One of the most common questions i get asked is about teaching kids about firearms and firearm safety. As someone who does not have any kids, but yet has taught thousands of them over the years I have what some have considered and interesting approach to teaching kids. Well, they say its interesting, i think its pretty obvious. Also a lot of these ideas and methodologies work the same with basically any new shooter. But for the ease of discussion i will discuss from the point of view of teaching kids.
When should they start?
You should start teaching kids about firearms when they are old enough to ask. If they are old enough to show interest then they are old enough to start learning about firearm safety. When i have a shy, nervous kid come up during one of our many youth days who seam a bit hesitant about shooting but are going because they don’t want to look like a wuss in front of their group. When i ask them why are they so nervous, about 99% of the time i get one of two answers: They have never shot a gun before, or the only other time was when their father/boyfriend/whoever thought it would be funny to have their first shot be from a high powered desert eagle or high powered hunting rifle. To then be surprised how traumatized they now are of shooting once they finish cleaning up all the blood from from being hit in the face with the scope/slide from incorrect form.
I had a coworker from a while back who told me about his sons first shooting experience. ‘Oh what a good bonding experience’ i thought. Nope. He took his kid out, and without the child knowing, loaded a round and had it ‘accidentally’ go off while the kid was holding it. Scared the kid to tears. ‘Good’ he told me, ‘that’s one less thing ill have to worry about for the next few years’. Lets just say I gave him a ear full.
How to teach kids
I get groups of new shooters that range from: We just inherited this gun; there has been a string of break ins; we always had a interest; etc and want to learn how to shoot safety. That group is pretty easy to deal with since they are all new shooters. Its the ones where they tell me how they are a big gun family and the child is now showing interest but when they take them out to shoot the kid/wife/girlfriend quickly zones out, gets bored and wants to go home. That group is a little more tricky.
I have sat through many instructor’s courses and have seen many parents try and teach their kid and fail. And they all follow the same basic idea:
Lets talk about the firearm safety rules, now lets talk about each and every function and part of this and any firearm. Lets even take them apart to show you all of the inside parts. Lets talk about cleaning and maintenance. Now lets talk about sights, sight picture, sight focus, sight alignment. Lets talk about grip and stance. I have even gone ahead and created this power point to… blah blah blah blah. Kids dont care. By the time they get to actually shoot their eyes are glazed over and they have zoned out completely. Shooting is fun, talking about the process is super boring.
He didn’t really seem interested at all in the gun itself but more in finding different objects to shoot – A parent
The idea of teaching your child is great. Here is a great learning and bonding experience, a way to share one of your favorite hobbies to some one you care about. So its super easy for the parent to get exited and just bombard their child with everything and anything they know. You want them to be the best they can be, and they want you to be proud of them. This leads to a lot of pressure super fast. So the first thing i always do is separate the child and the parent, in separate rooms if possible. “But I want to be here next to little Johnny…” The parents tell me. “Nope, go sit down, instructor and student only behind the line” I tell them.
What I do is: I first give them the safety rules. I tell them the bullet goes in here, comes out there. I point them at a reactive target (not paper…soooo boring) I tell them a basic grip and stance and to put the red dot on the target (why start with irons?) then slowly squeeze the trigger. They shoot, if they miss we figure out why. Load another single round, they shoot they hit the plate, it clanks and it falls down. They could have hit it in the center, or just barely on the edge, it doesn’t matter who cares. Dont give them a paper target if you can help it, groupings are boring, loud falling plate are fun. “Good shot!” After a few more to make sure they wont point the firearm at me with excitement I show them how to load the magazine and then I ‘leave’ them alone (not literally). Once they start hitting everything, i lean over and go “Now shoot every other one” or “Go backwards” or whatever i think they can do and then i go back to ‘ignoring’ them. If they get a jam that’s when i explain how to deal with jamming. But I leave them alone and i let them play. Shooting is fun, lectures are boring and i want you shooting as soon as possible for as long as possible.
I removed all unneeded pressure, yes you parents are a huge pressure, even me standing all over them is pressure. I don’t talk about the parts, a barely talk about sight picture and alignment. I just let them have fun shooting stuff. Those who are interested in parts and maintenance will ask you on their own about them. My primary goal is to get you interesting in shooting, everything else will come along naturally. Depending on the kid, and if we are doing a group shoot, I might have the kid teach the next one how to shoot. During most shotgun youth events I will have kids shooting doubles while the other instructor was still droning on about parts and maintenance.
As a instructor/parent/whatever your first goal should be to make shooting fun.
Firearms at home
Firearms at home is a topic deserving its own post. A main thing to note is you should not hide your firearms from your kids and then pretend they don’t exist. Nor should you scare your kids from their existence. If you put it on a pedestal as something only adults can do then your going to run into problems.
My main advice is when your kid is old enough to use and own a BB gun, or even airsoft, then you should get them one. But you, and your child needs to treat it as if it was a ‘real’ firearm. Don’t view it as a toy. Pellets, BBs, .22, 9mm, .40, etc are all projectiles just of different calibers. So get that BB gun its own case, put it in the safe with the real ones. When your child wants to shoot it treat it as if you where going out to the range even if that range is your garage or backyard. Eye protection and firearm safety rules is a must. If you respect it as not being toy then so will your children. Giving them their own ‘gun’ and give them that responsibility. Bring them to your ‘level’ and they will take high road when it comes to their friends. With a understanding of scale and respect between airsoft/bb and the ‘real’ ones they will naturally act accordingly. They will refuse to not wear eye protection when they play airsoft with friends. They will scold their friends for being unsafe and sweeping people. They will emulate you because you have shown them the correct way.
Shooting is fun, lectures are boring.
If you remember anything its that shooting should be fun. Safety first of course but if your student is not having a great time then you are doing them a disfavor.