Practical Dad

Kids and Guns:  Some Thoughts on Firearms in the House

The sales flyer came to the house just a few days before Thanksgiving, a mailer from a well-stocked firearms dealer listing the daily special for each day between November 23 and November 30.  The predominant weapon of choice for each day's special was a pistol and given the spate about mass shootings that culminated in the ISIS attacks in Paris, most of the daily specials were a smaller size that could easily be utilized by someone with a carry/conceal permit.  Lo and behold, the data from the FBI showed that background checks were done at a rate of 2 per second, the highest rate in its history and higher than in the days after the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  But even before ISIS hit our radar screens, our society was being hit with an increased rate of random shooter incidents as disgruntled individuals took to theatres, campuses and streets to shoot out their frustration upon the innocent and the public sense of safety diminished accordingly.  Gun control rhetoric has ratcheted upwards - when the NY Daily News photoshops the NRA's Wayne LaPierre's face onto the body of an arab terrorist, then rhetoric is officially on a car-lift - and the response of many is to wonder about society's ability to maintain some sense of order.  If public order is slipping, goes the thought, then perhaps I need to act to protect myself and my family.  It's a legitimate concern and the reality is that many thinking it have children - and no previous experience with gun ownership. 

So if you're in this position, what are some of the things that you should consider?  Let me start off by giving a full disclosure:  I have been in this position and am now a gun-owner.  This article won't go into details about specific steps to take, but it will take a look at some of the broader issues for parents considering firearms in the house.  It's a daunting prospect given that the there's real potential for accidental death and injury to children and teens; in 2013, more than 1600 American children died from accidental shootings and more than 9700 were injured.  Let me also state this:  this is also neither an endorsement for or against the decision to bring a firearm into the household.  That is your decision and you are responsible for any consequences that might occur.

Even before you get down to the brass tacks of responsible gun ownership, there are some basic issues to consider.  The first is to think about your own experience with firearms.  In my case, my father was a Korean War veteran who returned home from the war and sold every piece of his hunting, fishing and camping equipment so I not only had no experience with firearms, the household environment was one of absolute avoidance.  I recall him telling me as a teenager that he wanted no weapon in the household because if he ever was in the position of having to pull it on somebody, it would be with the intent of killing that person.  My wife, on the other hand, was raised with a father who worked in the judicial system and was consequently around guns her entire life.  It frankly took years for me to adjust to the concept of having a firearm in the house and it didn't happen until the kids were older and I was far more comfortable with the notion.

The second issue is to honestly consider your own experience with maintaining self-discipline and whether you keep up with the requirements of anything that you take on.  Are you willing and able to follow-through on a regimen of assuring that the household weapons are not only properly stored, but are even clear of bullets in both the chamber and magazine?  More important than that, if you plan to keep a loaded firearm in the house, how will you secure it so that the kids don't get hurt?  Almost three quarters of surveyed children under 10 know where their parents keep the weapons and more than a third of those kids admitted to the surveyor that they'd handled them without their parents' knowledge.  When in elementary school, I lived for a period up the street from a family whose father was an avid hunter.  I vividly recall that I'd visit his sons and the boys - my own age - would pull the rifles and shotgun from the closet and play with them in my presence and without the parents' knowledge.  Don't think that the kids won't know about the guns or won't find them, because they will.  Even "good" kids are curious and will rummage around closets and even dresser drawers when you aren't around.

Following on the heels of that is the question of how well your own kids listen to what you say and whether or not they heed it.  It's an unpleasant question and goes back to the heart of your own ability to maintain discipline amongst the kids in the household.  Two of the keys to successful discipline are whether or not you have a history of both consistency in your discipline and having a reputation amongst your kids of enforcing your discipline, or whether they understand that you won't follow through on what you say you'll do.  If you believe that the kids will mind you, then you have to decide on the guidelines for having them in the house and - if you tell them about their existence - what the repercussions are for the kids if they break those rules.  Kids actually do better if they understand the consequences of their actions since it gives them a clear indicator of something's seriousness.

What precisely is driving the decision to keeping a weapon in the house?  Bad news sells and the media will willingly play up the negative because it jacks up the angst and brings in the dollars.  What is happening with the crime rate in your area?  Do you live in the city or are you in a more remote rural area with a longer police response time?  If you do opt to keep a weapon in the house, then be sure to familiarize yourself with the state and local regulations on guns and home self-defense.  Contact your local law enforcement officials or your state representative, or just Google the damned thing, to see what seminars and classes are being offered locally so that you have an informed base on your legal responsibilities as a gunowner.  It's highly instructive to hear the local District Attorney discuss the process on what characterizes legitimate acts of self-defense versus something that is legitimately prosecutable as a crime.

Ultimately, if you are going to teach the kids about responsible gun ownership, what are you going to do to teach them?  I would suggest that if you aren't someone who's familiar with firearms and are learning now, you find someone who can teach them adequately.  They can learn both a respect for the firearm and household rules from you, but actual hands-on training would probably be better with an experienced individual.  Our own case was that all of us - myself, wife and kids - took individual sessions in gun safety and marksmanship with a man who was a former Marine non-com and combat veteran and taught practical weapons usage; my comments to all of the kids prior to their sessions was that he's earned the respect and I will make your life unpleasant if you refer to him as anything other than Sir or Mister.  But even after that training, what will you do?  Target shooting has become a requested father/child activity with one of my kids and both of the others have gone on to earn the BSA Rifle Shooting merit badge.  As with anything else, practice and repetition breed comfort and familiarity.  But it's up to the parent to assure that familiarity doesn't give way to contempt. 

If you walk through all of the questions and still think that you're both ready and willing to bring a firearm into the household, then you need to consider both the mental/emotional and physical capabilities and constraints of the kids themselves.  Does your child have the maturity or even the mental capability of allowing a firearm in the house?  Is your child capable of learning how to use what you decide to bring in or is it beyond their physical constraints for his or her age?  If you purchase a weapon that the child is physically unready to handle - whether by grip size or recoil - you had better be damned sure that you've secured it.  If you want your child to try a firearm, make absolutely certain that you've considered these capabilities.  The incident in which a gun-range instructor was killed by a nine year-old girl firing an Uzi was a stunningly colossal failure in judgment by the girl's parents as well as the gun range owner and the instructor himself.  As with anything else, take the time to explore the opinions and experiences of others with firearms.  In talking with other fathers about purchasing a rifle, knowing that their own children used them and my own probably would, I found a difference in opinion on the most basic aspect of the rifle:  single-shot or magazine load.  Several fathers believed that starting with the basic single-shot bolt action was important as it forced the inexperienced user to slow down and think about the shot while others had no issue with going directly to the several shot capacity magazine load.

There is no clear across-the-board answer on whether to bring a firearm into the household.  After walking through the issues - those of attitude, safety and practicality - some parents will opt to not take the risks that come with gun ownership while others will decide that they simply cannot accept those risks.  Either answer is correct if you've done your full due diligence.  But the common element in either decision is a full review of the factors involved.  That is the ultimate breakdown in responsibility - failing to walk through the different aspects to the final decision. 

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