When my son was 7 years old, we bought him a Daisy Red Ryder BB gun for Christmas. My husband and I were both pretty pumped about giving it to him. And just like in the movie A Christmas Story, in which the main character famously gets his very own, long-wished-for Red Ryder, my husband hid the gun behind a piece of furniture in the family room. He then casually mentioned it when all the other presents from under the tree had been opened.
My son excitedly went over to the large box, unwrapped it and then stood there with confusion and uncertainty in his eyes.
“But guns are for big people,” he said, cautiously setting the gun down on the floor and stepping away from it, as if it were about to jump out and bite him.
To our surprise (and yes, to some disappointment), our son just didn’t want anything to do with guns at that age. He was a bit nervous mentally and a bit clumsy physically. For almost a year after that Christmas Day, he didn’t show much interest when we asked him about shooting. Instead, he showed aversion. My husband had gotten the BB gun out with him a few times, and they practiced stance and grip. My son even got off a few shots. But that was it. He always had a weird expression on his face and stood awkwardly around his gun. He seemed unsure.
All of these reactions were a big clue for us that our 7-year-old was just not ready. Even though other boys his age (and younger) had been shooting or hunting “for years,” our son just wasn’t at the right age or stage — for him.
We didn’t push him. We just kept going over all the safety rules and giving him plenty of opportunities to get out his Red Ryder or to come to the range with us. Gradually, he warmed up to the idea of shooting. And we were able to work with him more on practice and training. Now, at 10 years old, our son has added a Ruger American bolt-action rifle to his “collection,” he regularly shoots our M&P 15-22 at Steel Challenge matches with us at our range, and he hopes to join a local youth shooting team.
I share our experience with my son because it reiterates that there is no magic time for a child to start learning how to shoot. You can certainly start teaching kids about safety as early as possible. And you can always be available to answer questions and show kids proper, safe and responsible gun handling. Undoubtedly, education about firearms safety is one of the best gifts you can give! But the actual transition between hearing and seeing all those things about safety rules and shooting fundamentals and actually putting them to work may take some time … and may be different for every child. For instance, my oldest daughter was 12 before she really showed any interest in guns. And our son, as I mentioned, took about a full year — until he was 8 years old — before he was ready to move forward and give it a try. And our youngest daughter is now 6. But she’s a rambunctious little tornado of perpetual motion. So we won’t be putting any guns in her hands anytime soon!
If you are going through a similar experience with a child who seems unwilling to work with firearms, don’t force him or her. But don’t give up either! Keep looking for those signs that the child is ready. Unfortunately, there will be no trumpet fanfare blaring or bright beam of light streaming down upon a child when he or she is ready to learn about firearms and safety. But you will start to see growth and maturity both physically and emotionally. Just consider each child individually and think about his or her character, temperament, strengths, weaknesses, emotional intelligence, cognitive-thinking abilities and learning style. And remember that what’s right for one person or for one family may not be the best option or decision for others.
About Beth Alcazar
Beth Alcazar, author of Women’s Handgun & Self-Defense Fundamentals and associate editor of Concealed Carry Magazine, 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.