Sorry, Mom. Sorry, Dad, but it’s true.
I grew up with guns in our house. Not a lot of guns, but enough. There was a revolver in a drawer next to the back door. There was a semi-auto in my parents’ closet between a few of my Dad’s sweaters. There was a shotgun propped up next to my parents’ bedroom door and an another long gun and semi-automatic in my brother’s room.
There was no safe. There were no child locks. There wasn’t a whole lot of accountability when we left the house or returned. Guns were just around. We knew where they were and we had full access to them.
If I had an advantage it was that I was at least somewhat versed in how those firearms operated and what made them dangerous. That education kept me safe on the many times I snuck into my parents’ bedroom closet and pulled down the semi-auto, unloaded it, played with it and then carefully reloaded it and put it back into the closet. Or the time I walked in on my school-mate who’d wandered into my brother’s room and found the handgun under his bed and was frantically fiddling with it when I found her at the age of twelve. I took the gun from her, showed her how to unload it and check it, we played with it and then loaded it and put it back.
On one hand, yes, my parents did a good job in educating me about firearms so that I knew how to handle one. On the other, they were terribly negligent when they trusted that education to keep me and my friends 100% safe.
As it turns out, their gamble paid off. I made it to my adulthood without any extra holes and none of my friends shot themselves or anyone else.
But my childhood was not free of mishaps.
There’s a bullet hole in my Dad’s barn that shouldn’t be there that is due, in its entirety, to the negligence of the adults handling firearms that day.
As firearms accidents go, a bullet in a barn floor over eighteen years isn’t bad but my parents got lucky. If you grew up with similarly lax storage and handling then you got lucky, too.
Kathy Jackson from Cornered Cat wrote an article about how many of us grew up around guns and says, in part…
“We might smile when we remember things like that and say, ‘Oh, we survived those ‘dangerous’ practices, so they must not have been so dangerous after all!’
But when we say that, we’re being very foolish, because you know who we can’t ask? All the children who died before they got to be as old as we are.”
She goes on to discuss how modern storage and education efforts have brought down childhood firearms deaths. If you haven’t checked out her article I encourage you to do so.
I’m not here to repeat what she said but rather to illustrate that getting lucky doesn’t necessarily mean your practices were good ones.
In their defense, 30 years ago, storage solutions were a little more black/white. You either had your gun in a locked safe that took a key or a combination to open or you didn’t have it in a safe at all. There really were no such things as quick access safes where a quick combo or flick of an RFID card or press of a finger on a bio-metric pad made your firearm instantly accessible.
People who wanted to have their firearms accessible for home or self defense needed to rely on far more rudimentary methods of control… like threatening their children with great bodily harm if they stepped into their parents’ room. That, and the assumption that we kids didn’t know where the guns were hidden.
If you want to keep your children safe from guns there’s a few things you can start doing immediately:
Stop Thinking of Things As Safe / Unsafe
As my friend, Tamera Keel, once pointed out, safety is not a binary thing. You are not safe or unsafe, there is only safer and less safe. As long as you have a firearm there is a level of inherent risk that you accept and try to mitigate through careful practices.
These practices can include education on firearms, their operation, manual of arms, inherent dangers and respect of the damage they can do. It can include education in acceptable firearms handling regarding where to point the gun, trigger finger discipline and acceptable targets. But none of that is a substitute for keeping constant control of your firearms through proper storage to involve lock boxes and quick access safes. We have the technology. There really is no excuse for firearms not to be secured.
Be Aware Of Your Child’s Development And Needs
Depending on our children we may need to change our practices to be more or less cautious.
I have three children myself and each of them have been different. I have had to adjust my firearms carry and storage practices for all of them.
At the ages of eights, five and three they all have different understandings of firearms and how they fit within our lives.
Some parents may have teens going through a particular dark time. Perhaps you allowed access to your firearms but need to restrict it again because of emotional issues. Maybe your child is having a friend over or a party and while you can trust your older children with access to certain firearms you have no idea of the training and education of the children coming into your home.
Perhaps you have a young child who is starting to walk and explore. You may have to add an addition level of security until the child is of an age of understanding and responsibility, no matter what that age may be.
Educate Your Children
Yes! Education is important. It is the most important thing. It is what will likely save your children if you have a moment of human error. It’s what kept me and my husband alive as we played with forbidden and supposedly hidden firearms in our parents’ homes.
For the little ones we started out with instructions on not touching and finding responsible adults if they come across a gun, per the NRA and their Eddie Eagle program.
Older children can start learning the four rules of gun handling and being to parrot them back and practice handling on toy guns or real firearms under careful supervision on ranges.
Depending on their demonstrated maturity and responsibility, teens and young adults may be have more access to firearms or be part of the purchasing process.
Have A Place To Secure Your Firearms Completely
This should go without saying but you need to have a place were you can completely secure every firearm you own. This is for the safety of the people who live in your home and as a means to protect your investment.
We don’t put the life and death safety of our children 100% in the hands of whether or not we believe something is hidden or out of reach or that “they know better.”
Yeah, I knew better, too. But that didn’t stop me from rummaging in my parents closet or my friend from finding a loaded gun under my brother’s bed.
Set A Good Example
If there’s a single thing we can do for our children it’s getting the kind of training that teaches us how to responsibly handle firearms and then demonstrating that responsible and consistent handling to them. If we want our children to respect firearms we need to show our children how much we respect firearms ourselves. Careful, deliberate handling and strict adherence to handling rules demonstrated by responsible adults will continue to reinforce the education you have been trying to instill.
Don’t Leave The Safety Of Your Children To Others
I once asked my mother if she was ever concerned about having guns in our home as we grew up. She said she trusted our father and didn’t believe he would do anything to put us into harms way. While I have no doubt that my father loved us dearly and would never have intentionally put us in harms way, it would have been better to ensure we had a safe in our home to store his firearms.
Likewise, it would have been better for my mother not to rely on the information from the singular source of her husband.
In a country that has more guns in it than people it’s reasonable to assume that the homes our children will visit will have firearms. It is responsible to have friendly conversations with fellow gun owners and encourage them to store their firearms in quality safes and educate their own children in proper firearms handling and avoidance as well as practice responsible handling themselves.
A lot of us like to look back on the days of our youth and remember then as being fond moments of carefree bliss and because we got out alive we like to assume that the standards set by the adults in our youth are adequate for the children of today. We forget that the practices that we survived often killed or maimed several children and that in order to progress we must look carefully at those practices and attempt to better them for the next generations.
Yes, I made it to adulthood alive. In fact, I ended up working within the gun community and becoming a firearms instructor that specializes in issues surrounding family issues. I distinctly remember the day that I sat down with my mother and had the discussion about how radically careless their firearms storage had been in our youth and making sure I adjusted my own practices for my young family.
The number of firearms incidents with children leading to death or injury in this country have declined and continue to drop. We can continue that trend by remaining vigilant, cautious and committing to more responsible practices than the generations before us.