firearm safely, this age group is ready to shoot a BB gun or a .22-caliber rifle … under your close supervision. When I observe my son plinking away with his BB gun, I usually watch him, rather than watching the target, so that I can monitor his safe gun-handling. Regardless of how many times you have to say, ‘Watch your muzzle’ or ‘Take your finger out of the trigger guard,’ keep saying it. You own the responsibility for drilling these rules into your child’s brain.
Martin also mentions that for teenagers who have demonstrated maturity and rock-solid safety when using BB guns and .22 rifles, they may be ready to step up to learning how to operate handguns. “With their shorter barrels, handguns can sometimes reintroduce muzzle control problems, so watch closely to ensure that all safety rules are being maintained,” he cautions.
Whatever works for you, be safe and consistent. When it comes to safe training, don’t ever give up or give in. I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t want to ignore the topic of firearms and let my kids find out about guns on their own. And I don’t want them to learn everything they’ll ever know about guns from television shows, movies, video games, peers or complete strangers either. Just as Martin stated:
You can educate your kids about firearms or you can trust their education to unreliable and questionable sources. Taking the opportunity to set the tone for your kids [and their understanding of firearms and personal defense] will not only keep them away from forming dangerous perceptions and practice but will also bring you closer together as a family.
*Check back next week to learn step 3. Can’t wait until then? Click below to get the FREE full-color, printable PDF!
Kids & Guns: 5 Simple Steps to a Safer Home ⇐ Claim Your Guide
About Beth Alcazar
Beth Alcazar, the author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals, associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine and creator of the Pacifiers & Peacemakers blog, has enjoyed nearly two decades of working and teaching in the firearms industry. Beth is passionate about safe and responsible firearms use and enthusiastic about teaching others. She is certified as an instructor through SIG Sauer Academy, ALICE Institute, DRAW School, TWAW and I.C.E. Training and is a USCCA Certified Instructor and Senior Training Counselor.