By Kerry Slone
Over the past year, I have been asked several times about teaching children, and what is the youngest age child I’ll teach firearm fundamentals. While many people that have been a generational, gun-owning family may not give this question much thought, as it’s a rite of passage for their children, many newer firearm owners, especially those living in urban/suburban areas, don’t have this experience.
Furthermore, cultural and societal stigmas and expectations play a major role in how children perceive firearms and self-defense and can play a significant role in a child’s success in learning how to shoot.
In a perfect world, the answer is…as early as a kiddo can hold a firearm and understand the four basic rules of gun safety.
Other than logistical issues such as range age limits and any insurance policy restrictions, there are many factors that come into play when deciding what age is appropriate to teach firearm fundamentals.
First, I always begin by chatting with parents as well as the child prior to allowing them to take a class. I want to evaluate how mature they are and whether they can stay focused, multi-task, and do what is asked of them without being defiant. Are they shy and afraid to ask questions? I want to know if they have any motor or cognitive skill limitations that can be worked with.
Second, it’s important to know if they’ve had any negative experiences with firearms (have the seen mommy threatened with one, or did grandpa let them shoot a 12 gauge at age 7 with no lessons or help?).
This one is often overlooked in adults, not to mention children. It can have a serious impact of their ability to learn, as well as how I approach teaching them, and can literally mean the difference between life and death if they are ever faced with needing to use a firearm for self-defense.
I want to gauge how comfortable in general they are being around firearms. Just because dad is a hunter and a child knows the safety rules doesn’t mean they are comfortable around them. And they may be too afraid or embarrassed to discuss that with their parents.
Last, but certainly not least, is whether the child genuinely wants to learn how to use a firearm…or if it their parents are pushing them to do it. I’ve met 6-year-olds that are better prepared to take a firearm fundamentals class than some 16 year olds.
All children can be taught to use a firearm safely from an early age (with a few exceptions that are also applicable to adults as well, such as debilitating mental/physical capabilities). It’s just a matter of how to approach and address any individual challenges or concerns they have, as well as helping them understand and embrace the responsibilities and skills needed to be successful.
Kerry Slone is the Founder of We The Female, a non-profit organization created to both empower and provide personal security and firearm safety education to women.